Greeks in Astana: Old wine in new bottles

When I started writing this post my first thought was to give some facts  and consequently numbers before entering the sphere of more subjective issues.  Counting the number of Greeks in Astana, I came up with the number 12.  Twelve is a significant number, thought, taking into consideration the 12 Olympians Gods, the 12 Heracle’s labours, the 12 Apostles, the  Ocean ‘s 12  and so forth. So probably, we are on a good path for the time being. Don’t forget the old wine sells better in new bottles!

I (information specialist)and Vasileios(robotics) were the first Greeks working at Nazarbayev University in Astana-a multibillion project of Kazakhstani government with the help of the World Bank to introduce the western education in the developing countries in central Asia. Few months later, another Greek joined us,  Vasilis (chemical engineering) followed by Grigoris (chemical engineering), Themistocles (education), Katerina(physics) and George(chemical engineering). Most of them came from Greece but their qualifications (PhD) are either from USA or Britain. The rest of the Greeks are, the Ambassador, three employees of the Greek embassy  and a Greek girl who works in a multinational company.

The NU is a good place to work in Astana and there are  plausible reasons for that: Firstly, it’s an English speaking environment, something quite rare in Astana since the official language is Russian and very soon will be Kazakh. The Kazakhstani government has intensified the effort to introduce the kazakh language as the main language in the schools and generally as the country’s official language. Nevertheless, so far all the well educated Kazakhs speak Russian and few of them English. Secondly, something that adds value to NU potentials are its partners, first class Western universities such as  Cambridge, UCL, Madison-Wisconsin, Duke University … and  thirdly, the students are the smartest in the country. They are being selected by tough  entrance examination with rate of acceptance 1/8.



The University campus is this interior atrium in the picture left. The reason of course is the low temperatures during winter which can drop to -40 C.


P1090215The Library is equipped with the latest technology and is being developed with rapid pace by adding thousands of items (print and e-resources) per month.


All the expats have free accommodation, well equipped hi-tech(Japanese/Korean) style apartments in the city centre and close to the University campus. Interestingly enough, despite the below zero temperatures the apartments are quite warm. I suppose, the main reason other than the nonstop heating system, is the good insulation (pictures below).


Tenge is the Kazakh currency and 1000 T  are around 4 Euro at the moment. There was a devaluation some months ago and somehow the expats started feeling unsafe but they made the appropriate adjustments in the salaries to keep the expats happy and in place.  Astana is not different from the rest capital cities of the western world in terms of cost, the prices are quite high for certain commodities, since almost everything is imported, such as clothes and other luxury goods.  It’s quite expensive place and  without offering the buzz of a well established  city. It is designated to be the  government’s place.The latter has already shaped its future and someone can visualise what it will be next : A place where people come mostly to work in the government offices or oil companies. This fact has some advantages in terms  of safety. My only concern, coming here in the first place, was safety for my family. I had heard a lot of stories by word  of mouth such as : It’s  dangerous place, there is a lot of corruption… Two years now living and working  in this city, I didn’t feel a bit of threat and I can say that there is an absurd confidence among the inhabitants.  Everyone can get a ride to home or  wherever is his destination by making a  hand signal to the cars(not official taxis) on the road by paying a minimal fee. Small children can get on the bus without being accompanied by their parents,  the ticket controller will look after them. I found so sweet this attitude and their sense of camaraderie.


Every few months  new restaurants are opening in the city, but again the good ones with the expected western service are few and very expensive, possibly at the same price as those of central London. There are malls with western high chain stores such as Zara,Gap… with the aforementioned prices. There is no Starbucks but there is Gloria Jean’s for the coffee lovers. Someone can find a reasonable range of food products in the super markets, there is Metro and a Turkish super market  chain which reminds me a bit the Greek super markets, especially the bakery.  The local vegetable and food markets, outside Astana, during Spring and Summer are a feast in the eyes and nose.The vegetables and fruits are so “real” that somebody can recognise easily  by the fragrance without seeing them, if you understand what I mean! Fish is quite rare product, since Astana is far away from the sea or lakes,but they have horse meat for the meat lovers: A traditional dish except shashlik(souvlaki) is horse meat with hilopites(pastry).


