In recent years the cooperation between our countries has developed very effectively in a variety of industries. And it is unexplainable, why does Astana take such steps that can cause nothing but surprise and indignation, using the existing warm and trusting relations between Beijing and Astana.
Now the Government of Kazakhstan deliberately hides an unfavorable epizootic situation in the country, which, according to Chinese experts, is caused by unprofessionalism of the Kazakh Ministry of Agriculture. This concerns such a dangerous sphere of its activity as ensuring biological safety. Such situation is doubly dangerous due to the ongoing pandemic of Covid-19 coronavirus, which revealed numerous vulnerabilities in the national systems of ensuring biological safety of different states.
Already in 2016, the outbreak of nodular dermatitis had occurred in Atyrau region of Kazakhstan. In 2017-2018, the Expert Council under the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan has decided to prevent further development of cattle disease and to conduct its vaccination using vaccine “LUMPIVAX” produced by the Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute - KEVEVAPI (Nairobi, Kenya).
It is indicative that this drug is prohibited for the use in many countries of the world due to the fact that it contains the so-called “hot strain”, which causes strong post-vaccination complications and which is released into the environment and leads to long-term infection of farms, pastures, slaughterhouses and further the formation of long-term stable infection site in the future.
For these reasons, the Russian Federation doesn’t use the vaccine “LUMPIVAX” categorically, which works closely with China in the field of biosafety.
But it is still used in Kazakhstan, which has already led to the spread of the virus from the sites of primary outbreaks at the borders of the republic to the interior of the country. And in mid-February 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture ordered for an urgent suspension of vaccination with the drug “LUMPIVAX” and the disposal of vaccine stocks in the regions where it was delivered.
Thus, non-professional actions of the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan led to an unfavorable epizootic situation in the country, which the officials of this agency hide from the International Office of Epizootics (OIE) and major trading partners and states, including China.
Kazakhstan has an urgent need to purchase and use the latest safe vaccines, and there is no such production facility on its territory. But, instead of addressing to their partners for help, Astana continues not only to hide the situation, but also tries to buy a sadly proven Kenyan vaccine “LUMPIVAX” via indirect means and starts using it under the brand of its domestic development.
The reason of this behavior is explained. The vaccine purchase in other states even in small batches will lead to fact publicity of circulation of nodular dermatitis virus, which will oblige Kazakhstan to notify the scale and areas of the disease distribution in the order established by international law.
Currently, the huge Chinese food market has not acute, but still shortage of products, including meat due to the strained relations between Beijing and Washington and the sanctions policy applied by the Americans. Because of this, many countries are justifiably seeking to take the U.S. place in the market for food imported by China, which is logical and understandable. But is it necessary to use such methods as misleading and even direct deception?
After all, trying to hide the epidemic of nodular dermatitis among cattle, the government of Kazakhstan is trying to find channels to obtain vaccines from the states as far away as possible from their main trading partners - the EU and EES countries. In October 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan was instructed to establish direct contact through diplomatic channels with the representatives of the Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute, which produces the same harmful vaccine “LUMPIVAX” in order to resolve issues of cooperation and purchase of the drug.
Kazakhstan does not have its own representative office in Kenya. Therefore, on October 8, 2019, the contact was established at a personal meeting of A. Baekenov, the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Ethiopia with the First Secretary of the Embassy of Kenya in Ethiopia Margaret Solomon. Negotiations were successful, and in return, Kenya demanded from Kazakhstan to support its candidacy in the election of non-permanent members of the UN Security Council for 2021-2020, about which the Ambassador of Kazakhstan in Ethiopia B. Sadykov informed his Ministry of Foreign Affairs on October 15, 2019.
Already on October 16, 2019, a meeting of Kazakh ambassador in Ethiopia B. Sadykov and Kenya Ambassador in Ethiopia K. Mwangi was held. The diplomatic mission to Kenya of adviser of the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Ethiopia A. Akhmetov was preparing for the organization of close cooperation with representatives of KEVEVAPI and the Kenyan body regulating the production of vaccines.
