Ten ways to amuse and entertain yourself out-of-hours in Nukus, Karakalpakstan…
(1) Celebrate Christmas in Nukus: wake up to a totally white – and almost attractive – Nukus (when it was positively grey the evening before); go completely overboard with kitsch decorations; and prepare a Christmas dinner for colleagues from 16 different countries and six different continents, thinking nothing of splashing out US$40 on two tough birds (possibly chicken, totally worth it).
(2) Identify friends who come from sunny climes (Tawhid – Bangladesh, Eleanor – Australia) and enjoy their delight as you build with them their first ever snowman.
(3) Set aside an extra ten minutes every morning to dress for sub-zero temperatures: base-layer thermal socks, two thick arctic socks on top, two pairs of thermal leggings, fleece-lined trousers, two thermal long-sleeved tops, two T-shirts, a fleece, an arctic coat, faux-fur lined boots, a neck gaiter and my totally ridiculous, and pretty offensive, faux-fur hat.
(4) Receive a parcel from someone rooting for you at home. My dear mother, anxious to feel like she’s contributing to the cause and fiercely protective of her youngest child, has knitted and sent me a scarf onto which she has hand-embroidered the red MSF logo. Off-the-scale brilliance and highly coveted amongst my colleagues.
(5) Three years ago our head of laboratory, Andrey, rescued a dying kitten from the street. He named her Mirusia. She is now the most celebrated and spoilt cat in all of Central Asia. Join the hoards of ex-pats who travel miles to dote on her, upload streams of photos of her onto facebook and make her jump on bits of string and dangling things. Her favourites are miniature pompoms.
(6) Bring in the New Year’s playing humiliating party games and dancing your socks off with the gorgeous national staff of MSF Nukus.
(7) Visit Manyesh, the Nukus indoor sports ground (complete with Soviet-style motivational slogans daubed on the walls). Run round the track, play volleyball or, if you are Trevor, practice your break-dancing and capoeira, all whilst watching the cream of Karakalpak sportsmen and women play football, hurdle and play ping-pong.
(8) Watch a good movie.
(9) Attend Columbian Construction-Log Jorge’s Salsa Master Class. If only this blog-site could upload videos…
(10) Be the first to welcome new ex-pat doctors to the programme with a beer in town (after verifying that, despite living in Australia for the last decade, Jay will still be supporting England in the Ashes this summer). Welcome to the project Animesh and Jay.