It’s our first day in Kazakhstan and what immediately strikes me is the air – clear, crisp and fresh; a joy to breathe in. The city is covered in snow, which sparkles in the evening light. Its buildings glisten in the sun – they are both monumental and full of harmony.
This is a city of ambition, drive and hope. How else would it have risen from a small township to a glistening capital in a mere 27 years? The people are friendly and mildly amused with our attempts at speaking Russian. Our hosts, the National Bureau of Translation, go out of their way to accommodate us, first taking us to the National Museum and then putting together an impromptu trip around the city, which takes us to an ice sculpture park and a river that has frozen over – it’s -15 degrees, so to warm up, we walk briskly when outside.
The National Museum is extraordinary; I’ve never seen one like it. An imposing building from the outside, inside it’s entertaining, beautiful and somehow, despite its seven floors, manages to interest and inspire rather than overwhelm. The rooms mix the old with the new, telling the history of Kazakhstan since Neolithic times, when the land was inhabited by Indo-European people, through its rise as a powerful trade centre on the famous Silk Road, to the present day Republic. Me and a couple of others, poetry editor Chris and translator David, try our hand at reading Cyrillic.
We repeatedly find ourselves having to ask our Kazakh colleagues for help, but it’s satisfying to be able to decipher at least some of it. As the day draws to an end, we are being treated to dinner in our comfortable hotel. We try excellent Kazakh wine and at least some of us resist the urge to order a more familiar beef burger, opting for a local dish. Swapping stories of the day and catching up on what we’ll have to do in the next few days, we end the evening thanking our host Ainur, who couldn’t join us on this trip. We have a big day ahead of us – an all-day conference with authors, translators and government officials.
About the author
Kasia Trojanowska is a copy-editor and proofreader with a range of experience working with UK and international publishers and authors. Kasia is an editor of the prose anthology for this project.