Due to the fact that the vaccine “LUMPIVAX” produced by KEVEVAPI is significantly discredited in the Republic of Kazakhstan by negative experience of its use, as well as mass rejection of the vaccine by agricultural producers, the large-scale use of this vaccine in Kazakhstan has actually become very problematic.
Therefore, it should be assumed with a high degree of probability that in such a situation Kazakhstan has already taken the way of direct forgery and fraud.
Experts consider that supplies of Kenyan vaccine to Kazakhstan will necessarily involve the use of mechanisms to hide its real origin. It may be issued as an alleged “new” drug created and produced in Kazakhstan, which would be a gross falsification.
In 2019, the vaccine against nodular dermatitis, which was allegedly developed by the Research Institute of Biosafety Problems of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan (Gvardeysky village, Zhambyl region), was included to the State Register of Veterinary Preparations and Additives of the Ministry of Agriculture. This vaccine uses the strain “Neethling”, similar to that used in Kenyan vaccine “LUMPIVAX”. There is no sale in Kazakhstan and foreign markets, which indicates the absence of actual production of this drug in Kazakhstan.
The combination of these data allows experts to argue that the operation of state registration of Kazakhstan's vaccine against nodular dermatitis (certificate RK-VP-1-3730-18 of October, 24, 2018) is one of the stages of concealing the supply of Kenyan vaccine “LUMPIVAX” and its subsequent use for vaccination of cattle under the guise of a national drug.
Deliveries from Kenya will be made in unmarked vials at the insistence of Kazakhstan. According to experts' estimates, the National Biotechnology Center in Stepnogorsk is the only enterprise in Kazakhstan that has the necessary production facilities for relabeling “LUMPIVAX” and legalizing the actual production of such product in large amount.
In order to conceal the Kenyan origin of the vaccine, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan insisted on direct tacit contacts with the drug manufacturer, Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute, in negotiations with Kenyan diplomats in Ethiopia.
Now Kazakhstan has started to implement the National Program of Beef Livestock Breeding Development for 2018 - 2027, which provides for the increase of cattle stock from 7 to 15 million heads. It is planned to implement an ambitious plan to create an export-oriented industry of meat cattle breeding in the country by using unused pasture land, which forms a significant part of foreign exchange earnings to the budget from the agricultural sector of Kazakhstan.
Taking into account the probable food shortage predicted by the UN due to the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic, one cannot but admit that this program of Kazakhstan is very timely. But it is a rhetorical question whether it should be achieved by such methods...
After all, the breeding stock of cattle, imported into Kazakhstan, will be subjected to a large-scale vaccination with the Kenyan drug at the initial stage of the Program. This will inevitably lead to extensive contamination with nodular dermatitis of animals and large areas in Kazakhstan.
The existence of such stable sites in the border areas of Kazakhstan poses a real threat of cross-border spread of nodular dermatitis virus into the territory of China with the subsequent occurrence of systematic sporadic outbreaks of difficult to control disease already in the territory of China itself.
In connection with the plans of the Government of Kazakhstan to annually increase of beef export, it seems likely to increase the supply of Kazakh meat products to China from areas troubled by nodular dermatitis.
The best developed locale in the entire country, a place I visited several times, was Baikonur Cosmodrome.
out in the absolute middle of nowhere, some 1,400 km. from Almaty. It wasn’t an oil or gas producing area, so that will give you an idea of the Soviet’s avaricious Machiavellian views on the republic at the time.
It was a cash-cow to be milked until dry. How it got fed was its own problem.
However, the Kazakh oil and gas industry was well established. In 1899, wells from 40-meter depth in Karachungul oilfield, the first oil in the territory of Kazakhstan was produced by flowing wells. Daily production in Karachungul oilfield was 12-25 tons (84-175 BOPD).
By the 90s though, even though there were many oil and gas fields, the infrastructure was, well, let’s call it as it was: shit.
