Saturday, September 27, 2008

The presidential debates were on early in the morning here, so some other volunteers and I went to a Peace Corps staff person's apartment to watch them before sessions started. This Peace Corps staff person also, as it turned out, had pancake batter ready and made us pancakes. (It's exciting to learn about other cultures' eating habits - here, for example, not everyone distinguishes between "breakfast foods," "lunch foods," and "dinner foods," so you eat whatever, whenever - but it was also nice to have a typical American breakfast.)

Next week, Peace Corps will tell us what our permanent sites in Kazakhstan will be. I think it's technically against security regulations to post the place's name in a semi-public blog, but I'm pretty sure I'm in regular enough contact with everyone who reads this that you'll find out if you're curious to know.

At the university today, a different Peace Corps staff person asked me if I'd be interested in being an interpreter for an upcoming counterpart conference (when some volunteers meet with their counterparts in local NGOs). Now, my Russian is intermediate at best, but there's apparently a lack of interpreters, so even my far from fluent* Russian would be preferable to nothing. That sounds exciting to me - I've worked in translation but never interpretation - and I was flattered that they thought my Russian would even be halfway passable for a job like that.

After sessions, another volunteer and I did some brief food shopping. First, we went to the Korean grocery store and bought kimchi (pickled - I think - vegetables with spices). I like the food in Kazakhstan, but it's not spicy, so it was really great to eat something that was. I didn't even realize until I ate the kimchi how much I'd missed spicy food. Anyway, the next stop was a store that had a big selection of the local brand of candies. (Side note: The woman at the candy counter, once she heard my accent, asked if my friend and I were German. It's interesting that people don't automatically assume I'm American. I've gotten French before, too, as well as British. In fact, people generally seem to assume I'm an ethnic Russian and are often visibly surprised when they hear me speak with an accent.) They're very good, and they're also very inexpensive. I got one kind called "Bird's Milk" (Do birds have milk?) and one called "Songs of Abai" (Abai was a famous Kazakh poet). Finally, we picked up a couple tomatoes from a produce stand, and we cooked rice with chopped tomatoes, which we then topped with some beans I'd cooked yesterday. Cheap, delicious, and vegan, even.

Interesting fact: People don't use voice mail on their phones in Kazakhstan, as far as I can tell. My cell phone, for example, doesn't even have any settings or buttons for voice mail. As best as I can surmise, nobody feels like they need or want it.

*Remember Volkswagen's "Fahrvergnügen" - "driving pleasure" - ad campaign, as well as the resultant parody T-shirts? "Far from fluent" sounds like "Fahrvergnügen." Incidentally, "Fahrvergnügen," as I understand the matter, is a construction that nobody would ever actually create in real German.

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