Friday, July 5, 2013

Introducing Tabasco to Russia


First, I hope everyone celebrated a wonderful July 4th! Here in Ufa, we had a pelmeni baking party that featured performances of traditional, Russian folk songs and a lesson on baking"Siberian raviolis." I can't say it was my favorite way to celebrate America's independence, but it was a pleasant event nonetheless.

I have finally settled into life in Ufa. I wake up around 7 and get in two hours of studying/work before Liobov wakes up and we have breakfast. I am in class 10-2, and have the afternoon free. I usually do homework, explore the city and hand out with my tutor and other classmates. Russian students are now on summer vacation and are taking the time to relax and hang out with the CLS program participants. This is really refreshing, as most of my American friends (myself included) would not take two or three months vacation to just hang out -- they would find a job or an internship. Never wasting a minute. But in Ufa, the tutors are making a real effort to proactively engage with Americans and enhance our experience. For me, this is a great opportunity to practice my Russian and gain a better understanding of Russian culture.

Last Saturday, we took a day trip to a lake to cook shashlyk, swim, drink (responsibly) and hang out. The lake is actually a hot spring that feeds into a river, so the water is clean and suitable for swimming. The water, however, was around 60 degrees (I was told), so I did not go in, but rather enjoyed watching others react to the arctic-like water.

One of my American friends, Peter, bought a bottle of Tabasco at the local supermarket and brought it to the lake. I initially could not believe they sell Tabasco in Russia and then was thrilled because I LOVE spicy food and usually put Sriracha on EVERYTHING. Oh how I miss spicy food in Russia. Peter and I were eating tobasco like candy on top of vegetables, meat, bread, etc. One Russian, Vlad, asked us what Tabasco tastes like, so I gave Vlad a cucumber slice with a few drizzles of Tabasco, and another cucumber on top (a cucumber-tabasco sandwich). He ate it and his eyes began to water, grabbed my water bottle and started to chug water. We urged him not to, as water makes the effect worse. Instead, he should have milk or juice. He of course didn't listen and kept drinking water. After ten minutes, he asked "how long does this effect last?"

Given Vlad's reaction to Tabasco, I thought it would be funny to introduce Liobov and Renat to tabasco. So I bought a bottle, brought it home and explained the story with Vlad, and offered them Tabasco at dinner. Low and behold, Renat thought it was ok and Liobov was simply not a fan. The next day, Renat brought me "hot" Russian horseradish. While pungent and quite tasty, Russian horseradish cannot compare to the smoky, mouth-on-fire, eyes-about-to-pop-out-of-head, spicy sensation of Tabasco. I still, however, continue to spice up my Russian food with Tabasco -- it has become our little joke.

In other news, last night I went to a Shabbat service at the local Jewish community center -- one of the largest in the European portion of Russia (Ufa is considered part of "European" Russia). It is a modern facility built in 2005. It was pretty interesting to talk to some of the older women about how they never practiced their faith during the Soviet Union and only began to go to services after 1991.

I have more stories and photos about my trips to the library (which has an awesome rare and historical book collection!!!), adventures with Diana (my tutor) and discussions with Renat and Liobov. But this post is long enough -- I'll update soon. 

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