‘HSE’ (Health, Safety, and Environment) were just three letters in a foreign alphabet.
Everything associated with the extraction, production, and transport of oil and gas was decrepit and literally falling apart.
Kazakhstan, as were all the Stans, were considered distant undesirable shirttail relatives of Mother Russia, or worse, a Central Asian “black ass” region, and Muslim to boot. This was rampant xenophobia at its finest.
So, exploration turned to exploitation and it was ‘oil at any costs’, and the country is still recovering from that era. They have the geology and they have the oil, but they needed the infusion of billions and billions of dollars of foreign capital. With oil production in seven regions of Kazakhstan: Atyrau, Mangistau, West Kazakhstan, Aktobe, South Kazakhstan, Kyzylorda, Karaganda; once the dust from the wall and curtain settled, they received it in droves.
Now, in Kazakhstan, there are more than 170 oil and more than 40 gas-condensate fields with discovered extractable reserves of oil and condensate in 2.9 billion tons (20.3 billion barrels). With this newfound wealth, they began to build new cities from whole-cloth. One such was Kazakhstan's capital, was moved from Almaty to Astana, now Nur-Sultan, in 1997.
Still, it’s a trickle-down economy, and there are still several dams, weirs, and slogged sluiceways that clog the economic arteries. The rampant corruption has taken time to resolve, and it’s an ongoing chore. There’s still a need to ‘grease the wheels’ or ‘prime the pump’, particularly out in the outer rim areas.
Old habits die very hard, indeed.
However, for now, many such old concerns are but distant, unpleasant memories. It’s not all skittles and beer, mind you, but a damn sight better than it was three decades ago.
So, I’m sitting in the lounge, I’m enjoying another faux-Rocknocker and cigar at the bar. It’s gotten a bit busier and I thought I’d relinquish my table for four for a group larger than just myself.
The sun is setting, and a quiet twilight descends upon the city on surreptitious, stealthy, silent cat paws.
Then all hell breaks loose.
Seems the quartet for whom I abandoned my table for a spot up on Mahogany Ridge was incensed. Yes, actually furious, that someone besides them, was allowed to smoke in the lounge.
These were some locals, I surmised, from the garb and language. Evidently some form of nuevo-riche
non-pasteurized knuckleheads in their shiny Armani-knockoff suits and Atheist Dior counterfeit sundown regalia.
They were snuffling and snorting like food and drink was soon going to be declared illegal. All the while they were fumigating the area with their sickening off-brand who-knows-where-origin cigarettes.
“I am important businessman!” the head jackal screams. “I spend much money here. I am sick of smoke! I demand you do something!”
I ignore the whole evolving tableau. They weren’t talking about me, it seemed, just some others in the lounge enjoying a quiet pipe or regular cigarette.
Not my race, not my horse. I snubbed them with callously supreme indifference.
The two women present, ghastily resplendent in their sparkly, overly-bedazzled frocks, begin to ululate in that weird Central Asian mien that causes sane men to run for cover and sheep to spontaneously detonate at a thousand meters.
I shake my head and just concentrate on appreciating the silently creeping twilight. The town was lighting up like a million terrestrial jeweled scuttling crabs on a soggy shoreface. Even the traffic-clogged main transportation arteries took on an eerily-lit ethereal countenance.
I puff away, partly in defiance and partly because I was smoking a fine cigar.
It was a perfectly legal and acceptable activity here in the lounge, I was certain of that fact. I order a new drink as I ask the bartender if they are going to do anything about all the fresh tumult.
“Oh, sir.” The beleaguered barkeep says, “He’s in here constantly. He thinks he’s important and since no one has scraped before him and made him feel like he’s a big man, he carries on. Forget him, I’ll get you a new drink.”
I accept that and continue to ignore the two noisy hooligans and let them blend in with the white noise of the background chatter.
He returns with another fresh toddy and I tip him 5000 tenge. It was worth it for the information and fresh drink.
