Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chick-fil-a on a Sunday: Or thanks to the McCampbells

The food. When people here ask you what you miss about America, they probably expect you to say your friends or your family. And don't get me wrong. Of course, I miss my friends and family. But man do I miss the food in America.

And one of those things that I miss is Chick-fil-a. I'm a Georgia-boy, born and raised. I remember getting nuggets meals at Oglethorpe Mall even as a small kid. Eventually, my love for the restaurant grew when I realized that I could get a free sandwich every time I donated blood. Helping potentially save a life and getting a coupon in return for a delicious lunch, I don't know what could be better. I even worked at a Chick-fil-a one summer and loved the free meal I got every day at work. My professional recommendation from eating four to five sandwiches a week is to try out their sauces: their buffalo sauce is surprisingly spicy.

So when Mark asked me if I wanted his parents to bring anything from America when they came this summer, the first thing I thought of was Chick-fil-a. I was only half-joking. After all, five months ago Brad managed to hand deliver me Krystal. What's next on the fast food list but a chicken sandwich. And not just any chicken sandwich, but the new spicy chicken sandwich. Yes, even though I am on the other side of the world, I still get updates from, and I probably knew about the debut of the new sandwich before most of my friends in the States. Would I truly have to wait until November to try this new exciting innovation? What do I want from America? I want the new spicy chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-a.

Mark's dad seemed to be excited by the challenge. The plan was set in motion. They would get the sandwich the day before they left. Freeze it overnight. Then seal the chicken, buns, and pickle in separate zip-lock bags. Mark would be getting a regular sandwich, and I'd be getting a spicy one. They'd pack the goods into their luggage and they'd unpack it after the 30 hour trip. Simple.

When Mark's parents and sister arrived, Mark sent me a text to tell me the sandwiches were in tow. They'd made the Transatlantic light bez (without) problem. Unfortunately, I'd be in Shymkent until Sunday and the sandwiches would arrive in Taraz on Friday. What's another couple of days though?

Sunday (yes, on Sunday) I arrived back in Taraz and, even before going home, immediately went to Mark's house. His family was asleep, still jet-lagged by the long trip. He got out the sandwich. Although originally planning to wait for me, he understandably succumbed to the hunger and had eaten his sandwich the day before. I unwrapped mine piece by piece. First the bread. Then the pickle. Then the chicken. We reheated it on the stove and the reassembled it.

I lifted it to my mouth and took a large bite. MMMMMMmmmmmm. It was amazing. It tasted amazing. It was just like I had remembered it, and the spiciness was an interesting enhancement. I relished in the food, savoring each bite. Chewing and chewing and chewing. I don't think I've eaten anything so slowly in my life (see previous entry about hot-dog eating contest). I didn't want to finish it, but eventually I was down to the last bite. I popped it in my mouth and slowly chewed. Chick-fil-a in Kazakhstan. This country is always full of surprises. 


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation

So I'm back at my site now. I'm sitting at home. Alone in my apartment. And it feels great. For now. I'm sure a couple days of this and I'll be bored wishing I was back traveling again, but it feels good to finally have a break. The roller coaster that was the summer seems to have wound down, although a week earlier than expected.

Uzbekistan did not work out for us. Me, Mark, Courtney, and Jessica had wanted to go check out some of the old cities there. We filled out our paperwork, jumped through tons of PC hoops, and then in the end never got our letter of invitation. The tour agency (Roxana Tour) said that it could take months for us to be processed because we are all Peace Corps volunteers. That would have been nice to know from the beginning, but we had trusted the tour agency to secure visa assistance, and they did not. Other volunteers have used this agency in the past, but I don't know if I can recommend them, mainly because next week instead of going to Uzbekistan I will be sitting at home in Taraz.

 Before traveling to Almaty to get a final NO on the Uzbekistan issue from the embassy, I was in central to northern Kazakhstan in a gorgeous spot known as Shchychenks. There were not only trees, but forests! Forests! In Taraz, we have lots of trees. It's very green, but we don't have actual forests with trails. It was amazing to see. It's also not far from Kazakhstan's "Little Switzerland" known as Borovoe ( It does not look like Switzerland, but it was awesome to see a beach in Kazakhstan. I hope in the future there will be something like the Jersey Shore filmed there with locals.

