pickles 2STUFF. IS. AMAZING. I say with this absolutely no shame after tearing into my birthday packages from the states. It was one week after my birthday. I was holding a pair of kitchen shears in one hand, an extra-large vodka-diet-soda in the other: you better believe this was my own personal celebration. No sooner than I tore into the package from my parents was I wearing each of the items that they sent. Next came my best friend’s birthday gift: fudge, effing glorious fudge. I ate myself sick on the stuff, and by some miracle, avoided getting any of it on my brand new birthday dress. And then came the art stuff. Box after heavenly box of quality art supplies. I worked myself into such a frenzy that I dropped the kitchen shears and sliced my shin. I narrowly avoided getting blood on the birthday dress. TOTALLY. WORTH. IT.

I never thought I was a stuff person, but I am officially a stuff person. The result of living five+ weeks in Kazakhstan has me dancing around the dining room when I open a bulk shipment of rice cakes. (Central Asia + gluten intolerance = “Um…is it rude if I just eat the meat part of the noodle dish?…”)

When Sam and I received the first shipment of our stuff from the U.S., it was like Christmas, plus birthdays, plus all other occasions where you get presents in the Kraegel homestead. I woke up early with butterflies in my stomach; the first box-dragging-across-the-floor sounds outside our apartment door sent me tearing back into the bedroom to wake Sam up. “Paxton [the moving company—or the Kazakh equivalent] is here!” I yelled, but I might as well have been saying “There’s a man with a giant cardboard check standing on our stoop!” or “There’s a dinosaur in the front yard!” or “FIRE!”.

I was powerless as soon as the Trader Joe’s black liquorice surfaced—who cares that it was 7:30 a.m., I’ve never tasted anything so delicious. Almaty may be the New York City of Kazakhstan (and there’s plenty available ‘round these parts), but there’s nothin’ quite like good old American stuff. Familiar stuff. MY stuff.

Among the things that I DO love about Almaty: Coca Cola Light (it’s much better than Diet Coke), MEGA Bacon chips, mini pickles, the enforced “variety pack” of beer—sold individually by the bottle or can—and the price of vodka.

Which brings me to an interesting theory: I believe that in Central Asia, vodka makes everything better. For everyone. Twenty odd years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the only Russian cultural leftover more pervasive in Kazakhstan than the language (duh), or the architecture, is the vodka. The vodka selection at the grocery stores is astonishing; the prices even more so—a decent 750 ml bottle averages about 1,200 Kazakh tenge, or eight American dollars. (But don’t get too excited. Many bottles also go for well over $100.)

I have yet to graduate to the Russian style of vodka consumption—neat and very cold, preferably accompanied by mini pickles and salted fish, and often served as a palette cleanser. Instead, my poison is the vodka-diet-coke (despite the fact that combining vodka with “mixers” is a distinct no-no in this part of the world). For the curious, my recipe is as follows:

– 4 ice cubes
– ½ squeezed, fresh lime
– 2 fingers of vodka
– Coca Cola Light, to taste

After enjoying one (or two?) of these babies on a recent evening, I headed to the store to purchase, um, more vodka and limes. On my way, something magical happened. It was as if being slightly “vodka-happy” granted me access to a parallel universe where the prolonged stares I receive from passersby on the sidewalk felt welcome and natural. Where wearing pantyhose with every outfit (under jeans, with flip-flops) was suddenly fashionable. Parking one’s car on the sidewalk? Go for it! Who am I to deny someone this convenience? My filthy, developing-country-feet became only a passing annoyance—one might even call it charming. And to the cashiers at the grocery store who demand that I use smaller bills because they don’t want to give up theirs: of course you can have my small bills!

It was the vodka, I know. I see now why vodka was once reserved for nobility, and was even thought to be good for one’s health. It makes life in Central Asia downright manageable…even enjoyable! And now, in honor of our new favorite beverage:

There cannot be not enough snacks, 
There can only be not enough vodka. 
There can be no silly jokes, 
There can only be not enough vodka. 
There can be no ugly women, 
There can only be not enough vodka. 
There cannot be too much vodka, 
There can only be not enough vodka.
– Russian saying

…and to this my friends, I say again: more vodka.


2 thoughts on “MORE VODKA

  1. Lynsee says:

    I think we all know the social lubricating effects of our favorite spirits…but I wanted to add that I have always been grateful for booze in other countries. But most especially when I need to speak in another language. A little nip always gives me this amazing language ability (possibly just self-perceived and exaggerated). I am instantly an incredible wordsmith…in whatever language I only stumble in when sober. Bless you booze. Bless you vodka.

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