Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Gynacologia? Gynacologia?

I think I am finally beginning to realise that when you plan something, you really do have to take into account the possible down sides as well as the much-more-fun up sides to a potential situation. When we were sussing out moving to Kazakhstan, one of the potential downsides that we considered was the lack of good, local hospital facilities and, especially, the lack of English-speaking facilities. So imagine my delight when eight weeks into my sojourn in this fabulous republic (I do actually really like it here, but my opinion on the hospital care has not improved since moving here), I found out I would have to go to hospital for a general anaesthetic.

In Seoul where English is not widely spoken, there was a choice of several hospitals which had international clinics with English-speaking assistants who would take you around to do all the tests you needed etc. Here we have the SOS clinic which is a kind of health insurer own clinic that helps you out in a crisis, has an English-speaking expat doctor and deals with all the paperwork for a price.

Last week I had to go and get checked for something, and at the same time I told him that I had recently discovered that I was (accidentally) pregnant. So he sent me for a scan at the clinic in the photo, and sadly at the scan, the doctors saw that there was no heart beat and that the baby had stopped developing at about 7 weeks. All a total disaster, and it also meant I had to go and have an operation to get it taken out. 

On a list of 1000 things I would rather never do in my life, going to a Kazakh hospital and having a general anaesthetic would probably have been quite high, but I was in the position that I had no choice really. I was booked to fly to Thailand on Wednesday and the doctor said that without getting rid of it before flying I would risk having a full-blown miscarriage on the plane because of the change in air pressure (I am skeptical about this myself, but don't know for sure, and didn't have time to check really).  So on Tuesday I went off to another clinic to get done. there had been a miscommunication about the time for us to arrive, and so shortly after getting to the clinic we were whisked into the car park to be transferred to the clinic for the op, not into our waiting car, but into the "fast" car, in other words, the SOS Ambulance with the flashing lights and sirens blaring in order to cross town in under 10 minutes. 

What a crazy way to get to a routine operation. We had to get Baktiyar our driver to follow us as he didn't know where the clinic was, and we could see him concentrating very hard as he chased the ambulance along the roads, past the speed cameras etc. He must have thought we were proper drama queens. 

We arrived at the clinic (still not completely built - what a surprise... this is kazakhstan after all) and were shown into the lobby and went for various checks: 
"Now what is it you have come for?" asked the first doctor
"I thought you might have been told that before I came in," I replied.

Various weird questions: 
"Do you have your good feet?" asked the translating doctor
"What?" I said
"Your good foot, Gail, she means which is your primary foot, the one you always step forward with first," said my husband.
"I have absolutely no idea, I am right-handed" I said. 
"No, your good foot, your house foot," said the doctor
"Oh, you mean my slippers," I realised. 

And then it was time to be led down the hall to the operating area, have my glasses taken away so everything was completely fuzzy, hear my husband protesting to be allowed to come with me, "but she can't speak Russian...", and have my clothes removed while standing in a busy corridor and be given my operating gown. 

After a wait of a few minutes, about four blue-gown-clad people came up to me and a pair of heavily made-up eyes fuzzily came into view, speaking Russian and peering at my over their face mask. 

"I only speak a tiny bit of Russian and I really don't understand you," I said in my crap Russian, to which she replied: "Gynacologia? Gynacologia?" and I nodded, thinking, "Bloody hell, they might give me a hysterectemy for all I know." 

I was led into what was obviously an operating theatre set up for some kind of gynacological procedure, arms strapped into the crucifix position, and freezing cold. Fortunately, just before a total panic attack kicked in, it was time for the anaesthetic to be administered. "Just knock me out," I thought, "Or I am going to completely freak out here."

Anyway, I did wake up, felt a bit rough, but seem to have lived relatively intact to prove that the Motto of "It Will Probably Be Alright" which I have adopted since deciding to move here is holding true, and long may that last. 

Sunday, 19 October 2008

The World's Worst Toilet

I remember a conversation I once had with some friends about the worst toilets in the world. I think the winning entry at the time was one suggested by Matt who had worked in Somalia for a while. They had shit-filled holes in the ground inside metal boxes for privacy, where the cockroaches were so big, they used to throw in a load of petrol and then a match before entering the pit. 

