img839Having taken the plunge in 1993 to branch out on my own, a year later my tea venture which centered on sourcing teas from various origins being shipped to diverse destinations was already well grounded.  Three years down the road, with the volume of business being done in Kazakhstan, where I was exclusively tied up with one particular company, growing from month to month, I made the cardinal error of plonking practically all my eggs into that one basket.  That eventually a further couple of years later it was that very same customer who pulled the plug out on me and was solely responsible for the collapse of my thriving business in Dubai being the one downside in my life and being a story which needs to be ‘told’, I’m keeping that downer in abeyance for another day.  For now I’d rather rattle on about the upside, when my business in Kazakhstan was on the ascendency.

By ’97 the Kazakh business being well established and with volumes increasing by theimg836a month, the frequency of my visits to that country to service that business had to keep pace with that growing volume.  The upshot was that, keeping all other travel plans in abeyance, I’d be wending my way to Almaty almost every month.

Almaty which is now a flourishing metropolis with hotels galore, back in the day was a different kettle of fish altogether.  While there were plenty of dodgy establishments available, the only “real” hotel one could relate to was the Hyatt which had opened its doors just about at the same time as I started making my trips to that country.  While it WAS the Hyatt, at that point of time with the internet just about having reached Almaty, since the hotel did not have that particular service available, if one was to want to check ones emails (which in itself was somewhat of a new ‘fad’) one had to head to downtown Almaty where the first internet café had started functioning.  The internet service in that café being via a snail paced dial-up connection, one would end up sitting in front of the computer for hours altogether waiting for the line to come to the end of its irritating pinging.  It was only after the computer reverted to being a silent piece of furniture that one would be able to start working on it, which in affect translated into viewing one mail at a time, watching the text unfold painfully slowly on the tiny little black and white bulbous screen.

Kazakhstan being located in the world’s largest dry steppe region, while the summers there tend to be hot and dry, winters are cold.  Seriously COLD!img836On one of my frequent trips to Almaty, this one sometime during early February which tends to be the coldest month in the region, having finished my work in the tea factory for the day and finding myself in the hotel with nothing to do, I decided to head downtown to while away my time in front of the computer.  By the time I was done with whatever I had to do, it was already late evening.  Stepping out of the warmth of the café into the minus 250C street I distinctly remember being literally lifted off my feet and staggering backward into the doorway having been whacked in my face by the wind howling like a banshee, rushing up that alleyway in full gale force.  Regardless of being bundled up in layers of warm clothing, I could literally feel the cold seeping into my bones.

Aware that there was a taxi stand just a little way down that alley, with the wind determined to propel me all the way back into the doorway I had stepped out of, I had to battle my way forward, literally shoving myself against that gale taking one slow step at a time all the while wishing that I’d never stepped out of the comfort of the hotel.  Within 50 paces of having stepped out of the café I had completely lost any sense of feeling on my face which was the only part of me exposed to the hydrothermal conditions.  Clipboard02For all I knew my ears and nose could just as well have dropped off somewhere along the trudge without my even being aware of it.  What I could make out though was that my moustache, being the ‘catchment area’ for the run-off from my nose likely flowing out in a continuous watery stream, was frozen solid with small icicles hanging down from the edges and dropping over my lips.

Battling my way forward against the wind I spotted an ‘open’ doorway which had chinks of light peeping out from behind the thick woolen ‘horse blanket’ curtain hanging from the top of the door frame, protecting the inside from the elements.  From within, besides the chinks of light, I could also hear wisps of chatter.  No two ways about it, this obviously HAD to be a bar.  Shoving the blanket to one side with my shivering hand which I had very reluctantly taken out of the deep pocket on my overcoat, I stumbled though the throng of folk standing around with glasses in their hands, making a bee-line to the bar counter where I managed to utter just one word – “VODKA!”  The contents of the rather large shot glass which the barman banged down on the bar top, which I managed to grasp with my trembling hand, went down my throat in one gulp.  The first was followed, in quick succession, by another two equally large ones.  Within a couple of minutes that comfortable warm feeling rising upwards from the pit of my stomach, where the vodka was likely happily sloshing around, reached my face.  While this was going on in my innards, on the outside with my moustache having thawed I had my facial fuzz hanging down limply over my lips.  Ignoring the fact that I was likely looking like a disheveled tramp I ran my, by now comfortably warm, hands over my face to make sure that my nose and my ears were still attached to the rest of me!

This is from personal experience.
VODKA being lugged back in copious volumes in those regions is not alcoholism!
It is the very breath of life!