Friday, February 20, 2009


The morning has passed by in a blur of cold meetings and chilly handshakes. The translator's voice a monotonous soundtrack to our huddled gatherings in freezing offices, hands in fingerless gloves wrapped around steaming bowls of sugarless black tea. At least it's easier to stay awake when when every sentence forms clouds of steam.

I'm starving. We're all starving, and we have another meeting in five minutes. This time it's a forester with a weather beaten face and a twinkle in his eye. We invite him to take tea and samsi with us, and his whole face lights up.

With a carrier bag full of hot, dense samsi procured from the roadside we head back to our makeshift headquarters in the hope of finding warmth.

Samsi are essentially a Central Asian cousin of the humble pasty. They are a favourite street snack in Kyrgyzstan and come with a variety of fillings - mutton, beef, cheese. The Samsi here in Batken are less refined than their urban equivalents. Expect tough old mutton and, most famously, a thumb sized nugget of fat in the middle "because the men like it that way".

I keep my scarf on to eat, but the grease leaking from the Samsi necessitates sleeves being rolled up. Hot fat shoots out with every bite, making it's way quickly down my wrist before finally congealing in the cold close to my elbow.

The forester speaks up, the translator translates:

"Do you like our samsi?"

I look at the oily puddle on my plate, and think of the hard ball of greasy mutton fat making it's way to my stomach.

"Yes" I say, and help myself to another.

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