I have racked up some pretty revolting toilets in my time: one in Brazil that was so disgusting that my friend urinated in the sink instead of the toilet as even hovering was too traumatic for her; a spray-shitted squatty in a government building in Hong Kong into which I had to go to the loo while looking after an 11 month old, walking Beatriz and not let her touch anything; the one on the top of the Great Wall of China where you squatted above a hole in a concrete floor that looked down approximately 1800 feet of rock face to the bottom of the gorge below and which, apart from the icy wind whistling up the shoot, was actually not so bad, but also not so environmentally friendly for this world-heritage site. 

Anyway, I have discovered a new contender for worst toilet in the world. Take note, that if you are ever crossing the border from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan, DO NOT use the public convenience on the Kyrgyz side. Husband said he had used the Gents on a previous trip and it was the worst men's toilet he had ever been in. But since they had a box charging women for the privilege of using it, I figured that the lady's would be better (they usually are). The kids and I entered, armed with our small roll of paper (20 tenge each), eyeing the concrete squats that just had a fairly large hole into a massive pit of excrement. The hole between the foot rests was big enough that one could feasibly lose ones balance and, in exceptionally unlucky circumstances, fall in (and with Sasha the wobbler, this kind of thing is always possible...) - total Horror. 

We don't have a  problem with squats, they don't have to be neat and tidy. We can do our business in the most basic places, but this room was honestly like a hell on earth. A place so terrible that you imagine the Black Hole of Calcutta might have smelt like this, or the bottom deck of a slave ship, or some other godawful situation. THE SMELL. I have not taken a photograph of this place, mainly because I left the place retching uncontrollably and did not want to go back in, and also because a photograph could NEVER capture the stench of this awful, awful little room. The girls were laughing their heads off. Sasha didnt even need to go, she had just come along and bought her loo roll for the expedition! They had never seen me react in this way to a loo before. 

It must have been the way the building was built, lack of ventilation or something, but I have never been in such a honking place. It was impossible to breathe in there without your stomach rising. I was desperate to go, and so had to go outside, take a deep breath and rush back in without breathing. The kids were looking through the door giggling as I struggled to finish without having to breathe in again and possibly puke on the floor. 

And that was my last impression of Kyrgyzstan! 

What to do in Bishkek?

There is really not a lot to do in Bishkek! There are not really any old monuments or anything to visit, the museums and art galleries are written up in our guide book as dusty, lacking in light (there is no electricity in Bishkek for six hours a day) and bizarre rather than interesting. And we were feeling a bit exhausted to be honest, so had a slow start to our day in this place. 
It took us over an hour to change money, failing at several ATMs only to then find that our trusty RBS had not failed us, once again blocking our account for removing cash in Central Asia.It is becoming a tedious fact of life here that getting hold of cash is a nightmare. 

We had decided to go and explore the largest of Bishkek's bazaars for a couple of hours, a place called Doldoi market. It is 7kms from the centre of the town, and is a huge pile of shipping containers (like Baraholka market in Almaty) which have been made into shops. Actually, once we got inside, we were all feeling like mooching around and had a good few hours buying winter boots for the kids, eating meat pies called Samsa and trying on a variety of fur hats. 

The hotel had warned us that this place was run by mafia and extremely dangerous which was of course a load of absolute nonsense. It is obviously where everyone in Bishkek goes to buy pretty much everything, and was completely fine. We saw some amazing things for sale: tall felt hats, piles of wool, huge central asian women with their heads wrapped in brightly-coloured scarves, gold-teeth ad infinitum and managed to survive without being mugged, robbed or kidnapped! 

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

We are just back from a weekend in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, a small, mountainous country bordering Kazakhstan. It is only a 3 hour drive from Almaty to Bishkek and since husband was working down there and already had a room in the big Hyatt there, we drove down on Friday afternoon. 

Baktiyar, our driver, hates Bishkek. He hates going there, can't stand the Kyrgyz people, thinks that Bishkek is a dump and could not comprehend why on earth we would want to go there at all. 

But we always like to visit new places and since it is close by and we had not been really outside Almaty, we decided to go and have a look. Driving out of Almaty we passed wide expanses of flat grassy land leading to snow-topped mountains on the left hand side, and on the right, just stretching away for what we know is absolutely thousands of kilometres, a big expanse of flatness. There are heaps and heaps of new homes being built, even quite a long way from the city. An awful lot of them have the look of have-a-go-hero about them and are still unfinished, sitting in the middle of kind of wasteland ground with their new blue or red corregated roofs shining in the sun . 