Astana is not a place for a tourist yet. In order someone to visit the country and specifically Astana-the city has border control in its exit/entry –  needs working visa or invitation and there is a big bureaucratic process to gain one of the above. Somehow, this is a way to keep out people  that they don’t need at this particular moment, where they are building up the infrastructure of the country/city.  The rest of the expats are working in oil/gas companies- serious business in Kazakhstan- or construction companies- a big construction of the Abu Dhabi Mall is on the way.


At the moment,  there is a lot of preparation for the forthcoming ASTANA EXPO 2017. It is expected to create new jobs opportunities.   Those who are interested in and they are quite brave and adventurous in heart, keep an eye on the announcements.

P1070270Kazakhs care about culture and entertainment. There is a Concert Hall and a new Opera House with regular performances of various orchestras and classical ballet. Most of tickets are sold out quite quickly. The Russian and Soviet Union’s influence is quite obvious at this point.

At the moment, I would say with confidence that summer is here, in Astana and life is getting easier and more pleasant comparing it with the wintertime. We can go outside and have big walks along the big river Ishim. The good thing is that there are seasons, some are shorter(spring and autumn) than the others(winter, summer) but there is this seasonal change that makes you feel optimistic and ready to make new starts every  now and then. During summer, the sun can be much more brighter than someone would prefer but nothing can be perfect in this life.

The Greeks are inspired : Το μπουλούκι των εμπνευσμένων

Φαίνεται ότι μερικοί ‘Ελληνες διάβασαν και εμπνεύστηκαν από το άρθρο του κ. Nίκου Δήμου στο lifo σχετικά με το θαύμα του Ντουμπάι και έσφιξαν τα ζωνάρια και τα δόντια μαζί και αποφάσισαν να εκδράμουν στα Εμιράτα ώστε να δούν με μάτια εξ’ιδίων τα αξιοθέατα του Ντουμπάι-Αμπού Ντάμπι και να πάρουν ιδέες.Πώς κατάφεραν δηλαδή αυτοί από το τίποτα (μόνο 2.3 εκ. βαρέλια πετρέλαιο την ημέρα)να δημιουργήσουν τέτοιο κυκεώνα από αξιοθέατα !! Και εμείς.. ??
Ο φακός της Πηνελόπης, όπως βλέπετε παρακάτω, τους έπιασε εν δράση. Μην ξεχνάτε “bloggers never sleep”!

Το μπουλούκι οδεύει προς το αξιοθέατο “Carrefour” στο Μαρίνα Μολ του Αμπού Ντάμπι.

Το πούλμαν απ’έξω από το Μολ περιμένει το μπουλούκι των “Εμπνευσμένων” για τον υπόλοιπο γύρο στα αξιοθέατα. Σε αυτούς τους δύσκολους καιρούς, όσα πιο πολλά βλέπει κανείς τόσο πιο σωστές αποφάσεις παίρνει.

Καθώς γύριζα πίσω, ολίγον τι αποσβολωμένη, η κόρη μου για να με καθησυχάσει μου είπε “μαμά, κοίτα και ένα πούλμαν Γιαπωνέζων τουριστών, δεν είναι μόνο οι Έλληνες…”. Ευτυχώς δηλαδή, ησυχάσα.

One Laptop Per Greek (OLPG)™

To : Troika
From : The Greeks
Subject : One more request

Dear Sirs,

We know we are a pain in the €€€ but we would like to ask you one more request:
To distribute one laptop with wi-fi access to every Greek and leave us alone. Eventually, we’ll find our own way out.

Thank you in advance.

Yours faithfully,
The Greeks xxx

Athenian Stories Part 1-Αθηναικές Ιστορίες Mέρος 1ον

After one year of our Arabic experience our need to go back to Europe was quite intense. It was   a  kind of pilgrimage to the ‘traditional’ places where we had already lived or spent holidays in the past.

