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Life in Kazakhstan beckons again for the Quambatook family after three years in a Central Asian village

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

Eliza, her husband David, and their three children have just returned from a three-year stay in the Central Asian country, teaching English and running a furniture and machine shop through an Australian Christian development organization.

Eliza and David, who grew up on Mallee’s farms, said the similarities between village life in Kazakhstan and the old way of life in rural Victoria struck them.

“We live on the edge of a village where herders take their cattle out every morning and bring them back in the evening and where people milk their cows and do many of those activities that our families used to do,” Eliza said.

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

Eliza’s children Caitlyn, Jude, and Dustin admire a Bronze Age rock carving. (Provided: Eliza)

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

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

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

“Then school starts in September, so they pack everything up around that time and go back to the village to get through the winter, so that’s pretty impressive.”

A ‘fascinating mishmash’ 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, bordering Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.

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

The capital Nur-Sultan of Kazakhstan, formerly known as Astana, is home to about 1 million people. (Wikipedia Commons)

This has meant that Kazakhstan is home to a range of people from different ethnic backgrounds, including Ukrainians, Tatars, Italians, Turks, Germans, Uyghurs, and Russians, leading to a “fascinating mix” in her village, according to Eliza.

“Kazakhs are still rediscovering what it means to be Kazakh,” she said.

“Your ethnicity is on your ID card so that you could have been born in another country, but if your father was Uyghur, Kazakh, or Turkish, it’s 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 evidence of the Soviet government can still be seen in the largest city, Nur-Sultan, and across the country.

“There’s a run-down concrete infrastructure all over the countryside, former collective farms made of… Russian concrete that won’t last,” she said.

“There’s a lot of baggage left over [era]†

A dog waiting

The government of Kazakhstan aims to make all their people trilingual – able to speak Kazakh, Russian, and English.

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

“Children start learning English from first grade, but often from teachers who cannot speak it themselves, so there is a great need for native English speakers to help with their English studies.”

The family adopted their Kazakh dog Zhildam, who is still awaiting their return. (Provided: Eliza)

The family plans to return to Kazakhstan in September for another three years.

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

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Dorothy R. Barrett

I’m a full-time blogger by passion. This is my first blog, and I'm excited to share everything that I love about technology, business, and lifestyle with you. I’m a writer by trade, and I can be found writing about tech, business, and lifestyle on my personal blog.

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