After a while we started driving across a semi-desert landscape, still with these terrific mountains down the left hand side. Then we drove through rolling grassland with flocks of sheep being herded by people on horse back, and it was all very atmospheric and steppe-like (except for the Disney film of Robin Hood blaring on the portable DVD player in the back with the kids). We drove through a mini-gorge/canyon area where the road twisted and turned through rocky valleys, half expecting a mujahadeen to pop his head out from behind a stone, but instead finding goat herders and the odd cow wandering along the road. 

After three hours, we arrived at the border. Baktiyar drove the car through and we all got out and went through the two passport points: one to leave Kazakhstan and one to enter Kyrgyzstan. To actually cross the border, you have to cross a torrent of a river on a rickety old bridge where half the railings are missing (worrying if you have Sasha, one of the most accident prone people on the planet, with you.). Making it into a new country was exciting, and we all took our photo in front of the Kyrgyz Flag, then the kids went for a pee behind a pile of rubble and off we headed to Bishkek, which stretches almost to the border. 

"Here, Bishkek!" said Baktiyar, and laughed in his usual, slightly hysterical way, as we drove along a dusty road, lined with tiny tumbledown cottages. 

It is really a run down little town,the little hutslining the road, all of which you can see through glimpses between them, have long gardens out back full of cultivated vegetables and fruit. It is perhaps an availability thing, but turquoise blue is the colour of choice for painting anything in this part of the world. Houses are fenced in with wooden fences, painted turquoise, with white diamonds in a line along the front. Wooden houses are painted anything within the spectrum of light blue to greeny, darkish blue, some with interesting upstairs balcony features that include stars, circular windows, or ornate finishing around the roof - everything painted blue, green or turquoise. 

We arrived at the Hyatt which is a massive modern building next to the town theatre and with full on "make the americans feel safe" security (a man with a mirror on a stick to check under your car, and a tank-stopping metal plate that comes out of the ground to stop cars entering the grounds). Right next to the drive is a pleasant area of grass and trees that a 4WD of evil intent could just drive through, if they did not want to do the courtesy stop for the mirror treatment, but at least the security is in place. 

And apparently, Kyrgyzstan has a fairly fiery history with power alternating between the two main tribes in this area, one from the South and one from the North. Three years ago there was a revolution when one lot grabbed power from the other lot (lots of well-researched historical info on this blog!), and the story goes that the angry mob in the street were fully intent on burning the Hyatt down. The hotel had to fence itself in, and it was only because there was a really heavy rain shower which then turned into snow that this did not happen. The protestors found their revolutionary zeal deserted them as they got colder and wetter, and in the end went home for a bowl of plov (a kind of long-cooked rice and raisin dish of the area)! Rumour has it that there is a revolution brewing again, with a newly- and openly-formed opposition party setting up shop in town. Just hope that husband is not there when it happens, although the hotel is only about 10kms form the border, and hopefully, with the car, he could make a quick break for the border and get out. 

The Rule of The Three Things Being Broken

When we lived in Brazil, we found that despite all our best efforts to keep our house going, there always seemed to be at least three separate items which needed repairs, new bits, or some kind of sorting out. In the end, we decided it must be one of those rules of life (Sod's and Murphy's being the other two that spring to mind): the Rule of The Three Things Being Broken. It seems to apply to certain places only. In Thailand where the national catch phrase is Mai Pen Rai (which roughly translated means, Oh, never mind (or don't bother even trying to sort that out mate, because it ain't never going to happen)) and where you might expect the Rule of Three to apply, it seems to relate more to the time it takes to sort things out. Problems that you would normally expect to be fixed within a week take three weeks. More complicated issues (like our plumbing) are obviously destined to be sorted out in decades, and not days!

In Almaty, we are back to the straightforward Rule of Three. So we had the water heater and the dishwasher and the internet one week. Then we fixed the dishwasher, so the TV stopped working for a couple of days. As I write, and of course by even writing this down, I am dooming myself to interminable fixing issues for months to come, but there are actually no mechanical issues to deal with  so perhaps we are in for a good spell. 

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Big trip to Big Almaty Lake

We are just back from a great day out, testing the Landcruiser's off road abilities and making our way to the Big Almaty Lake, a breathtakingly beautiful spot of turquoise water, snowy mountains, frosty slopes and wonderful clambering about on rocks.


