Thursday, April 17, 2014

The In-laws Visit for the First Time (Going Away Party ... Part 2)

Going Away Party ... Part 2

In Kazakh tradition the girl's family does not usually meet the girl's boyfriend until he asks for her hand in marriage - as you can imagine this makes meeting the girl's family even more stressful.  This happened several months ago and put into motion the plans for Assel's going away party. The first part of Assel's going away weekend consisted of the in-laws first visit.  This is a big event.  Here are some random things I learned over the weekend:

  • There is an inordinate amount of work that takes place to get ready for the in-law visit
  • It is important to make a good first impression (read this as it is important to get dressed up)
  • I definitely prefer the children's table
  • Public speaking (such as toast giving to strangers) still stresses me out and causes me to stumble over anything I have tried to memorize
  • The brides mother and father need to be careful not to eat too much as they will have to sit on a carpet and be shaken around at one point during the festivities
  • Kazakhstan has a lot of very pretty jewelry and the girls in my family now own some of this jewelry
  • I am not a fan of living on the fourth story apartment
  • I now know a store that is open at 6 am .. not thinking I will EVER use that again, but I guess it's a good thing to know
  • The darkness of tea and the quantity of milk added is very important
  • Never be without green tea after beshparmak
  • It is possible to clog a drain twice in one weekend
  • 25 people can fit in one living room for a meal 
  • Flour spread on the face is supposed to represent a bright future for the new married couple
  • The liver represents something similar as the heart in the USA - our new relatives are now part of our liver and we ate liver together as a representation (this is not the best translation, but it is as close as I can get as we just don't talk about our liver in the same way in English)

Now for the detailed report:
Dasken's family is from up north, so they took the train from Astana to arrive in Taraz around 6pm on Saturday evening.  Myself and some of the other relates went to the train station to pick up his family.  Twelve people came to represent his side of the family at the festivities.  After picking them up at the train station, we took them to their hotel to get cleaned up.  Then, they came over for a traditional meal at my Kazakh family's apartment.  We started preparing food and setting the table for this meal on Friday morning.  I was at my Kazakh family's house until 10:30 pm on Friday evening and then we went over early to help with final preparations.  Some of my extended family stayed with me at my apartment over the weekend.

There are a lot of traditions involved with the first official meal of the two families.  The groom's family is expected to bring gifts to close family members.  These gift included a large carpet, ring and earring sets, vests, jackets, beautiful material, and much more.  I came to realize that there is a rule as to how every part of the evening is supposed to go - yet very few people actually understand the rules.  We had to rely on the older relatives (whose daughters had already married) to guide us through the process.

They arrived around 8pm and we sat down to a meal.  The older relatives from my side of the family and all of Dasken's relatives were seated in the living room.  We had borrowed tables, chairs, dishes, etc from friends and relatives.  The table was impressive.  There really wasn't any room for anything else.  The younger relatives, including Dasken sat in a separate room at another table that was prepared.  Assel was not really supposed to be present during this time, so she spent some of it in a separate room waiting until the official meeting of the future bride (which came around 10pm).

My role was to help in the kitchen and make sure everything was ready to go when needed.  This included getting tea ready, taking the food out to the tables, clearing dishes, washing dishes, and doing whatever else was needed by my Kazakh mom and dad.  I enjoyed being able to help out.  I did sit down and enjoy the tasty food as well.

The traditional meal for this time is beshparmak.  It is served on a huge platter.  Homemade noodles are made, cooked, and placed on the platter.  Then a butter sauce with a little tomato and onion (all sautéed together) is ladled over the noodles.  On top of this are large pieces of horse meat.  There is a particular order in which you are supposed to put the horse meat on the platters.  Thankfully, one of the aunts knows the right order and all we had to do was take the platters and make sure they were placed at the designated place on the table.

During and after the meal the family members toasted each other and the upcoming marriage.  Afterwards, we cleaned up the table and Dasken's relatives went to another room to wait for the revealing of the bride.  Assel was brought into the room and each family member placed money on a plate that was passed around.  This was the point at which the official exchange began.  At the end of the night, Assel no longer belonged to our family, she belonged to Dasken's family.

This was followed by the giving of gifts by his family to our family.  One of the most important parts of this gift giving time is the time at which the future bride is given gold jewelry.  As Assel's sister, I was even given a gift ... I received some beautiful earrings and a matching ring.  I helped drive Dasken's relatives back to their hotel around 12pm.  Then, I came back, helped clean a little, then took the people who were staying at my apartment home.  We were in bed around 1am and were able to get a few hours sleep before the next day began at 5:45 am.  The day was a busy, but fun day.

The rest of the weekend included breakfast the next morning at 10am, the going away party (which I will post about separately), a special meal for all the older relatives in the family hosted by the girl's extended family at a restaurant, breakfast before the train, and extended goodbyes at the train station. It was a crazy, busy week.  I loved getting to spend the time with my Kazakh family and be a part of this special day.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Just when you think you’ve seen it all

It's been a crazy month here.  The next several posts will be about the preparations and activities related to giving my Kazakh sister away to her husband's family.  It all started with meat ... 

