Admittedly, a large part of my first day in Olgii was spent nursing a serious hangover.
the espresso helped though, and i was glad to have had the foresight to schelp my newly aquired coffeepot and bag of espresso on the long journey. brian was also grateful, as it was the first cup of real coffee he’d had in almost 2 years (these peace corp folk are legitimately hardcore). luckily, justin introduced me to a local Uyghur restaurant where we were able to get some serious hangover food in the form of all things fried and doused in mayonaise deliciousness:
my time here in olgii since said hangover has been nothing short of fantastic.
the peace corps folk have been incredibly generious to let me crash with them indefinitely and i am trying to be a model houseguest (ie: doing general domestic duties / buying beer / making banana-laden french toast and espresso on the regular). it seems to be working. and thank god for that because i’ve decided to extend my stay a week longer 🙂
so while there’s not much to do here insofar as entertainment, i can say that the food tastes better, the people are friedlier, and the streets are exponentially safer than in UB. it’s a welcome change of pace.
though the weather here has continued in typical mongolian schizophrenic spring fashion- meaning that i got caught in a snow storm in the middle of may:
as for the food tasting better.. i had a culinary epiphany the other day! it finally occured to me why the meat in mongolia always tastes, frankly, slightly rank: MONGOLIANS DON’T DRAIN THE BLOOD FROM THEIR MEAT! the traditional mongolian way of slaughtering an animal is to cut open their chest, thrust a hand inside the animal’s chest cavity and pinch off the aorta to stop its heart. while that method is, admittedly, pretty baddass, it also allows for little to no of the animal’s blood to be spilled on the ground- ground which mongolians consider sacred. [as a side note: i am immediately reminded of my cousin Troy’s botched attempt at butchering a gift cow- for those of you who don’t know the story, suffice to say that it involves him schlepping a dead and partially sun-baked cow with a dead calf half-hanging out of its rear-end across the entirity of Lancaster county.. culminating in the butcher telling him that that because he’d neglected to drain the blood out of it, instead of prime-cut serloin steaks he’d be eating spiced beefsticks for the next 10 months.] so realizing that THAT’S why the meat in mongolia is so damn strong (and often unpalatable) finally registered.
by contrast, kazakh meat is all halal- meaning drained of blood- and consequently a hell of a lot tastier. and everything in olgii is halal. so, although i still don’t love mutton, my taste buds rejoice!
in other food news: i had my first horse-meat experience! (thanks to brian and justin making horseburgers):
and it was… delicious! flashbacks of watching Black Beauty and National Velvet aside, i strangely didn’t feel wierd or guilty about it at all.. on to human meat! 😉
as for my project news, things here are really picking up in exciting ways. i’ve been meeting with different kazakh women artisans every day and people have been really receptive to my project. Chieko has been accompanying me around to do artisan interviews, which has been nice having someone interested in the same things i am to discuss and bounce ideas off of. it’s been a great learning experience so far, especially regarding how tuskis (embroidered wall hangings) have changed over the years from the period of socialism to capitalism. namely, during socialism the materials and colors were limited from what could be imported from russia, and therefore limited the pallet to white, black, red, yellow and green. there was also no market to sell their embroidery work, so everything was made for personal use, and many women expressed regret over having had to sell the older tuskis made by their mothers and grandmothers because of financial straits after the transition to democracy.
I also befriended a kazakh girl named alenka in the market, who has also agreed to act as translator, which usually makes things easier. though what is somewhat more exciting than her often curious translating, her mother is an incredible embroiderer and spent an afternoon showing me her different embroidery work:
and even gifted me an embroidered vest! the vest goes perfectly with my ridiculous (and *plush*!) new peacock-patterned skirt bought at the local market for $3, and a borrowed eagle-hunter’s hat.. point of fashion: kazakh grandma meets galatic warrior:
oh yes, i am taking olgii’s fashion scene by storm.
of the people i’ve met so far, i’ve really connected with one artisan in particular named Ina. she does what can most aptly be described as free-style embroidery- without following patterns or traditional designs and instead creating unique free-form shapes.
countless photos of Ina’s older work
Ina showing the pattern for a new tuskis
the other day we spent the afternoon playing around in her ‘studio’ and i gave her the idea to use the extra scraps from antique tuskis to create necklaces.
she immediately took to the idea and we spent the afternoon lost in craft-land until we realized that we’d been sitting sewing for 5+ hours while chieko and our friend kaitlyn were bored out of their minds.. but here was the result:
and Ina trying her hand at it:
so, things are moving forward… i have my first photoshoot scheduled for tomorrow for a new series of portraits i am doing of kazakh women artisans, which i am both excited and anxious to begin… so stay tuned for that!
in the meantime, here are some photos from the past week:
getting out horse meat freshly ground
outdoor billiards hall behind the market
just a local pile of horse legs…?!
‘vegetable soup’ in mongolia = mutton + potatoes
Gulmira’s mom showing antique tuskis
Ina’s husband Kaderbek dressing up for us in traditional Kazakh garb
workers in a local embroidery export workshop