A vegetarian’s worst nightmare

(8/1/2012)

My travels have commenced! After an exhausting combination of flights and layovers, I made it to Kazakhstan.

On my last night in brave little Belgium, I indulged in my last Geitenkaas Salade met Frietjes, and had the hardest goodbye of my life.

Had I known what lay in store for me at my first Kazakh meal, I would have relished that last Belgian dinner much more. I had planned to get a cab upon my early arrival to a hostel close to the center of Almaty – one of the few hostels in Kazakhstan. However, I was warned that, as a woman traveling alone, this would be an incredibly stupid thing to do – as a new Kazakh friend told me: “In Kazakhstan, we have no legal cabs. If it looks like a cab, don’t get into it.”

I went out with some people I met for my first dinner in the city. They took me to a place that serves common Kazakh meals, and they insisted I eat my first dinner like a Kazakh. That means I start with a beer (and because I’m a lady, I drink it with a straw – but only in the case of beer, mind you) and then move on to a traditional dish.

This traditional dish was a nightmare. I have been a vegetarian for years and years – for about 16 years with one year in the middle that I decided to stop. I said to my Kazakh friends that I do not eat meat – they looked at me, as I expected, as if I had admitted to something heinous, and decided to order shuzuk. When it was brought to the table, I almost flipped. Not only was shuzuk ground horse meat sausages (Oh. My. God.), the side dishes were lamb and chicken kabobs – incredibly fatty, with-the-bone skewers. So, after 12 hours on planes and another 12 hours without any food, here sits the once committed vegetarian. Don’t get me wrong – if I knew I could avoid eating the dish without offending them, I would have done it. Instead, they loaded up my plate (me, being the guest, getting the most gigantic portion) and eagerly waited to see what I thought. Besides the general disaster of not being able to cut through any of the meat (it was that rubbery and fatty!) I could hardly chew it. But I smiled, went to my happy place, and pretended like I wasn’t eating horse. I tried to avoid the horse and get to the chicken – the meat I thought least likely to leave me on the floor tonight – and ended up successfully having only one bite of horse and one bite of lamb, and with some careful crafting, I managed to make it look like I had eaten quite a bit more than I actually did. Where are the stray dogs of Bucharest when you need them?

Walking around in the evening was nice, because during the day it is sweltering hot. During our somewhat disturbing horse-meal, the Olympics were on the background, and everyone was getting rowdy and cheering for a Kazakh female weight-lifter who was neck and neck with her Russian competitor. It was fun to be in the excitement of everyone, and it was a great first night out. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to venture out on my own to see the city and try to find some of the places I heard children are living in the streets.

Sorry for that last post. WordPress is blocked here, so I’m publishing through a VPN, and it’s incredibly slow and touchy. I can’t upload pictures while I am here – it’s too slow… so I guess they’ll come later, or if Jarett manages to get me a better VPN.

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