After a short walk and picnic lunch, Husband decided to follow the example of some very hardy outdoorsy-looking people and jump into the turquoise water for a dip. They had got down to
 their speedoes and were half way across the lake. He stripped down to his pants, pranced about on the edge of the turquiose water, jumped in, almost had a heart attack, and with what looked like very primal instinct kicking in, ran as fast as he could out of the water, charged about flapping his arms for a while making a strange gasping noise and put his clothes back on. A few minutes later the hardy locals swam back to shore at a leisurely pace, calmly dried themselves off and got back into their shorts and T-shirts (we were all wearing our gor-tex hiking jackets). 

Then we drove a little further up the track to the Tian Shan Astronomical Observatory where you can stay in slightly basic Soviet rooms, but see the stars at night through a giant telescope. The whole place looks like something out of a James Bond set, hidden away in the mountains in Kazakhstan, slightly crumbling and next to this amazing lake. We will try to go back at night before the winter really sets in. 

It was brilliant. We finished the day with some mouthwateringly-good Shashlik kebabs at a well-known Georgian restaurant on the road back into Almaty. 

Friday, 10 October 2008

Boo hiss the evil landlady

So our nice, easy-to-work-with landlady has done the dirty, inserted a clause in the rental contract giving her the right to raise our rent arbitarily, and we have had to walk away from the whole deal. Gutted. 

And even worse, I now have to start house hunting again. I spent the morning with a new realtor looking at rank photos of rank houses, some of which I have already seen in real life and know that they actually look better in the pictures! 

We have now been here 7 weeks or so, and in the meantime, the other 70 families who have just arrived have been beavering away finding their ideal homes. So there really is a load of absolute dross left. 

However, there is absolutely no point in getting down about this tedious situation, and I know I am not alone in facing my challenges here. Yesterday, I met a girl who had her first baby here last year, and was telling how to take blood samples in the local hospital, they just shave the end of your finger off with a razor blade. Ouch. Apparently, in the no-expense-spared Kazakh hospital system, the urine sample containers they used were the cut-off bottoms of Tassay mineral water bottles!! 

On a less painful note, my friend L has hired a car and a driver called Victor to get around. Victor is young and keen but has no idea where anything is and speaks only Russian. She, I think, would rather drive herself but has not got a car. Victor comes with his own ancient BMW which has started recently to smell strongly of petrol. 
"Don't you think he should get that fixed?" L asked me, 
"I mean, aren't exhaust fumes supposed to be worse for you than cigarettes? What is the point of living out of town in the mountains if I have to sniff Victor's petrol fumes for an hour a day" she said, exasperated. 
On numerous occasions she and Victor have driven around for hours trying to find things like The Hyatt hotel (one of two large international hotels in what is, let's face it, a pretty small town). Yesterday, while driving into town,  Victor was playing some positively pornographic rap music that "made Eminem sound like a priest" and which quite put friend L off the "quality novel" she was reading. 

And on the bright side for now, the marvelous Alia (picture below) continues to be brilliant and our driver man Baktiyar (I love that name) remains a legend. 

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Russki shopping lists

Having a nanny who speaks not a word of English is certainly not boring! Alia is proving to be a great buddy to have around - cheerful, chatty, a bit scatty but also affectionate, playful and pleasant. So far so good. She is also, thank goodness, a patient woman (must be something to do with having lived in soviet times), since it can be unbelievably drawn out having to communicate with each other with a total lack of common language. I don't think that on taking this job, she expected to have to use her reading glasses so much, as we pass the dictionary back and forth, trying to work out what the other wants to say!

Yesterday, while I was having a Russian lesson and the baby was sleeping, she went to the Green Market to buy some fruit and veggies. So before she left we sat down to make a list: I was armed with the Almaty International Women's Group's emergency food shopping translation list (laminated so you can keep it in your handbag), she with a pen and paper. We concocted a list and off she went. 

When I got back from the school run, there she was with her spoils and some unusual and un-ordered items. One of these was a bundle of asparagus which Alia found utterly baffling. "What is this?" she asked, picking it up and gnawing at one of the spears, "What do you do with it? Is it a herb?" I think she asked. It then transpired that the reason she was so intrigued about this vegetable was that it had cost me 30USD!! She was amazed that I had wanted to buy this (I hadn't!) I still don't know what it is called in Russian, it is not on the AIWC list, and neither, I believe, was it on Alia's list. I think I managed to explain that really if anything costs more than 10USD that we could live without it and she needn't buy it, we would wait until it was in season. 