The bad noise continues as his lieutenant, or second-idiot-in-charge extends the fun. He starts walking around the lounge, berating everyone who has the audacity to relax and disregard them with extreme prejudice.
He’s twittering down the long, marble-topped bar and I do my best to feign extreme interest in the stylolites in the construction of the tabletop. He’s upset that many people are not complying with his ridiculous whims instantly. The lit cigarette hanging from his hirsute maw is but perhaps one of the many reasons several people have told him to brightly fuck off.
He wanders up next to me and hesitates. Perhaps my grim visage and full gray Grizzly Adams beard gave him a slight pause. Unfortunately, it only lasted a few fleeting seconds.
“You there.” he howls, “Put out that damned cigar.”
I continue to completely ignore him.
He grows instantly more furious.
“Are you fucking deaf?” he screams at me.
I actually do know American Sign Language, so I turn and slowly sign “Fuck off, asshole” in his general direction.
He’s sore perplexed. Am I truly deaf or am I just being an antagonist?
Truth is, it’s actually a bit of both.
He grabs my shoulder and physically tries to spin me around to face him.
OK, now the Rubicon has been crossed.
I spy the bartender on the phone and he looks as worried as some teenager who has just found that his lucky wallet rubber had ruptured in action.
“Don’t ever fucking do that again, you asshole. “ I growl, lowly and menacingly. “Touch me again and your relatives will be meeting in the morning to split up your possessions.”
“What?” he screams.
“OK, you’re stupid as well as obnoxious,” I reply coolly. “Here’s a little free advice: sit down, shut up, and keep to your own little party. You have no idea the fuse you’ve just lit.”
“What?” he screams. “You know who I am?”
I have had enough. The bartender is off the phone and looking expectantly towards the elevators. I surmise securities’ on its way.
Being in chronic pain, a bit jet-lagged, and in no mood for such shenanigans, I figure the best way to handle the situation is to toss a little 100 octane on the embers and reply in kind.
“No, I don’t. Nor do I care.” I replied. “Do you know who I am?”
He has gone infrapink by this time, spinning off into a relativistic chroma shift that typically indicates imminent intense aggravation and aggressiveness in lower primates.
He sputters and is attempting to organize his remaining besieged synapses to formulate a response.
I stand up to full height, displaying my best mammalian threat posture.
This is just too much fun because I’m at least 30 centimeters taller and several stone heavier than this hooligan. I proceed to verbally frog-march this virtual walking organ donation bank sack of shit back to his seat.
“You done fucked up, BOY!” I snarl, as I walk menacingly toward him, “You manhandled the Motherfucking Pro from Dover!
You called down the thunder. Well, now you've got it!
I dug deeply into my supply of action movie lines.
He is shocked that someone has the unadulterated audacity to actually stand up to him and his empty yellow threats.
“Eventus stultorum magister
. [Fools must learn from experience]”, I growl and watch him backpedal in the direction of his comrades; who are sitting at their table, evidently trying in vain to pull their assflaps up over their heads so they can disappear in a puff of gherkins.
“You know what you’ve done? You have gone and pissed me off. Me! The one with a death sentence on 12 systems, you fucking numpty. Get this: I don’t step on toes… I step on necks. You’re a fucking disease… And I’m the goddamned cure.” I roar.
OK, not my best lines, but it wasn’t open mic night and I’m still working on my tight five.
He’s totally flummoxed by this odd turn of fortune. He is rapidly seeking a way out that will leave him and his party with their giblets at least semi-intact.
It’s not the fact that I could snap this wiggler in two or that I could send him to that realm of æther, farts, and smoke; but rather his perception that I would.
I reinforce that image for him by acting all the more verbally aggressive to the point he stumbles and lands ass first in his chair.
I blow a huge, blue cloud in their general direction and the entire party visibly cringes.
It’s OK to be an asshole, but a deranged, potentially unhinged, and aggressive asshole?
They’re completely overdrawn at the memory bank by this point and are suffering the first five stages of complete cerebral meltdown.
