Sunday, December 04, 2022

Quambatook to Kazakhstan: An Aussie family’s life and work in a Central Asian village

There are 19 million people in Kazakhstan — and until recently five of them were from the small town of Quambatook in Victoria.

Eliza, her husband David and their three children have just returned from a three-year stint in the Central Asian country, teaching English and running a workshop making furniture and machinery through an Australian Christian development organisation.

Eliza and David, who grew up on Mallee farms, said they were struck by similarities between village life in Kazakhstan and the older ways of living in rural Victoria.

“We live on the edge of a village where there are shepherds taking their livestock out each morning and bringing it back in the evening and people milk their own cows and do a lot of those activities that our families used to do,” Eliza said.

“Our parents used to kill a sheep and cut it up on the kitchen table and that’s what our neighbors do… my dad used to milk a cow when I was little, not anymore, but lots of people in our area in Kazakhstan still do those things.”

Three Children Look At A Rock With A Small Engraving On It, With Hills In The Background
Eliza’s children Caitlyn, Jude, and Dustin admire a Bronze Age petroglyph.,Supplied: Eliza,

They lived in a house along the border with Kyrgyzstan and said the alpine scenery was “spectacular”.

“If we lifted our eyes to the south we see a magnificent mountain range and when the coal smoke cleared it was a beautiful vista,” Eliza said.

“In the summer, the Kazakhs will take their livestock, their sheep, goats, cattle, horses, a donkey or two, and move up there for a couple of months and live in a yurt mountain with their families and graze that plateau in those warmer months.

“Then school starts in September so around that time they pack everything up and move back to the village and batten down for the winter, so that’s pretty impressive.”

A ‘fascinating mix’ of people

Kazakhstan is a geographically large country – the ninth largest in the world – stretching from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east, and shares borders with Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

During its tenure as a Soviet state, the USSR conducted nuclear bomb testing in the north of the country, and redistributed millions of people from other parts of the world to the region.

A Modern City Skyline With Tall Buildings In Distance
Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan, previously known as Astana, is home to about 1 million people.,Wikipedia Commons,

This has meant Kazakhstan is home to a range of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, including Ukrainians, Tatars, Italians, Turkish, Germans, Uyghurs and Russians, which Eliza said led to a “fascinating mix” in her village.

“Your ethnicity is written on your identity card, so you might have been born in a different country but if your father was Uyghur or Kazakh or Turkish, then that’s what it says on the card.

“They asked us what nationality we were and we said, ‘We’re Australian’, and they said, ‘Yeah, but where are you really from? Are you from England?’

Eliza said the evidence of Soviet rule could still be seen in the largest city, Nur-Sultan, and throughout the country.

“There’s concrete dilapidated infrastructure all over the countryside, former collective farms made out of … Russian concrete that doesn’t last,” she said.

“There’s all sorts of baggage left over from that [era],

A dog waiting

Kazakhstan’s government has an aim to make all their people trilingual — able to speak Kazakh, Russian and English.

This has led to a high demand for English teachers like herself, Eliza said.

“Children start learning English from foundation, or grade one, but often from teachers who can’t speak it themselves, so there’s a great need for native English teachers to help with their English studies.”

Four People And A Gray Dog ​​Stand On A Snowy Hilltop
The family adopted their Kazakh hound Zhildam, who is still waiting for them to return.,Supplied: Eliza,

The family are planning to head back to Kazakhstan in September for another three-year stay.

“We have a dog waiting for us, so the kids will be ready to get back to her after a lovely few months here in Australia,” Eliza said.


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