March 1st - Day 19:  Kazakh cuisine

Peace Corp Sue, as she is commonly known among adoptive families here in Uralsk, generously arranged for a colleague to make a traditional Kazakh meal for us tonight.  It's called beshparmak (or something like that) and consists of beef, horsemeat, potatoes, onions and noodles.  Robin and I joined Sue during lunch to go shopping at the bazaar for the meat, potatoes, onions, and seasoning.  We met Sue and then went to Katia's house to pick her up.  Katia lives in one of the old Russian style houses.  Hers is brick and has no toilet, just an outhouse.  We entered through a door, then another "door" (actually, a heavy wool blanket hanging over a door opening) and she offered us a couple of stools to sit on.  It was interesting to see that even though the accommodations were sparse, she still had her nice fur coat and hat hanging next to the door above her fancy boots.  Also, her home was immaculate.  So, Katia, her boyfriend, Sue, Robin and I headed for the bazaar.  Robin had been there already and was impressed by the thousands of vendors with long rows of fur coats, long rows of boots, long rows of just about everything.  Today, we went into the meat market.  The center of the room consisted of two long racks with all kinds and sizes of meat/animals hanging from it, a lot like you would see in a meat locker.  Then, in a large oval around that was the counter where all the meat was displayed.  Each vendor had their section of the counter and I'm guessing there were about 30 to 40 vendors in all, all of them women.  The room wasn't refrigerated although since it's usually below freezing and there's no heat in the building, I suppose that's okay.  (I don't imagine it's any different in the summer, though!)  All cuts of meat were displayed, from large roast, intestines, tongue to sheep's head (a delicacy here that they only serve on special occasions ... we're trying to steer clear of being invited to any special occasions!).  Whenever a customer wants a cut of meat that's not available, the vendor takes the slab/animal off the hook and takes it to a separate room where there is a large scale and two immense tree stumps about three feet in diameter each and 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall.  There are a couple of guys in the room who chop the meat into a smaller size with large axes, the blades of which are about a foot long!  Quite impressive!  (I asked to take a picture but they wouldn't allow it.)  I was actually very proud of myself for being able to stomach the whole thing since I don't eat meat myself ... except for bacon cooked by Robin and tonight's meal ....  We then went to the vegetable building next and I loved that!  The building was about the size of half a football field and was row upon row of vegetables and jars of pickled produce.  There were lots of herbs and spices and the whole place smelled so good!  There's a picture below of that building with Robin and Katia's boyfriend (we think he looks like the Kazakh version of my Uncle Jere).  All in all, the bazaar was a fascinating place to visit.  I just wished I could have had more time to browse around and that we had discovered it earlier in our trip.  It's not much farther from us than the Atrium and offers a lot more choices and better prices.  You really do need someone who speaks Russian, though, to make sure you get the best price.

This afternoon, Olga and Masha came over to the apartment again to prepare us for the official court date tomorrow.  It's a lot like pre-court but more formal.  We need to get dressed up ... suit and tie for Dave, dress or skirt and nice shoes for me, we will be read our rights at the beginning, and expected to stand when we address the judge or prosecutor (not present during the pre-court meeting).  After we answer all the questions (which will probably be the same or similar to the ones asked yesterday) and the baby house director, Dept. of Education inspector, and Records Dept. representative give their presentations, Dave will have the opportunity to make a short speech summing up why we want to adopt and why we are requesting immediate execution of the judge's decision, if favorable.  While we feel a little nervous about this appointment because it's the "real deal," Olga has prepared us well and none of WPA's families here has ever been declined so far, so we're hoping for the same result! 

After that, we headed over to Sue's apartment for dinner.  Robin had salted the meat earlier to make it tender and it was ready to be cooked when we got there.  We were a little nervous about how long it would take, having been told that it can take up to four hours and it was already 6:30!  (Actually, it ended up taking only an hour and a half.)  Katia arrived and started cutting up the meat, keeping the big chunks of fat, and put it all in a pot of boiling water.  She then added the sliced potatoes, onions and seasoning and proceeded to make the pasta.  She made the dough with flour, eggs, and a little water and then broke off a chunk at a time to roll out into paper-thin pieces of pasta.  She put them on newspaper (since there wasn't enough counter space) and when they were all ready, she cooked them in the broth.  When all was ready, we laid out a blanket on the floor of her little apartment, brought out some bowls and silverware, and helped ourselves.  It was very good!  (I even had some of the meat.)  While we started eating with the utensils, we soon switched to eating with our fingers.  The translation of beshparmak is "five fingers" because it is traditionally eaten with your fingers.  We figured the only way to eat a traditional Kazakh meal was to do it the way they do.  

It was so nice of Katia to prepare it for us.  I can see why Sue says she has a big heart.  The reason Sue came here with the Peace Corps initially was to work on preventing the spread of AIDS and Katia's job is to go to the homes of drug abusers and provide them with clean needles.  They have also started some programs where they are trying to educate people as to the risks of drug abuse.  Sue still does that kind of work a couple of days a week and she is also working with the older kids' orphanage, Zhas Dauren.  She is trying to set up a program where the kids can stay with local families for part of the summer when school is out so that they can benefit from experience of living in a family environment.  The long term hope is that some of these children may be adopted by those families.


            Emil listening to tape of caregiver singing                            Last picture with Emil Maratovich Zainullin


2nd floor windows - Emil's playroom and sleeping room                                Old Russian house


                                    Meat market                                                                                Veggie market


                        Katia preparing the noodles                                                Several laid out on newspaper


                                Almost done!                                                                        Beshparmak a la Katia


                Robin, Dave, Katia, Sue and Sierra                                                                Bread kiosk


                                Sleeping Beauty                                              Dave putting finishing touches on his court speech