13 October 2013

Kurban Ait in Astana

We have a  half term holiday this week.  It is a fantastic opportunity for us to recharge our batteries and to spend some time with the children.  The week coincides with the Kurban Ait holiday which is the local name for Eid Al Adah or the Feast of Sacrifice, a major Islamic celebration. 

Kurban Ait commemorates the willingness of Abraham (and the acquiescence of Ishamel) to sacrifice Ishmael at the request of God.  Before the sacrifice could be completed God provided  a lamb in place of Ishmael.    (This differs from the Christian tradition which states that Abraham was called on to sacrifice his younger son, his legal heir, Ishmael’s half brother Isaac).  Eid al Adah (Kurban Bayrami) was also a major celebration in Turkey – most of our friends would travel back to their families to enjoy the long break, everyone was on the move meaning we would stay at home, away from the horribly busy roads and airports. 

The tradition of Eid al Adah calls for people to dress in their best clothes and join in Eid Prayers  in a large congregation.  Families who can afford it will either sacrifice an animal which will be divided between family, neighbours and the poor or will pay into a communal sacrifice.  Here in Astana the city authorities specify the places where slaughter is permitted – they have to meet strict sanitary and epidemiological standards.  From there the mosques co-ordinate the distribution of meat to the needy.  Families spend the holiday together, enjoying special food and exchanging gifts.  Slaughter is not permitted in back yards, gardens or out on the streets but, I suspect out in the villages, as in Turkey, this still goes on.  I did notice a documentary on the television the other day on how to slaughter your sheep (I switched over very quickly).

Kurban Ait is a popular family holiday celebrated by most of our neighbours.  Over the next few days everyone we meet will be carrying bags full of food to prepare for the big celebratory meals.  They are always happy to include us in their celebrations in one way or another, exchanging greetings or asking us to come in for a few minutes.  It is not uncommon for our children to be given sweets or boursak (savoury doughnuts) by neighbours who meet them in the lift or courtyard.  Last year my husband and I had popped down to the building’s little convenience store to pick up a few essentials.  While we were there we got talking to an elderly lady we had not met before.  She had not realised that any foreigners lived in the building and was very interested to find out more about us.  We were talking for some time when she invited us to come up to her house for a meal; she wanted to know where we were from and what we thought about life in Kazakhstan. 

The afternoon became one that I will remember with particular warmth.  We helped her carry her shopping up to her apartment and as soon as we arrived we were sat down with a cup of tea.  She spoke to us in a mix of Russian and Kazakh that taxed our understanding, telling us about her pride in her children and their achievements.  Sadly her children lived in another city so she was on her own a lot although they were coming to get her for the holiday.  She had also, she told us, survived two heart attacks and a stroke.  All the while she was pottering around her kitchen getting a spread of fruit, fish, meat, biscuits and sweets, when the food was ready she gave a blessing before serving the meal.  We were travellers, she said, and on such days, travellers were both blessed and welcome.  We stayed and talked to her for some time, making sure that we ate at least a little of everything on the table, enjoying her company and trying our best to communicate and understand each other.  I truly wish I had been more competent with the language to be able to understand more of the detail of what she was saying and to be able to communicate our enjoyment of our time with her.  Nevertheless it was one of those situations where you realise how much you can communicate when both parties are willing.  When we left she pressed packets of sweets into our hands for our children. 

I have seen her around the building a few times since then and we always wave at each other and say hello and I popped some chocolates over to her for New Year and Nauruz.  Now that Kurban Ait has come around again I will bring something over and offer congratulations.

Click on the picture for more posts on life in Kazakhstan.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Thanks for your blog. I'm moving to Ust Kamenogorsk in a few weeks from Istanbul, Turkey. I"m thinking this is going to be the real culture shock, whereas Istanbul was not at all.
    It's nice to know there are other people like me, doing these things and writing about them.

    1. Have a wonderful time in Ust Kamenogorsk - looking forward to hearing about your adventures there.

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