I plonk my paws on their table and look the prime miscreant directly in the eye. Direct eye contact in this culture, like many, is incredibly off-putting. I know that and utilize it to my best effect.
“You sit here and smoke those shitty cheap-ass cigarettes and you have the fucking impudence to physically assault an American Expatriate Doctor of Petroleum Geology who is smoking a cigar that costs more than your fucking net worth.” I fume.
They say nothing, although the women are looking at the two male hooligans to please extract them from this most decidedly uncomfortable situation indeed.
Look, in the last 4 decades or so, I’ve been around the ol’ block a few times. I actually live
in a paranoid and primitive culture and have done so around the world. I know full well regional societal norms, and that gives me carte blanche
to use the more negative aspects in my defense. Call it social warrioring.
Oh, OK. I don’t want to be characterized as being all stereotypical, but certain groups hate, actually loathes, prolonged, direct eye contact. Some are space mongers. They have their own bubble of personal space and get all anxious inside if someone violates that area of perceived individual real estate. Some despise being the recipients of loud language. Others hate cursing, invective, and swearing. Most hate uninvited touching, and in some cultures, that’s an active violation of local laws. Some hate being called out in public and even if they’re loud themselves, they can’t handle the reverse.
And many hate big, snarly, wild-eyed, toothy grins. Like those in Central Asian cultures. I guess it jogs their collective genetic memories of predators preparing to strike.
So, I’m growling loudly, directly, right in their faces. Marty Feldman-esquely wild-eyed through a huge toothy grin that if they don’t immediately apologize to the whole lounge in general and me in particular, they’ll find out just what color is a fresh human liver.
The lounge is silent.
I stand up to full height, which causes me to audibly grimace since I no longer am wearing my brace. That was the final straw for these camelbacks.
“I’m sorry, sir”, the lead dickhead says to the tabletop.
“What? I can’t hear you! Remember? I’m just some deaf asshole in the bar. Tell the lounge, they want to hear it as well!” I snarl.
“We apologize, sir. It was ne culturny. We are sorry.” He says in a loud, though very unsteady, voice.
“Fuckin’-A right, you are Scooter!” I reply loudly, “Now. Any problems we have left with which to deal? No? We fucking green, Beaumont?”
There were four full-face mystifications running around the table at that point.
“Do you understand what I just said?” I prompt.
There were a quartet of nodding donkeys at the table, hoping their offerings of appeasement would make me just disappear.
I slam a meaty mitt on their table, just to be certain I had their attention.
“Those were some ugly things to say. You know, if I thought you all weren't my friends, I just don't think I could bear it. But now, you’re not being stupid any longer. We can be friends. Isn’t that nice?” I say, giving the lead idiot a light couple of pats on the cheek as I lumber back over to my perch on Mahogany Ridge.
I order a fresh drink and it appears just as hotel security, local off-duty police officers, arrives.
“Good evening, officers,” I say. “What brings you in on such a fine evening?”
“We heard there was a disturbance”, the taller one says.
“Oh, there was.” I cast a wide-eyed and toothy smile over to my new buddies. “But, it’s been handled. Sorry about the false alarm”.
The police have a chat with the barkeep and I can see through the posturing, gesticulations, and eventual guffaws that a full report was being given of the lounge’s last two minute’s activities.
The police head towards the door and wag a finger at my new friends, warning them they’re under advisement. They all cringe and appear incredibly interested in the flowers in the vase on their table.
I smile, get situated, and relight my cigar.
“Just another day in the life” I mutter.
Back in my room, I decide to partake of the in-room Jacuzzi and then head off to bed. It’s been an eventful day.
The next morning, at breakfast, I’m savoring my fried hen-fruit, grilled sausages, and cool Shymkentskoye pints. It’s a morning tradition, what can I say?
As today’s going to be a telecommuting day, I spend the rest of it in the room, reading up on reports, making incessant notes, and calling to make appointments with various oil companies for the coming days.
I make notes of the geology for the lager fields.
