It is my turn to write the email this week and I will endeavor to make this one as amusing and informative as Amyís. Iíll try to answer questions we've gotten at the bottom.
Now for the more fun stuff. Our family's new favorite game seems to be "What Will Jack Eat?" and they and their relatives seem to enjoy this game. At length. Also they seem to have a lot of relatives. I feel its mostly fair game since at least they eat it too.
So far we've done:
- Horse milkóitís fermented. Not bad, but really sour.
- Kvassóa root-beer-ish drink made from fermented rye bread water. I donít like it; it tastes like unsweetened root beer.
- Muttonólots and all varieties, from rib to ear (yes, ear) to spinal column.
- Laghmanóreally tasty home made noodles with tomato-ish sauce.
- Besparmakliterally "five fingers." Itís mutton and noodles, the national dish here, very tasty.
- Horseóa delicacy! We had horse meat that was smoked and stuffed into its own colon. I liked it. Amy less so.)
- Kefiróitís some kind of milky thing. Canít get a straight answer on what animal it comes from. Possibly cow. Definitely not camel.)
Last Monday (4th) we went to Kapshagay to see some petroglyphs. They date from (possibly) the 8th century and depict Buddha and have been preserved by the mostly desert climate there. (See pictures above.) Itís pretty amazing to see something that has been around for that long.
Then we went swimming in the river, which was very refreshing since it was about 99 degrees. The non air-conditioned bus ride was somewhat less refreshing. Picture riding in a box at10 mph on sand.
We got stopped to get our documents checked for the first time on the way back from Kapshagay. The police got on and I thought they were going to check everybody's documents (there are 40 of us), but I think they were less thrilled about it than we were so they checked one or two and let us go. So far the police here have been really nice to us and havenít harassed us once (checking doc's doesnít count because theyíre allowed to do that and they have a lot of illegal immigration here, Kazakhstan being the garden spot of central Asia. Thatís right, people are lining up to live here).
A word on weather. That word is HOT. Always. Without exception. It is 110 today, was 105 yesterday, 99 the day before that. Very few days below 90 degrees. But we do have some spectacular thunderstorms, and since its "dry" heat shade actually provides some relief. The way you get over hot weather is to drink tea thatís even hotter. Kazakhs love to drink scalding tea when its 100 outside. We average probably at least 10 cups of tea a day and we are lightweights. Tea has a place of high respect here and it is served with every meal. Any other drink is mostly for between meals, or simply not drunk. The only other drink we have had with meals is water (with carbonation, of course, and not chilled) and vodka (not chilled either), but that seems to be for special occasions. Our immediate host family does not seem to drink alcohol at all.
Our family is vaguely Muslim. That is to say that they are Muslim, but they never go to mosque and I have never seen any of them read q'ran, although I know that they have one. I have heard this referred to as "folk Islam". Itís more about friends and family.
This is the Mosque at Almaty.
If you show up at their house any time of day or night you will be invited in and given tea. They will offer you different things to eat until you finally consent to eat something. By something I mean not less that 5 pounds of food in aggregate. Nothing appears to make them happier than when I eat way too much and drink 15 cups of tea.
Nearly all of the food is organic, and much of it they grow themselves. This is nice usually except for those of you who may be squeamish about meat. Meat is often on the bone and usually looks much more like the animal it used to be than Americans like, the head of course being one example, but thatís only for special occasions.
What do things cost? Some examples: there are 130 tenge (TEN-GYE) to the dollar. Abbreviated T. keep in mind we get paid in tenge NOT dollars, so things arent really as cheap as they seem. Or, not for us anyways. Our current salary is 5500 tenge apiece (about $40) every two weeks. The Peace Corps pays our host family to feed us so currently thereís not much to spend money on.
- 1 liter kvas, about 40 tenge (30 cents)
- 1 liter water, about 50-80 tenge (40 cents)
- 1 liter vodka, goes from the virtually undrinkable Vladimirís vodka and jet fuel for 100 T (about 70 cents) all the way up to exotic russkyy standart (Russian standard) for about 3000 tenge (nearly thirty dollars)
- 10 km bus ride, 30 tenge
- 10 km fixed route taxi (marshutka) ride, about 30-40 tenge per person
- One CD, 500-1000 tenge
- One banana, 40 tenge
- One beer at a bar, 100-140 tenge. Kazakh beer is not bad but is often served warm.
Our bed. Is big. Queen sized. And purple. Bright, bright purple. It glows in the dark and sings Kazakh folk songs when we sleep. Ok, ok, but it is purple.
We have only noticed one sheep being butchered. Our family has three refrigerators and two freezers so they freeze a lot of it at one time. Currently there is enough to last the rest of the year at least. I donít think freezer burn is in the lexicon here.
Our little brother is exactly like an American 7 year old. He punches us, is filthy (kid playing filthy not dirty filthy), makes a mess at dinner and we canít understand a word he says. He is fascinated by our dental floss. Actually having him around is good for our language because we can point to objects and tell him what it is in English (he starts English this year) and he tells us in Russian. He plays the piano pretty well.
Recipe for horse:
Ride the horse ten miles without water. At this point it will collapse. If your horse doesnít collapse then salt it slightly and ride it another five. Donít ride it more than 15 altogether or it will get tough. After it collapses drag it to a puddle and leave it there for three days. When you come back it will be ready to cook. Add basil and dill. Discard tail. Put aside head for special occasion. You can roast it on a rock because guaranteed its 110 outside. Slow roast it until it becomes dark brown. Chase away the stray dogs and enjoy.
Jack (and Amy)