Sometimes I think I’ve experienced all Kazakhstan has to offer … and then I have a day like meat day.  My Kazakh sister is getting married this summer.  Traditionally, the girl’s side of the family throws a going away party (a mini-wedding) for family and friends.  In our case this was combined with the traditional first visit from the groom’s side of the family, which all took place a couple weekends ago.  As a result, we went to the village to buy and prepare the meat for the wedding.  

Lessons Learned
  • Meat is best purchased in the village … it is fresher and cheaper. 
  • Restaurants do not provide meat for the meal … the family must provide the meat so that if anyone is to blame for meat that is not fresh, it is not the restaurant.  
  • It is traditional to serve parts of the horse’s head to the most honored guests. 
  • The before mentioned horse’s head should be served without teeth, except the very front teeth. It should also be divided into several parts … which I was glad to see because I couldn’t imagine putting the horses head on the middle of the table (like we do with a sheep head) and anyone still having room to eat (or a desire to eat). 
  • Teeth when chopped with an axe fly pretty far
  • I can still be grossed out
  • 100kg’s of meat takes a long time to prepare
  • An old bedspring makes a great drying rack for meat … you need to let it dry a little before putting it in the freezer.  
  • When chopping ribs, it is best not to put the axe down in dog poop between chops. 
  • 100kg’s of meat and a 12 person dining room table can all fit in/on my car. 
  • Our horse enjoyed eating grass up until its death. 
  • Keeping a hold on a horse’s head that is resting on a log while someone is trying to cut it into pieces with an axe is extremely difficult and not something I really ever want to do again.  
  • Horse intestines can withstand a lot of pressure 
  • The jaw of a horse is pretty strong … it takes a lot of force, as well as the proper cutting with an axe to open a dead horse’s mouth.  
For those of you who would like to hear more (which I’m guessing is not too many of you) I figured I’d give you a more detailed walk through my day and my role in the meat preparation.  I will post pictures, but I will save the most special ones (read most disgusting) for the end.  So, once the text ends, there will be one normal picture and then a few extra pictures for those of you who really want to picture the full experience. 

The day started with a call from my Kazakh family at 6:15 am saying they would be at my apartment in 15 minutes. The one pleasant thing about being up and on the road so early was getting to watch the sunrise and see the sun reflecting on the snow covered mountains.  Otherwise, my job was to make sure my Kazakh father did not drive off the road by talking with him … which those of you who know me know is a stretch for me in the morning.  
We arrived at 8am and picked up my Kazakh aunt to go to the bazaar.  We went to her favorite horse meat seller and purchased 75 kilos of horse (all parts).  The meat house in the bazaar was crazy at 8am.  There were old soviet cars whose trunks were full of meat being unloaded.  There were people walking by with all sorts of random animal parts.  There was a crate with cow legs on it for sale right at the door.  There was even a large cow head (with tongue sticking out) sitting next to the doorway for a while.  The seller cut up our meat while my Kazakh father and I took load after load to the car. I was a bit shocked when we started just placing it in the back of my car without it being in bags.  Thankfully, my Kazakh father came prepared with a tarp … so my car stayed relatively clean.  After about an hour, we had purchased all the supplies we needed and headed to another relatives house, where we would prepare the meat.  Blood on my jacket by 9am should have warned me what kind of day awaited me.  

We started at 10pm … the goal was to be done by 2 so my Kazakh mother could get to work on time in Taraz by 4pm.  Thankfully it was a beautiful day (65 degrees) which made it possible for us to do all the work outside.  We set up three “tables” for the meat.  Well, one was a table … the other two were bedsprings held up by random objects.  We placed all the meat out on the tables.  My job was to haul meat according to directions.  Meat with bones was placed on one bed, while the filet’s were placed on another.  My Kazakh aunts got started cutting and salting some of the meat.  Meanwhile, my Kazakh mom cleaned out horse intestines and my Kazakh father skinned a horse head.  
During the in-laws visit we will have two traditional Kazakh meals (Beshparmak), one at the restaurant and one at home.  Horse is served over lasagna noodles.  It is actually really tasty, when prepared well.  This is the first time I have helped prepare horse meat … I did more watching and holding than really preparing. 

The rest of the morning consisted of dividing into different tasks.  My Kazakh father was responsible for chopping the heads (both the horse and sheep) into the right pieces.  These pieces will be served with the Beshparmak to the most important guests.  He continued to try to enlist my help.  Although I don’t mind most things, I am not particularly fond of holding a skinned (read slimy) horse head (by the nostrils or teeth) while someone takes an axe to it.  I will also note that at this time the horse head was balancing on a round log, which was also slippery (I’ll let you use your imagination as to why).  My Kazakh father got great pleasure in sending the teeth flying my direction and watching my reaction.  
While my father was busy with this, I slipped away to help my mother and aunts with the preparation of horse sausage.  They would sew up the end of a piece of intestines and then pick pieces of horse meat and fat (about 50/50) to stuff into the intestines.  It would be stuffed super tight (without puncturing) and then the other end would be sewed and tied shut.  I was not capable of helping with much.  I held the intestines while they were cut and then I threaded the needle.  
While we were doing this, the meat we had salted was drying a bit.  At the end of it all, everything went into bags with labels and into the back of my car.  My primary job for the day was knowing what meat needed to go where and making sure we put it in the car accordingly and then unpacked it into the correct places. 

