Monday, September 10, 2007

Wine Tasting in Almaty

Kazakh wine tasting is unlike any wine tasting that you might see in the States. It started promptly at noon, with great groups of people waiting anxiously at the gate. Families with small children, grandmothers, people of all ages. Once the event was opened to the public, people immediately ran to tables to get their free samples of wine. They were a young, fresh Kazakh red and white (circa 6 September). Sarah and I thought that the event included the stomping of the grapes. Instead, it was the snatching of the grapes. A wooden cart full of green grapes was brought out and was instantly surrounded by hordes of people grabbing all that they could. It was rather like a Great White feeding frenzy. Amazing. From start to finish, the entire event lasted less than one hour. The goal seemed to be to drink as much (free) alcohol as possible—it reminded me of grad school, in a way. However, in school people would not be giving wine to small children.

Afterwards, we walked back along Gogol Street towards the Zelony Market. Along the way, we passed the Coca Cola Almaty bottling plant, complete with its fleet of Lada’s out in front. Globalization in action! The Cold War ends with the logo of a huge American corporation on the side of the ultimate Soviet era automobile.

Tomorrow will be a quieter day—I’ve been asked to review applications for the Junior Faculty Development Program for the US Embassy in Tashkent, and will be reading these applications tomorrow. They don’t have any Fulbright students/scholars in that country this year due to the political situation, so the applications were passed along to the Consulate in Almaty. It’s a rather daunting task for me, as I am charged with deciding which applications should be considered for the next stage of selection. Only ½ of the applicants will make it to the next round, and the decisions that I make can have substantial influence on the lives of other individuals. As I’ve seen first-hand here in Almaty, having been selected for one of these US-sponsored programs opens many doors that would otherwise remain closed. So, these are not decisions that can be made lightly. So, after breakfast tomorrow I will make a pot of tea and sit at my table looking out over the mountains and begin reading and evaluating the applications. According to the program directives, the focus of the exchange is to send scholars from this region to the US to learn about teaching methods and, upon their return to their native country, apply what they have learned in their own courses and at their university. So, many many thanks to Shannon O’Lear’s teaching seminar. It is helping in ways I never imagined!!

(I'll upload pictures as soon as possible--the connections are rather slow, so some formats need to be changed first)