My first stop was P6100044-1in Athens my homeland seeing family, relatives and friends and making a bit of promotion of the book. The time of my arrival  coincided with the European election. The Athenians  had already decided not to vote. This opinion was coming straight from their subconscious through the voice of a stand up comedian named Lakis Lazopoulos  who with his pretty sense of humour shapes common opinion in the Greek land. This time, all the setting was divinely convenient . My compatriots could enjoy their  extended weekend at their summer houses and at the same time  claim  that they are rebellious political animals giving a real message- a slap to the corrupted Greek political world by not voting. The other day somewhere in a ‘Greek Starbucks’ drinking our freddo cappuccino,  my friend Maria was telling me ‘why to vote and who to vote for? So it was better to go swimming… Did you see the British?  They gave a good lesson to  the  Brown’s government, in the election his party came seventh in the list’. I was listening her, drinking this new  cocktail (we are unbeatable in  improvising  cold coffee recipes) totally puzzled   and wondering at the same time the role of the blank vote-spoiled vote and where my friend discovered the seven  parties in the  British parliament! For these complex debating skills I love the Greeks to bits.

My book presentation  in the new cafe/book  shop named Floral in the centre of Athens Exarhia was quite a breakthrough to my personal shyness.  I was able to read my speech without  a trace of temerity and I quite enjoyed it despite Smaragda’s  (my actress friend) reprimands  about the reading. She was expecting me to learn it by heart. Ha! If I was able to do that I would be an actress now , acting cheek to cheek with Hugh Grant, not writing a book about him.  The brevity of the reading was due to the fact that I was surrounded by the ‘stand by me’ friends Ritsa , Natassaki and Eleni, Aggeliki Papadopoulou, my agent  and friend Katerina Fragou my  old family friend actress Samaragda Smyrnaiou.And last not least Johnny –my backbone -was around. There were some new blogofriends  Coco , Antigoni, Katrina . I was surprised and impressed by the fact that some people came because they had been informed  by the mass media, newspapers etc..  Quite a few from my audience were missing because they have been captured by Alogoskoufi  (ex MP)who  presented his own book at the same time at GB. Anyway I have a big heart so I didn’t harbour  any resentfulness to him.

Another mission was to visit the new Acropolis museum. Despite the  Greek media discouragement   who was announcing  that all the tickets had been sold out in the first three days, I was able to visit it in the third day without any problem of queuing or not finding a ticket. My verdict  is that at last we have a proper museum with the latest technology to exhibit our archaeological treasure.  I will leave  the comments about the architecture  of the museum itself to those who adored it and of course they are majority and therefore their opinion is the correct one.


Αθηναικές ιστορίες

P6130068Μετά από ένα χρόνο διαμονής  στην Αραβική χερσόνησο χωρίς κανένα διάλλειμα  η ανάγκη μας να γυρίσουμε  στην Ευρώπη και στα παλιά λημέρια μας  ήταν πολύ έντονη.