We finished around 1:30pm, had lunch, loaded the table on top of the car, and headed back to Taraz.  Once arriving in Taraz we had to transport the 100kg’s of meat once more.  I was extremely thankful when two of my Kazakh brother’s friends offered to help.  Otherwise, we would have had to make a lot more trips up to their fifth floor apartment.  

You have been warned ... this is the last of the text ... one more normal picture before the fun ones.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Good Thing I'm a Pyro

I have found that almost every oven/stove in Kazakhstan has a trick to making it work.  We mostly cook with gas, but only the newer models self-light.  As a result, we have to get a bit creative as our ovens age.  Here's the process I go through to light my stove.  
 1.  Light match
 2. Lift metal part separating oven from the flame
 3.  Set match down on the pipe that provides gas
 4.  Turn oven on
 5.  Adjust temperature (by approximate feel of the flame)
 6.  Cook some yummy food
 Thanks to the suggestion from my friend in Shymkent, this 6 step process no only takes one step and I don't have stick my hand close to the burner.  It may not be as fun, but probably a bit safer.  I'm sure it will make my mother happy.  
It's amazing the difference one small tool can make!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Water Leak

Since I have lived here on and off for 10 years, I sometimes forget that things that seem like everyday occurrences to me, might actually be interesting for you to read.  As a result, I thought I'd share a story from last weekend.

It all started at 11pm on a Saturday night.  My friend, Sarah (who lives in Shymkent), and I were sitting in my living room playing games.  I went into the kitchen to get a drink and suddenly my foot was wet.  When I looked down, there was a puddle on the ground coming from beneath the cabinet.  I checked to make sure it didn't look like it was coming from the sink.  I also thought maybe I was just really messy when pouring tea and poured it on the floor.  There was one more source of potential water in the kitchen, which ended up being the culprit.

In Kazakhstan we have city-wide heating.  City-wide heating is for all the apartments.  Houses and private buildings have to heat their own buildings. This is left over from the Soviet Era.  There is a heating station in the city that heats up water.  That water is then piped throughout the city (being reheated in a  few different locations).  The water is pumped into every apartment building.  Within each apartment building there are several pumps (usually one for each stairwell) that pump the hot water up to the top floor (going through radiators and pipes in each apartment on the way up).  The water then goes back down through the pipes in a different room and leaves the building on a journey to other apartment buildings throughout the city.

The radiator in the kitchen was the culprit of the leak.  My radiators are old and we have been thinking we would end up having to replace them fairly soon, but they were never the highest priority.  On Saturday night, they became a high priority.  My Kazakh father (who is also our maintenance person at the office) came to the apartment and went down to the second floor to ask them to shut of the valves they have in their apartment connected to the heating pipes.  This prevented them, myself, and my third floor neighbor from having heat overnight, but allowed us to not wake up to a swimming pool.

On Sunday we hired someone to come and replace the radiators in my kitchen and living room with new radiators.  I also asked that we place shut-off valves on the pipes so that we can shut off our own water if we have another leak in the future (or if I get too hot as there is no way to control the heat).  The work was completed in about 1 1/2 hours and cost a total of less than $200 for the labor and supplies.  This should keep me warm and dry.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Bringing Bingo to Kazakhstan

A few weeks ago my English club decided they wanted to do something fun for the residents of a local retirement home.  We were hoping to have Tuesday to plan more details, but the retirement home decided Tuesday (the 25th) would be the best day to visit.  As a result, I ended up coming up with the plan for our time.  Back in high school our Key Club would go to a retirement home each month and play Bingo.  We all had such a great time that I wanted to try it here, but wasn't sure how it would be received.  I had nothing to fear.

Ten of us arrived at the retirement home for about an hour of Bingo.  People began trickling in and were very confused by the cards we gave them.  We also caused a little bit of a problem by asking them to come closer to the front instead of sit in their normally assigned seats in the cafeteria.  However, it wasn't long before everyone was playing and having a great time.  New people continued to come through the doors as they heard the laughter taking place.  Many of the staff even asked to play.  So many people played, that we ran out of cards (having only brought 45).  We had small prizes for the winners of each game.

It was fun to watch my English club members as they interacted.  They were nervous at first and didn't really know how to begin conversations with the people they met.  However, towards the end, they all seemed really comfortable.  When we left we had several people asking if we would come back again.

When I asked my English club how they felt it went, they thought it was great.  They thought everyone enjoyed their time.  They asked if we could come back again.  When I suggested we try to do this on a monthly basis, all but one was excited about the opportunity.  Looks like I will need to print off some more Bingo cards.  :)
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