Then we continued, I had a few things to explain to her, and so we laboured on with the dictionary, gesticulation and the odd word in Russian. At one point I looked up "Not easy" and explained that I realised that this communication was tortured, but that I was sure it would get easier with time. She nodded emphatically and then spent an age looking up a word herself (she has not taken the sticker off her reading glasses which says, in quite large writing, +2.5 , and which I am sure is making it hard for her to focus on the tiny print of my pocket dictionary). I spent the time sending a couple of long texts to friends, and then eventually she slapped the book down on the table, pointed at the identified word and pronounced: "Gail...... capable!". 

I am glad that she has the faith that my Russian will get there. Perhaps I should spend more time learning my vocabulary and less time writing this blog! 

Monday, 6 October 2008

From Glorious to Gopping Heights

It has been a good day: my first outing with the Almaty International Women's Association hiking group (not the same as the invitation-only ladies walking ensemble) for a bracing stroll through stunning scenery only 20 minutes drive from town. 

We were a mixed bunch of me and my mate L, American group coordinator ("only because everyone else left"...), French lady who knew this route, a Venezuelan lady, two guys from Zimbabwe and a Swedish man, some more french ladies, a Dane and a Romanian. And we all got along very nicely, using our multiple languages to fill in the gaps when someone could not quite remember the word they were searching for in a story. 

We set off in a convoy of 4WD cars, two or three hikers to a vehicle, and drove out of Almaty on the excellent road up to Chimbalak, the nearest ski resort to town. Passing the Medeu ice rink (the world's largest outdoor ice rink) on the way, we soon pulled onto a short, rough track and stopped. We were next to a tiny small holding, and there was a track leading into the magical landscape. It is spectacular, and it was very exciting for me, after all these weeks of looking at the mountains, to be finally walking on them.

We began with a short, sharp ascent, but then moved onto a nice smooth and steady uphill stretch with a stream running down one side, and wide expanses of scenery in front of us (an area known locally as The Sound of Music). Pottering along at a nice gentle pace, we stopped from time to time for water or take a group photo and let people get their breath. After crossing a stream, we came to a small but pretty waterfall, where there was enough bouncy moss to make a million Christmas wreaths. It misted over while we were eating our sandwiches and we quickly got cold, the temperature must have differed by about 10 degrees in under a minute when the sun vanished. 

Two and a half hours of pretty scenery, nice exercise and interesting chat, and we were all back with our entourage of cars and drivers, ready for the quick drive back into the city and the afternoon school run. 

As we drove in, we passed the end of the road for a house that we recently viewed. We had a bad phone call on Friday when our estate agent phoned to say that the landlady on the house for which we have been trying to sign a contract for nearly a month, has decided to include a clause giving her the right to raise our rent more or less when she wants (we had already agreed with her in person that she would fix the rent for a certain time period). We are not really prepared to accept this, since we are already agreeing to pay her a whopping amount of money every month, and don't really want her to raise our rent in a year's time, for us to either pay, or suffer the inconvenience of moving again. 

So we had started to re-consider some of the places we had previously viewed. One of which is this place, now christened Gopping Heights (because it is genuinely one of the most outrageously unattractive dwellings you have ever seen) but which we have not written off because despite its aesthetic, and let's face it, quality drawbacks, it does still fulfill many of our criteria for a house: large, big garden, view of mountains, enough bedrooms, roof etc etc! 

I had described it to L before we went, and I wanted her opinion on it. She later told me that she thought I had been exaggerating about its lack of looks before we arrived, but soon realized that I had been pretty straight. The question now is if we can embrace its vulgarity in an "ironic" way, and "make it work for us"... I think Gopping Heights may be a step too far. 

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Cultural delights

This weekend we have taken advantage of the cultural delights on offer in the republic of Kazakhstan, a country where music is thought to remove evil from a man's heart (if played on the traditional instrument, the Qobyz). We bought tickets to the opera Madame Butterfly for Saturday night (husband and youngest daughter had a dinner/theatre date night together) and the ballet Sleeping Beauty on Sunday (for me and the two older daughters). Total cost for all our stalls tickets was less than $50. 