Karachaganak Field production originates deep underground in the reservoir approximately 5,000 meters deep. The reservoir contains a vast quantity of oil, condensate, and gas all embedded in a porous rock structure. These hydrocarbons are layered much like a cake with the oil near the bottom of the reservoir in a thin layer, the condensate in a thicker layer on top of the oil and then the gas in the thickest layer at the top of the reservoir.
Kashagan Field is a carbonate platform of Late Devonian to middle Carboniferous age. The "reef" is about 75 kilometers (47 mi) long and 35 kilometers (22 mi) across a narrow neck joining two broader platforms (Kashagan East and Kashagan West). The top of the reservoir is about 4,500 meters (14,800 ft) below sea level and the oil column extends for over 1,000 meters (3,300 ft.). The field is in very shallow water, 3 to 9 meters (9.8 to 29.5 ft.) deep. The seal is middle Permian shale and late Permian salt.
Tengiz Field is hosted in the sedimentary section of the pre-Caspian basin which varies between 5 km to 24 km. It is dominated by the Permian Kungurian salt, which is overlain by the later (post-salt) deposits of Upper Permian, Mesozoic and Cenozoic all deformed by salt tectonics. Earlier (pre-salt) Paleozoic and upper Proterozoic carbonates and terrigenous sediments are potential reservoirs. Geophysics has revealed the Karaton tectonic uplift, which was 400 km2 in area and 1 km in relief, at a depth of 4 km.
A mixed bag of geology, as is expected in these places.
I decide that I’m going to split this little adventure into two distinct parts, perhaps three.
One would be office visits. Second would be field visits and lastly, perhaps a trek over to the Caucasus to address my Agency buddies desires for information.
That night in the lounge was remarkably quiet. I guess my reputation preceded me or the previous nocturnal miscreants didn’t care for a repeat of the last night’s frolics.
After breakfast the next day, I call Nuri and outline my plans. He’ll be driving me all over hell and back, to local and regional oil company offices.
There’s no way around it, I must do some in-country flying to visit the oilfields in person.
It’s a huge country and as much as I like a road trip, I don’t plan on staying any longer than absolutely necessary.
The next two days are spent visiting the oil company’s offices. I’m feted to grand productions in the conference rooms, given huge parcels of data for later distillation and consumption, and invited to dinner by each and every one.
I beg off, though accept lunch instead. With the usual Central Asian hospitality, each evening I limp back to my room, pay off the hotel redcap, store my procured documents, make my notes, and collapse.
I leave a nice hand-written note for Arthricia and a few tens of thousands of tenges. I also make certain to let her employers know of her high degree of customer service.
I fly off to Astana’s Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport and find I have reservations at the St. Regis. Nurislam isn’t here, unfortunately, so I have to cab it over to the hotel. It’s another hour-long 20-kilometer slalom through traffic, and I arrive, part with some tenges and wander into the lobby.
I have reservations for a ‘Royal Suite 1 Bedroom Larger Suite, Riverfront, Jacuzzi, Corner room, High floor, Fireplace’ room. Just what I need to get some work done.
I arrive in my room and set up my office as per usual. The redcap is most ingratiatingly efficient and returns a few minutes later with my room service order.
No use denying the facts of the matter. I’m going to stay in Astana and make day trips to the various oilfields. This requires flying back and forth, hither and yon. I devise an itinerary and go to visit the concierge. For the next few days, I’ll be nominally staying at the hotel here in Astana, but flying out to varied and distant reaches of the countries, making some whirlwind rounds of the fields and flying back in the evening.
It’s this part of the job I really detest.
The concierge accepts my travel itinerary and pledges he’ll sort out all the particulars for me. Won’t be cheap, he tells me. I tell him to hang the cost and make sure it’s just not on SCAT Airlines. I leave him my credit card number and he tells me he’ll have everything sorted by the evening.
I tell him that if I’m not in my room, I’ll be in the bar.
So that’s where I head next.
No drama, just some fine drinks, and bar food. I’m grateful for the lull in activity.
