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Day 206: Language Difficulties on the Way to the Kazakh Embassy (How We Learn From Mistakes)


jelly beansYesterday I took it upon myself to open up a great big bag of yummy jelly beans Pat and I brought back from the States in our extra suitcase that we filled with American goods. You gotta love jelly beans. I’m addicted to the colors and trying to pinpoint the flavors without any assistance from the flavor guide (psh, who needs that?!).

I was hastily doing my work throughout the day and thought a nice snack would make the time go a little faster, so I tore into the bag and started popping beans into my mouth one at a time, letting the flavor make an introduction with all my taste buds, until…

My happiness was met with sadness… sadness at the flavor of the buttered popcorn jelly bean. I’m still not sure how such a vile flavor has become such a mainstream jelly bean.

I learned something right then and there: I learned what the buttered popcorn jelly bean looked like so that I never made that mistake again.

I love how mistakes can be such a learning experience, and I definitely have a few of those from my travels that I could share. One in particular involves the learning of a Russian word, and the story goes a little something like this:

While in Kyrgyzstan…

I made plans to take a trip up to Kazakhstan, and that required getting a visa. Ever since meeting Zach, the intriguing traveler on a perpetual wait for visas in my Bishkek hostel, I was nervous about the process of actually getting a Kazakh visa. I didn’t know if my Russian was good enough for the forms, if I had the right amount of money or even if I would be let in the front door (horror stories had been told of people waiting days).

Finally, one Wednesday after about 1 month of Russian lessons, I went for it. I walked out of my host family’s apartment and met with the first set of taxi drivers that were down the road to ask them to take me to the Kazakh embassy in Bishkek. I thought I knew what I had to say, only it wasn’t until the words started to come out of my mouth that I realized just how wrong I was.

My Language Difficulties…

Oh. my. god. I was spitting out the word for embassy in Russian, but it just wasn’t coming out right. I swear I had just looked at the word before leaving home and now it was nowhere to be found in my head, just like when I used to cram for a test and think I could recall a list of items to be rudely brought back to reality when drawing an absolute blank in the exam.

The taxi driver just sort of stared… in disbelief, so I repeated some jumbled mesh of sounds that I thought might be the word for embassy and tossed a good “Kazakhstan” in front of it. Still, nothing from the guy.

He was older and drove a personal car that was decked out with a taxi sign he probably bought from the market. It was old and unclean, which is not uncommon for any car in those parts. All I wanted to do was jump in and be on my merry way in the back seat.

After a while, it came to my attention that he might not have spoken very much Russian, and instead was a man that focused on Kyrgyz. He eventually got frustrated with my feeble language attempts and took me around the corner to one of his friends where I again did the song and dance of Russian words, this time throwing out things like “passport” and “visa”. Luckily, this guy got it!

bishkek scenery

Bishkek sidewalk and apartment block.

What a breakthrough…

The street name for the embassy wasn’t in my guide book (I had walked past it at the very beginning of my stay but only remember landmarks), so I had nothing else to go on besides the fact it was near the American embassy. I then used my basic Russian skills to explain this fact, which the friend passed on to my driver before we finally took off.

Wow, a huge weight was off my shoulder just there. We cruised along the Bishkek streets with the windows down and the wind in my hair until I realized we didn’t turn down a street that would normally get us in the right direction of the embassy. Then, we passed another street and kept going in the exact opposite direction of where we should have been. I had to interject and try my best to explain in very broken Russian how to get to the embassy. Yes, it came down to me tossing out a blunt left or right until we got to the destination, where I immediately jumped out and tossed the money that we agreed on in the taxi driver’s hands.

I heard the car taking off behind me as I rounded the corner to the entrance of the Kazakh Embassy, and guest what!

It was closed!

I quickly learned that the Kazakh Embassy was closed on Wednesdays, making my entire ordeal getting there obsolete.

And just like I will never forget what the buttered popcorn jelly bean looks like, I will never forget that day, I will never forget that wonky closed-on-Wednesday schedule and I will never forget the word in Russian for “embassy”: pocolstva (посольство). Lesson learned.

jelly beans

Say "NO" to the buttered popcorn bean!

Bishkek street


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6 Responses to Day 206: Language Difficulties on the Way to the Kazakh Embassy (How We Learn From Mistakes)

  1. Stephanie July 28, 2011 at 5:22 am #

    So, which one’s the buttered popcorn bean? =Þ

    • Brooke July 28, 2011 at 8:22 am #

      Haha, it’s white with yellow specks. Beware! 😉

  2. Bob Crunch July 29, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    Wow, really great story. Great job bringing it full-circle. For all intensive purposes it could of been worse, you could of accidentally insulted him when trying to come up with the word for embassy. Great article and can’t wait to here more stories!

    • Brooke July 29, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

      Thanks so much for reading! It was an interesting time in my life, I must say, and I’m glad I can share the experiences with my readers 🙂

  3. Kirstin August 4, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    Ahhh getting a kazakh visa is such a nightmare! I had the brilliant idea of going there for a 10-hour visa run. Go there, fill out the form, bring back the form, look around for a copy shop because you of course gave them an incorrect photocopy of your passport, wait a few days return, go to the other side of town to pay for it, go back a day later, etc etc etc, all while getting ripped off by every single taxi driver. BUT! I just had a friend who successfully got into Kazakhstan without a visa, turns out there’s a loophole that lets people from certain countries (USA included) with a multiple entry Kyrgyz visa (and I think some other paperwork) go to Kazakhstan without all that embassy hassle. Could be something I’ll try in the future.

    • Brooke August 4, 2011 at 11:13 pm #

      Be careful, Kirsten! 🙂 I got stuck in Kazakhstan for 2 weeks because I *thought* I had the proper visa to get back into Kyrgyzstan, but alas… border guards wouldn’t let me through. I had to go back to Almaty and do all the applying for a new visa. When I got back to Kyrgyzstan, they said I should have been able to get back in the country fine: the border guards just wanted a bribe. So, I dunno.

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