I have just returned from my first trip to the  Kazakh National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet named after Abai, and the performance of Sleeping Beauty was excellent. The theatre is delightful, a really charming place that is simple but not austere, well run but not stuffy and as a result is popular and full. 

Apart from a wildly
 expensive trip to see the Mary Poppins show in London's West End last summer, we have hardly been to the theatre in recent years, mainly because of where we have been living. In Thailand, there is little on. In Seoul, you have to book within about 30 seconds of the tickets going on sale or they are sold out (and given that most of the publicity is in Korean, you have a slim chance of even hearing about it in time), and if you do get there in time, you have to spend about $100 per person. 

The Abai Theatre is just six blocks down the road from where we live at the moment and we just got home in under 10 minutes at the end of the performance, having parked outside the front door. Yippee! 

I vow to thee my country...

We have been here 5 weeks and I guess the culture shock is beginning to bite. Even after all these different places, and knowing that it is going to happen, I never anticipate the effects of Culture Shock. 

So last week we had a few issues at home in our temporary apartment (which is very comfortable, there is no "camping" happening here!): our hot water was off (as previously detailed), our dishwasher had broken down, we received news that after our entire household which was safely packed up in Seoul at the end of August has still not left the Korean Peninsula (ie it will still be at least 8 weeks before we see it again, and this includes all our winter clothes), husband has been working until 10pm every night and most of the weekend, following a week of being away in Moscow. I was feeling like a single mum in Almaty: a place which I really don't know and have no mates. 

OK, it isn't all misery. I have started to find some great potential friends and hosted a successful first babygroup meeting, forced myself to go to a International Women's Group coffee morning and met a lovely German lady, we have seen real progress with the kids' Russian language (having 10 lessons a week is beginning to pay off), and even my Russian is starting to sink in. But this darn culture shock....

So we were having breakfast and B started to hum the English hymn I Vow To Thee My Country.

"Have you been singing that at school?" I asked. 
"Yes, we sing it nearly every day. That, or the Haileybury Song," she replied. 

So I went on to YouTube and found a version sung by a huge congregation and we all listened, and it took me right back to being at school (you can also listen at http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=7MG27Bwjal) . And normally associations with school just make me remember the terrible insecurity of being a teenager which is something I am very happy to have left behind, but this time I remembered only the beauty of the buildings, the cloisters, the dew on the rugby field and the damp cobwebs on bushes that you passed on the early-morning walk to breakfast in my Devon boarding school. And also the tremendous sense of friendship, belonging and fun that we had there. And the music of this great british hymn took me back to going to chapel every day (not in the sense of a religious re-awakening (!) but cameraderie. And I also remembered the day that a guy called Noel threw up from a hangover onto a guy called Dwarf's neck during morning service (or the other way round I can't remember) which in itself was disgusting and hilarious, but also saw the lid lifted by the school authorities on an outrageous alcohol distribution and consumption system in place at the school for the Saturday night socials and resulted in mass gatings for all sixth formers, several suspensions and I think, an alcohol amnesty for a while. All great British stuff.)

Anyway, this swarm of memories made me fill up with emotion and tears and I started snivelling into my cafetiere as I filled it with boiling water. A pitiful scene really, standing in my dressing gown, looking out at the hills of Kazakhstan, I vow to thee my country playing on the computer, in tears... feeling for all the world like I needed to cry out "I want to go HOME". 

Husband started to look a bit worried when he heard me sniffing back the tears, and I am glad to report that I am now completely over the whole ridiculous business. But it is strange what can bring on the water works. Seems that a good blub is all that is required to get the culture shock out the way. That, and a good tune by Holst!!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Precious things

There is not much I crave from home. I can nearly always find an alternative, or something local that I like just as much. But there is no substitute for Marmite on toast. And there is no Marmite to be had in Almaty. Recently, a friend of mine who was in London for the Madonna concert, carried a pot of Marmite from London to Surrey to Kent, then on to Paris and back here for me. So imagine our disappointment when B was getting it out of the cupboard for an after-school snack, and there was a sickening crunch of glass and gloop hitting the stone tiles of the kitchen floor.  We tried to scoop out the central bits, but it was full of glass and ended up having to tip it into the bin. Sob sob.