Monday, March 22, 2010

Words on the Pages of Life


I could have a boring life even as a missionary in Kazakhstan. That sounds absurd, but I assure you—it’s entirely possible. However, this weekend was far from boring and it is my goal to stay far, far away from that awful “B” word. What if I told you that I went to the mountains this weekend? Sounds pretty common, eh? What if I told you that I milked a cow this weekend—and not just a plain cow in a barn, but a random, wild cow out in the middle of a field? Not exciting enough? Ok. What if I told you that I had a meal in some family’s traditional Kazakh yurt in the midst of the snow-covered mountains of Kazakhstan? Pretty amazing, I know. But, how about if I top it off by telling you that I ate meat this weekend for the first time in 3 years! Whew! Let me tell you the story...

This weekend started on Friday when we all adventured to Baraholca. That was in the previous blog. Then came Sabbath when we showed up at church a bit late (because I was writing the previous blog), but made it just in time to act out the story of the prodigal son for the children. After church we walked down to our place and waited to go to a nice café for an evening supper (we get out of church around 5-6). However, we never ended up leaving our apartment. The girls and us cooked some food (Panini’s!), drank some coffee, and acted completely silly, but had had boatloads of fun. We finished the night by watching the Matrix. I stayed up late and then woke up early on Sunday to head to the mountains. Steven stayed back at the apartment because he wasn’t feeling so well. He is feeling better now, probably because he did like I wouldn’t have and actually got some rest. I went to meet the girls early in the morning and was running late like always. I hopped on a bus that I knew would get me part way, and it did just that. So as I was venturing around the city looking for another bus to take me the rest of the way, I got lost—again! I walked around for over a half hour and finally ended up walking back to where I had started to find a bus that I had seen numerous times before, but didn’t know it would take me to where I needed to be. I guess I need to be bolder in asking for directions, but it’s a bit difficult when you don’t understand where they tell you to go. When I finally made it to where the girls were at I felt bad for making them wait, but I could see that they were enjoying themselves. Normally, we get a nice-sized group to go to the mountains with us, but the fresh snow was unattractive to the more normal people, so it was just the three of us. By our bus stop—which is near a giant, grand entrance to an unfinished park—there were all these decorations for Nauriz. Nauriz is the Kazakh new year, the first day of Spring—a big holiday for central Asia. Set up were mini yurts and a big marriage swing. A marriage swing is like those swings you see acrobats using at Barnum and Bailey’s circus; the swings that are like a big board with two people standing at opposite ends thrusting the other person into the air. I call it a marriage swing because it is traditional for native Kazakh bride and grooms to swing on a swing like this after their marriage celebration. There is some tradition about seeing who gets higher and what it means and all this other stuff that is completely unbeknownst to me. Anyways, after having our fun on the swing we got on another bus and journeyed up into the mountains. Instead of doing any hardcore hiking, we decided to just stroll around and see what we could find. We soon approached a little stand where people were selling fermented milks and snacks in front of their home. Veronica with her incredible outgoingness and audacity walks into the people’s place and screamed out “Ha-low!” (that is the Russian way of saying “hello”) They came out to serve us and the next thing I knew we were going inside their house. Veronica had pointed to their traditional, and real yurt and said, “moshna?” (May I?) and the lady went inside, cleaned things up and had us sitting on the floor of the comfy warm Kazakh house. We have this thing within our group where we joke about living in yurts when we return to America. We joke about it, but I’m pretty sure Emily is serious (hehe). Anyways, we entered into this yurt and it was amazing! (Pictures to come!) She served us hot tea with milk, bread and butter, some fried sopapilla-like things, and other Kazakh novelties. The main course was of course—meat! You have to understand that being a vegetarian in America is very easy. We have options and people generally accept you as normal and even respect your attempts at living healthfully. Here in Kazakhstan, where meat is a staple food, horse especially, vegetarianism is looked down upon and considered absolutely foolish. I’ve been a vegetarian since I’ve been here and our apartment is always cooking up vegetarian meals, but when I’m in the mountains and some sweet old Kazakh lady is trying to feed me in her home being a vegetarian suddenly became a problem. It became an even bigger problem when I saw her put the skewers of deliciously juicy, well cooked meat on the table (called Shashlik). I decided that I was in Rome and I must do what the Romans do, so I took a piece of meat. After one piece I had to have another and pretty soon it became official—I had killed my vegetarianism. I honestly haven’t tasted meat in almost 3 years, but yesterday I blew it. It was so delicious! I expected to have stomach pain or vomit up a storm, but as of today, I’m still feeling fine. I really was expecting to get sick, if not from the meat, from some bacteria in that yurt! You know the health codes don’t really apply in mountain yurts (not that there is really any health code in Almaty to begin with). Once we had finished up with the yurt we trekked down the road a ways until we ended up just crashing in a wide open area of snow. We had fun with snowball fighting, snow angels, and we even built a little snowman. After messing around we headed out to this cool, ruinous looking place. On our way we saw a bunch of cows. We stopped to play with a younger one and as we were moving on we saw a big mama with full utters. Veronica, again with her audacity, approached the cow and as she made friends with her she reached for her utters and started to milk. Soon Emily and I were yanking on the utters as well. I didn’t know how to do it and it took me awhile to get the feel of it. Veronica filled up a water bottle with a few splashes of the fresh milk and after some hand sanitizer we reveled in the fact that it was the first time milking a cow for all of us. We kept climbing into the mountains and came to this tower for power lines. We climbed up on (being safe of course) and enjoyed the view of the valley below. It was a cloudy day, but the sun was shining through the clouds giving a bright silver glow to the frosty land beneath us. It was a breathtaking sight. After the tower we moved on and approached another mountain that was covered with sheep. We hardly noticed at first because they seemed to blend in with the mountain. I wanted to touch one so I tried to sneak up behind them and then I chased after them. My attempts were unsuccessful, but I walked away satisfied nonetheless. After all this we ran down the mountain, took pictures with a crazy elk statue, then got on the bus back home. The girls dragged me grocery shopping with them so I could help carry their bags home. By the time we got back to their apartment they started cooking some delicious food and it was late, so I decided to crash at their place. I woke up this morning, and we all traveled back to my place and met for a Nauriz celebration. We ventured the city hoping to find some great festivities, but we seemed to have missed them all. My high hopes for Nauriz were a little crushed, but I had an amazing weekend regardless. We cancelled classes for today so I had a three day weekend. Unfortunately, I will have to make up classes on Friday and it will not be a very fun day. So now this week is going to be all messed up for me because my mind still thinks it’s Sunday. It was quite an amazing weekend, but sadly words cannot do it justice. I only covered a small fraction of the excitement in these 1500 words so I will get some pictures up soon and hopefully that can give you some more insight into my crazy life here in this crazy country.

I said earlier that I could have a boring life here in Kazakhstan and it is very true. I have had days where I’ve done nothing, but fortunately those days are few and far between. Is that because I am in a foreign country surrounded by unique opportunities? Hardly. You can, and possibly do have a boring life wherever you are. Is it because of the lack of opportunities? Hardly. Get up and start painting this blank canvas God has given you—He has supplied all the paints, with all the colors and tools you could dream of. Start writing some words on your empty page—God will provide the ink in your pen. One of the saddest things to me is to watch people going through life without living it. Get out and live. Stop asking “how?” and pursue something!

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