"do you like balsak?"
"Oh, yes, Damday (Tasty)!"
|The Balsaks are the deep-fried puffed-up pastries all over the place|
LanguageLanguage is an interesting thing, and something I've been thinking a lot about over the past 12 days in Kazakh territory, near the "town" of Dayan, where very few people speak Mongolian, much less Russian, MUCH less English. I realized that learning a manageable amount of French and a smattering of Spanish was relatively easy, given the amount of cognates they have with English. Mongolian, Russian, Kazakh and Mandarin, however, have proven to be much more difficult. The fun part, though, is that the false cognates are often more interesting than the correct ones, as evidenced above.
As you know, I've been living with a Kazakh nomadic family for the past week and a half. I knew going out there that I didn't know any Kazakh and that they were unlikely to know any English, but that my Mongolian and Russian phrasebooks might help. What I found once the driver left me facing 11 long days with this family was that their command of any language other than Kazakh was comparable to mine of Kazakh: not really existent. This would be fun.
Before I left Ulgii, I got a few phrases from Alistair, the Scot who was helping me get things sorted. These all turned out to be almost useless, but I was able to scribble a few more in my pocket notebook before my driver left, as he spoke a few words of English. In the end, my entire source of communication with my hosts and their friends was left to memorizing a few pages of my notebook and adding a few in from time to time, as I pointed to them. This resulted in a long list of nouns, unfortunately.
As I mentioned before, the fun part was trying to remember them. I did this by trying to find things to associate them with, as with "balsak" above. I'll let you figure out the association I made there.
Some were easy:
Johk - No (you've got to be johk-ing)
Chai - Tea (easy enough)
Eet - Dog (Don't eet dogs)
Seerh - Cow (Steer w/o the T)
Some got a little more interesting:
Cheel - Wind (it makes you cheely!)
Jaman - Bad (don't be jaman, mon)
ustuck - Hot (u-stuck to your self, you're so sweaty)
And some started getting deeper into the depths of my imagination:
Toidom - Full (people may starve in a Kingdom, but everyone's full in a toy-dom!...)
Keshya - Yesterday (Ke$ha is SO yesterday)
Unfortunately, all of these were written down based on how they sounded when one person told me, so when I tried to use the same word with someone else, often it wasn't understood. This happened with "Goodbye" (Sau'bol), which I first heard as "soo'gol", which seems to be some sort of profanity in Kazakh, judging by the response I got from the people I said it to...
|Kunti trying her hand at milking the sheep|
|Kunti helping her dad, Yeltai, with some good ol' family goat skinning|
|My noble steed and I|
|Baibolat in speed (1.5) uphill|
|He found another speed|
|Jack and my horse in the rain. Chulpan in the background bringing water back from the lake|
|Baka, with food crumbs, pee stain and all.|
|My hosts, from left to right: (Back row) Kuliash, Altan, Baibolat, Me, Yeltai, Apa, my driver's girlfriend (not a host), Gulin, Chulpan, (front row - kids): Kunti, Chuah, Domolai and Khulin|
FoodWhile Baka and the dogs were eating anything, the rest of the humans were on a strict diet of meat, dairy and fat. In fact, here's what I came up with as an average Kazakh food pyramid:
I probably drank on average, a dozen cups of milk-based drink every day (tea or koumiss, fermented mare's milk). That's about a gallon and a half. Every time tea was served, it came with platters of cheeses (either super strong and rock-hard or soft and tasteless, all a mixture of cow, sheep and goat milk) and balsak, or the occasional other bread product. Look at the first picture for an example of a tea spread. That one's a bit fancier than most because it was at a party.
Meals were always meat-based, with some bready product included. This tended to be steamed or boiled noodles, slimy with the grease from the meat.
|A fish feast after our first fishing trip|
|Sheep's head and other bits|
|The ear is surprisingly tasty|
|Another sheep's head with Bis Barmak underneath - a onion and oil-filled rolled pastry|
|Most of a goat|
|Preparing the goat's head (and hooves). It was then roasted in the stove (upper left)|
|bits of cooked guts and a sausage-like thing, filled with liver and other unknown pieces|
I resorted to trying to find as much fiber as I could. Any trace of vegetable that ended up in our food (a few onions and potatoes), I ate. I dug out the few lara bars that I brought from home and rationed them out over the week. I pulled out the three packets of "Ye ye" instant coffee that I nabbed from the train two weeks earlier. Anything to get regular.
By the end of my time there, my mind was able to focus on the other experiences before me, and pooping again returned somewhere further back in my mind.
A day in the life
|The rough life of a khooichh (shepherd)|
|Bokash's moto. I even got to ride it!|
|Yeltai and friend showing off part of their catch|
|Bokash, Chuah and Kunti cleaning the fish|
|My horse on top of a mountain|
Going to parties:
|An average Kazakh party|
|Bokash flattening poop for drying|
|This is the way we wash the sheep|
|I even got to help out|
|Wrastlin' (I won 4/5 of my matches)|
Trying on traditional Kazakh clothing:
|A proud Baibolat|
|The whole process only took about 3hrs|
|Keta (right, at a distance) goes for fuel|
|The mosque in Ulgii|
|A government building with busts of Lenin (left) and Sukhbaatar (Right). Behind me was a red star on a pedestal. The soviets aren't long gone out here.|