I head back to my room and fritter away the rest of the evening and into the early night preparing for my excursions in the coming days.
I receive a knock at the door, and it’s the concierge. He hands me my tickets, boarding passes and flight itineraries for the next couple of days. He’s gone above and beyond the call, as he’s arranged ground transport for me at each destination as well. He’s as pleased with his tips as I am that he’s sorted this Gordian travel knot out for me.
Off to Tengiz one day, Karachaganak the next. In the meantime, I visit several smaller fields that are clustered around these huge accumulations. Luckily, I brought extra digital cards and camera batteries as I’m photographing everything in sight. I don’t know when and if I’ll ever be back this way again. It’s better to over-document the place and not need it than to miss something seemingly unimportant that usually results in being desperately critical.
I actually take expensive chopper rides over some of the larger fields and get in some aerial photography. Well, they wanted maximum coverage, so I’m just doing what they asked.
On the third day, I take in a field that's close to Astana and go by ground transport. By this time, the repetition is becoming mind-numbing. Yet, I persevere and finish my allotted duties by noon. I return to my hotel suite and spend the rest of the day outlining the various reports I’ll create later back home.
I receive another Email from Agents Rack and Ruin, enquiring how things are going.
Sure, like you really care. They’re fishing, seeing if I’m going to go over to the Caucasus and have a bit of a snoop around.
Once again, I visit the concierge and ask him to fulfill my new travel itinerary.
He reads it and asks me if I’m daft.
“Are you certain, sir?” he asks.
“Unfortunately,” I replied, wearily.
He performs his magic and has it all planned that I visit Makhachkala, Dagestan, and Elista in the Republic of Kalmykia. I called foul on going to Grozny in Chechnya; it’s just too damned unstable. Plus they have yet to issue me a bulletproof skin.
It’s an intelligence-gathering mission, with no particular persons of individual interest. I’m playing it up as a working vacation while I research my new book.
So, one day in Makhachkala, and it’s overland for 7 hours to Elista in Kalmykia. I know people here and bunk with Tzayatr, an oilfield worker I met here years ago. He’s pleased to hear from me again and he instantly invites me to his home. He tells me how could I even think of staying in a hotel?
Kalmikya still uses the Russian Ruble, as they’re still nominally a part of Russia, so I swap out my leftover tenge for the familiar ruble. I swap 100,000 tenge for 16,000 rubles. I’m rich until I hire a car the next day to take me around the city and adjoining countryside.
Elista is a wonderful city, full of things and stuff. I was here, once again, a long, long time ago. It was just after the wall fell and the curtain went out for alterations. It was a mostly agrarian, impoverished place, not a lot of fun and bearing all the hallmarks of not only Soviet disdain but actual malice. By the early 1930s, Elista was transformed into a small city as the collectivization policies of Joseph Stalin forced many Kalmyks to abandon their traditional pastoral nomadic lifestyle in exchange for a modern, sedentary, and urban lifestyle.
The town center has a number of renovated public parks focused on the main square, boasting statues to both Lenin and the Buddha. To the east of the town lies the Olympic village of the 1998 XXXIII Chess Olympiad, known locally as City-Chess. The site has a public swimming pool and an excellent museum of Kalmyk Buddhist art and is also used as a conference center.
The National Museum of the Republic of Kalmykia is a very respectable institution, covering the history, environment, and culture of the Kalmyk people and republic. One room deals with the deportations during WWII and well worth a few hours wandering.
The Buddhist Pagoda of Seven Days is a bright-red temple that stands on the city's main intersection and is not your typical Russian city. The temple has seven layers, prayer wheels, and a fountain, and occupies a spot that once held a statue of Lenin. Worth a look-see.
Finally, the Golden Abode of Buddha Shakyamuni, also called the New Khurul, was built in 2005 in the Tibetan style. The prayer hall sports an 11m-high statue of Buddha and the monk’s robe of the 14th Dalai Lama. Downstairs a small museum depicts the history of Kalmyk Buddhism. Also worth a visit.