 I was up north to learn Russian, but I think I came back speaking worse Russian than I did before I left. A week surrounded by English speakers means that whatever Russian we do learn won't actually be used. I speak now and hear so many mistakes. I want to surround myself for a week with only Russian speakers so I can start speaking okay again.


Before going to the lake-filled land of Akmola Oblast, I was at BASEBALL CAMP!. Baseball camp this year was awesome because A) It's baseball camp. B) Mark's parents brought sweet Braves hats for everyone. Everyone being the children and Mark. C) We stayed in a sweet pimped-out yurt complete with two beds and a television D) We had a ton of awesome volunteers come and help out. The two beds were somewhat useful, but because there were ten of us, it was really only 20% useful. Other highlights included sponge dodgeball, BASEBALL, picnic by the river, lots of watermelon, BASEBALL, berry picking, banya-ing, and finding a sweet new karoke spot in the city. It was a lot of fun, and I'm already excited about next year's camp. We'll need some more balls though, but I'll try to get some donated or something and bring them back. We have tons of hardballs, but we are afraid to use them and all of our squishy baseballs are ripping at the seams.

 Before going to BASEBALL CAMP!, I was in Shymkent for an activity/English camp. We went to the water park. We went bowling. We went to Mega. The kids on our trip decided they didn't like delicious pitas. I also learned a new Kazakh superstition that people here don't drink out of chipped cups or glasses. Now I acknowledge that its bad for a restaurant to serve you a chipped cup, but if I got one, I'd just turn it around and drink from the non-chipped side. Here, a poll of all 20 students revealed that all of them would send it back. It's an insult to the guest to serve such a glass. Two years here, and there is still the stuff I don't know. Overall, the camp was fun and the kids had a good time. And they were speaking so much English. After working with them for half a year, it finally sounds like they are opening up and become more comfortable speaking. I had a good time too despite my sandals breaking on day two. And me only bringing sandals. I don't think they could handle the nightly discoteque we had at the hotel restaurant.

 So now I'm back at my site. I don't have any major travel plans until September for our Close of Service conference (despite staying a third year, I still get to go). Seven full weeks at site. Hopefully, I'll get a lot done. I'm really excited to hit the school year running with all sorts of service projects and volunteer recruiting. I also need to finally hunker down and make my organization a web site.

 Preview for upcoming blog: Another description of trains in Kazakhstan, but this one is mind-blowing

Friday, July 23, 2010

One more year!

So I was originally supposed to leave Kazakhstan some time in November 2010. However, I decided to "extend" (Peace Corps lingo), and I'll be around here until December 2011. I thought a lot about it over the past few months, and finally turned in my application at the end of May. I heard a few weeks ago that it was accepted. In addition to just extending, I'll be staying on as a "Peace Corps Volunteer Leader," so I will have a few more administrative tasks added to my normal workload. Overall, the expectation is I work 70% at my work and 30% assisting staff and other volunteers.

So why did I stay? Do I just absolutely love life here in Kazakhstan? I stayed because I think I can get some interesting work done over the next fifteen months. I came to my host organization seven months late after a site change, so I feel like I was behind everyone else in learning about their organization. I have some specific projects I'd really like to get done before I leave Kazakhstan, and I think staying an extra year will let me do it. I also have a rather comfortable life in Taraz (cable, Internet, a working oven). And life is still interesting here. I am used to a lot of it, but every week if not every day there is still something new for me here.

This doesn't mean I won't come home until December 2011 though. As part of the extension, PC requires us to go home for a month. And they even pay for this trip! (However, after coming back to country, if I decide to go home early I then have to reimburse them.) But free trip to America is tentatively scheduled for February/March 2011. I'll be home for about six weeks. So probably a few weeks at home, maybe one in Atlanta, one in Nashville, one in Illinois (maybe, but its far and icy that time of year), and one spent trying to find a late winter/early spring hat/pickup frisbee tournament. I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone even though its seven months away. :)