Last week we had a great time at Tay Samal camp (thanks Christina and Jacob for coming, and Mark for heading up there from Taraz). Next week we have a camp in Shymkent because the second week of our activity camp was hijacked by a grant won by people in Shymkent. We had a lot of cool stuff planned, so hopefully their camp can match it.
Today, I was set to have the coolest day in Peace Corps ever and it failed on so many levels. Plan was to make American breakfast in my office for the camp we are having. See, you don't understand what its like to be asked a bajillion times what your national food is, to say we don't have one national food because we value variety in our dishes, only to be told you are wrong. You're national food is hot dogs and hamburgers. No, darn it. Chili and meatloaf and BREAKFAST. People here are not breakfast eaters usually. Maybe some bread and jam and definitely tea, but a Sunday brunch with pancakes, waffles, sausage, etc - unheard of. So today since we were doing American language camp, we were going to cook our national dish - breakfast.
I knew the guards in our building had a small electric burner and I got their permission to borrow it. Then I bought a lot of food. Flour, milk, kefir, eggs, sugar, salt, baking soda, etc. I hauled a bunch of cooking stuff from my house to work. I even got my co-workers to bring some spare mixing bowls. The plan: have the kids split into teams. Give them each a recipe for pancakes in English. Give them access to the supplies. Let them at it. Then they'd bring it to me in the next room and I'd fry them up.
For those of you that aren't in Kazakshtan, this is very very weird. An office is an office. It is not a kitchen. While this may be kinda kooky in America, this is pretty much unheard of in my neck of the woods. (On a similar note, the Egg Drop for tomorrow has been replaced by American dancing (yeah, YMCA!) because it is culturally insensitive to waste food for science experiments).
All was going super duper awesome. The kids were mixing. They were excited. They were confused by these American things called pancakes. (In Kazakhstan, pancake is translated as Blini. But blini are really crepes. Thick pancakes are not very common.) And then I fired up the burner. And waited. And waited. And then just as it was getting hot, it switched itself off. Oh Bozhe. Yeah, the safety mechanism on the borrowed electric burner turns itself off if it gets too hot. BLIN!
How hot? Not even hot enough to really cook a pancake hot. Hotter than warm, but nothing all that hot. FAIL. Lesson to all future Peace Corps volunteers (and one I should have learned myself already) always do a test run with the kitchen equipment when planning to feed 25 people at a summer camp.
Like we did cook up some pancakes, but the process was taking way too slow. And they were never fully fluffy and delicious like they should have been. So an hour in half into the experiment (we had scheduled one hour for cooking and one for eating) we'd made about twenty pancakes, not nearly enough to feed all of the kids and the staff. My director wisely took them to a nearby cafe and got them a real lunch.
It wasn't a disaster entirely. The children did learn some new vocabulary (including the word for spatula, a device that most locals don't even know how to call it in Russian). They did learn some new recipes. They did try pancakes. And I think they had fun too. It just wasn't enough to feed them for the day. Next time I'll test the burner before hand.