Hospitality in Kazakhstan

Edoardo and I sat in a green pasture at dusk cooking yet again another feast for dinner. The mountains in front of us were starting to glow red and we laughed at the curious bee’s digging burrows all around us.

Steam rose from the pot, heavy with the aroma of Turmeric and cumin spices. It was our second day cycling together since meeting at Zharkent, the border town from China and were still adjusting to each other’s cycling style, or rather, each other’s eating style. After cycling with Jerry all those months, I was used to eating heaps of rice and vegetables for lunch and dinner with all sorts of spices. Edo, on the other hand, would eat instant noodles for dinner and porridge for lunch. We adjusted eventually. He would cook breakfast, porridge a la snickers, and I would cook a hefty dinner of rice and vegetables with curry powders.

In our days cycling together, we went up hills dotted with shashlik shacks and exposed rock cliffs, past wild weed fields and through small villages. While I feel most comfortable out riding around in nature, feeling like I have the whole world to myself, villages provide some profound insights into what life is really like.

It pulls on the imagination, begging me to step in someone else’s shoes, someones else’s donkey cart,

someone else’s life for a while. What I saw in these villages were head scarfs and golden teeth. I saw round bellies with aprons wrapped around and I saw deep meaningful eyes. I saw hands that were roughened by work and gardens that grew because of them.

In one village, on a not-so-particular day, Edo and I stopped for a snack, as we normally did around 1 pm. The sun was hot and Edo and my naturally dark skin absorbed it and shone gold. As we ducked into a small shop, our eyes adjusting to the darkness, a woman shuffled over and smiled. There is something about the Kazakh smile that just makes you feel like home. We bought our snacks, snickers and some bread, and were about to head outside when she started rattling off in Kazakh and beckoning us toward a door behind the counter.

As curious cycle-tourers, we had to know– what was behind this door? What layer of cultural insight were we about to peel back? It was a kitchen, connected to a house. The floors were wooden and painted yellow. Sun peeked through the windows and painted the white walls in gold. The table which we were invited to sit at, was covered in a layer of dough. Flour was everywhere.

Our glorious host moved through the room with grace as she handled task and after task, filling our teacups, tending to the stove, feeding the dough through a crank that produced noodles. She had big hands. Hands that were touched with love and caring.

We spent just about an hour there, munching on snacks and showing her photos of our journeys. Filling our bellies with fried dough and our minds with every detail of this experience. We were in Kazakhstan for only 5-6 days. The shortest I’ve stayed in any country thus far. But experiences like this made it a wholesome few days. This is cycle touring. It is a conduit for meaningful moments that spring seemingly out of nothing and almost always involve food and a cup of tea.

 

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nicoleheker

I'm a 25 year old recent graduate of Penn State and am embarking on a mission to see the world in hopes to unlearn, relearn, connect and just be me for a while.

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