Πρώτος σταθμός ήταν η Αθήνα η ιδιαίτερη πατρίδα μου ,για  να δω την οικογένεια μου, τους συγγενείς και φίλους και να προωθήσω και λίγο το βιβλίο μου. Η επιστροφή μου στην Αθήνα συνέπεσε με τις Ευρωπαικές εκλογές . Οι Αθηναίοι ήδη είχαν αποφασίσει να μην πάνε να ψηφίσουν, τους είχε μιλήσει  βλέπεις το υποσυνειδητό τους μέσω του στόματος  του Λάκη Λαζόπουλου ο οποίος διαμορφώνει εδώ και αρκετό καιρό κατά ένα μεγάλο μέρος την Ελληνική κοινή γνώμη. Και  ειδικά αυτή τη φορά όλο το σενάριο τους ήρθε ‘κουτί’ ήταν τριήμερο είχαν προετοιμαστεί να πάνε στα εξοχικά τους να περάσουν μούρλια και την ίδια στιγμή θα παρουσιαζόντουσταν εντελώς πολιτικοποιημένα όντα  δίνοντας  ένα κανονικό χαστούκι  στη διαφθορά του πολιτικού κόσμου ξαπλώνοντας στη καινούργια ΙΚΕΑ σεζ λονγκ που αγοράσαν για το εξοχικό. Αυτά μου έλεγε και η φίλη μου η Μαρία όταν πίναμε τα  Fredo καπουτσίνα μας σε ένα Αθηναικό ‘Starbuck’ . Μου ελεγε λοιπόν ‘Γιατί να παω να ψηφίσω, και ποιόν να ψηφίσω; Δεν πάω καλύτερα να κολύμπήσω.. Δεν βλεπεις που οι Βρετανοί βγάλανε τον Μπράουν στη έβδομη θέση;’ . Tην άκουγα και έπινα  το κοκτειλ  μου ( καλά είμαστε άπαιχτοι στον να δημιουργούμε  παγωμένες καφοσυνταγές)  εντελώς μπερδεμένη και  συγχρόνως αναρωτιόμουν,  τι ρόλο παίζει άραγε η λευκή ψήφος και που στο καλό  η φίλη μου ανακάλυψε τα επτά κόμματα στην Βρετανική βουλή; Ενας λόγος που λατρεύω τους Ελληνες είναι ότι είμαστε ακαταμάχητοι σε λεκτικά  επιχειρήματα.

Η παρουσίαση του βιβλίου στο Καφε Φλοράλ ήταν πράγματι μια σημαντική πρόοδος  όσον αφορά την προσωπική μου αυτοσυγκράτηση και δειλία.  Διάβασα το λόγο μου χωρίς ίχνος συστολής και το καταδιασκέδασα. Αν και η  και Σμαράγδα Σμυρναίου (η φίλη μου ηθοποιός)  με κατσιάδασε λέγοντας μου ότι έπρεπε να τον πώ απέξω. Χα! Αν ήμουν ικανή να το μάθω απέξω τώρα θα έπαιζα στις ταινίες ‘τσικ του τσικ’ με τον Χιου Γκραντ και δεν θα έγραφα βιβλια για αυτόν. Βέβαια σε αυτή την άνεση μου έπαιξε ρόλο το ότι περιτρυγιριζόμουν από τους ‘stand by me’ φιλους την Ριτσα, το Νατασσακι την Ελένη, την Αγγελική Παπαδοπούλου, την αντζεντισσα μου Κατερινα Φράγκου και την παλιά μου οικογενειακή φίλη Σμαράγδα Σμυρναίου. Και φυσικά- την ραχοκοκαλιά μου- τον Τζόνι. Γνώρισα νέους μπλογκοφίλους όπως την Κοκο την Αντιγόνη και την Κατερίνα και ακόμα εντυπωσιάστικα από το γεγονός ότι αρκετοί ήρθαν γιατί το πληροφορηθήκαν από την μέσα μαζικής επικοινωνίας, εφημεριδες κλπ. Ενα μέρος από το κοινό μου απορροφήθηκε από την ομιλία του Αλογοσκούφη που έκανε παρουσίαση τον δικό του βιβλίο την ίδια ώρα και ημέρα στο GB. Τελος πάντων, έχω μεγάλη καρδιά  -μου το είπε και ο καρδιολόγος στο τελευταίο check up- που χωράει όλους, γιαυτό δεν του  κρατάω καμμία κακία.

Πραγματοποίησα άλλο ένα στόχο που είχα βάλει κατεβαίνοντας/ανεβαίνοντας στην Αθήνα να πάω να επισκεφτώ το Μουσείο της Ακρόπολης. Η ετυμηγορία μου είναι  ότι επιτέλους έχουμε Μουσείο τελευταίας τεχνολογίας για να συντηρήσουμε και να επιδείξουμε τον πλούσιο  αρχαιολογικό μας θησαυρό. Τα σχόλια περί κτιρίου και αρχιτεκτονικής θα το αφήσω σε αυτούς που το λατρέψανε και οι οποίοι είναι η πλειοψηφία και με το τελευταίο αυτόματα συνεπάγεται και το σωστό της γνώμης περί ωραίου.