After a day’s running amuck, I took Tzayatr and his wife Talia to Elista’s best steakhouse, the Gurman. It presented a carnivorous menagerie from camel and horse to beef, pork, lamb, mutton, pigeon, and chicken. The camel steak Tzayatr opted for was quite juicy, tender, and tasty. Talia had the grilled sheep liver, which she highly recommended. I opted for a blue porterhouse. It was excellent.
For afters, we noshed collectively on pear dessert, watermelon honey, halvah, and salty milk tea.
But all good things must come to an end, and I’m back on a flight out of Elista, to Stavropol, and off to Moscow. After Moscow, I’m headed to ‘Don’tSell’, in the Emirates, then on to my final destination.
There are layovers galore, but I was lucky enough to get my luggage taken from me in Elista and tagged all the way back to my home base. So, I wander around Sheremetyevo in Moscow and it’s like a homecoming. We used to live in Moscow and really harbor a fondness for the old town. It’s where I first broke into international all those long years ago and I’ve ventured back many several times.
Plus, I really like the airport’s multitudinous Duty-Free shops and I’ve got a load of Russian Rubles to get rid of…
So, now back in Don’tSell in the Emirates after a largely uneventful flight. It gave me time to sort out my notes for not only my company but those characters back in Langley.
Back in the airport Irish Pub, working on a new Rocknocker and trying to mash all my Duty-Free purchases into the free Ghurka backpack I received when I bought three boxes of the eponymous cigars. Customs back home will never give that as much as a sideward glance, I keep telling myself.
It’s a short hop back home, less than an hour in the air. It takes me longer to find a cab and negotiate a price than it does to actually get here from there. So, we land, and it’s the usual slog from the furthest international arrivals terminal to passport control to baggage and customs.
My back’s really playing up again after all the air, and cetera, travel I’ve crammed into these last few days. I try and order up a courtesy cart, but fat chance, these are reserved for locals, it would appear.
I let them know of my displeasure with the whole situation and since I’m being all Western and cranky about things, they give me a ration of shit when I finally limp up to passport control.
“Papers!” I’m told.
I fork over my Russian Diplomatic Passport.
The local in the dishdasha goes even whiter.
Something about Arabs and Russians. They just don’t seem to generally get along. No stereotyping, just observation.
“You are Russian?” I am asked.
“Nyet!” I reply forcefully.
He’s so confused. It’s not nice to bewilder the guys behind the counter, makes them get all nervous.
“Then why the passport?” he asks.
“So I can travel to different countries,” I reply. Silly person.
This goes on in this vein for a while until he calls over a superior. I am asked to come with to a small room for a private consultation.
“You are Russian?” I am once again asked.
Growing weary of the game, I reply that no, I’m not. I just hold more than one passport.
“Why is this?” they inquire.
Not wanting to prolong this caterwaul, I produce my blue passport and reply that the guys in the Agency back home have suggested that for certain places to which I travel, I might find my Russian passport less questionable and more efficacious.
Total incomprehension, save for “The Agency” part.
Stamp, stamp, stampedy stamp.
Both passports are immediately marked, and I’m ushered back out the door and off to baggage claim.
I gather my belongings and am shuttled through customs without as much as a sideward glance. The way it should be.
Back home, after an expensive and terrifying cab ride, Esme greets me with a drink and relief that I’m no longer flying around in areas of recent armed insurrection.
Upstairs to unpack. The reports, reprints, and all that guff can go hang. I’m beat, needing a refresh of my pain medication and a long, hot soak in the home hot tub.
Esme decides that’s a great idea and joins me.
Just before we slip into the warm, bubbly froth, my damned satellite cellphone telephone device begins to warble.
We don’t even as much as exchange glances as I switch the damned thing off and stuff it in the nightstand.
Hey, it's good to be back home again.
Sometimes this old place,
Feels like a long lost friend.
Yes, and hey, it's good to be back home again…