"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." -T.S. Elliot
Lately the subject of risk has been on my mind. In Kazakhstan we conducted a Qualitative Risk Analysis training, where two PhDs illustrated the need for risk assessment in decision-making. And it’s true, lean forward a little too far and you’re over the “edge”, don’t lean at all and you’ve become complacent. Ever since I started working I’ve struggled to find that balance and I know I’m not alone in this.
Today I talked to two dear friends who are on opposite sides of the risk spectrum. One feels that she has not taken enough risks, has worried too much about financial security, and subsequently she is not living her dream, at least in the professional sense. Another friend as a result of some smaller-scale risks has just gained a major professional breakthrough, but the next planned risk will result in some definite uncertainty and a possible setback. And yet, he is going for it. When, how, and how far to leap are challenging questions in the arena of risk and life, and ones that I am constantly defining and re-defining within myself. I have a constant blend of recklessness and caution that swirl within me. Which will be the dominant driving force? Tomorrow is another day and we will see.
My last day in Kazakhstan involved a gigantic breakfast in the morning (the buffet here has been amazing), a visit to the Embassy giftshop where I picked up a few trinkets, an afternoon full of meetings and then finally a very fun evening. The fun evening began with 90 minutes of Advanced Yoga at the gym. The trouble is that I’m not exactly an advanced yogi, I’m not a beginner either, but still I could not master the headstand at the end and the military-style pace of the class had me sweating more than the teacher probably expected from anyone in that level. Oh well, it was amazing and feeling refreshed I had some fruit, nuts, and granola.
Meanwhile, my colleagues were busy polishing off a bottle of wine. This prompted them to conclude that despite our early 2am and 4am wake-ups, respectively, we had to have one last meal in Astana. That meal was at a place called Ali Baba, we had gone there for our first dinner and really enjoyed it. Ali Baba is an outdoor place with cozy lighting and fun music, as well as a large, varied menu. This menu full of wonders leads me to my next announcement: I tried camel’s milk and it was….sour, so SOUR. Needless to say, one sip told me everything I needed to know…yuck!
The next item I tried was Kazakh vodka, this was actually fine, but drinking it straight was not easy. As a nightcap we all shared a bottle of Chilean Cabernet, which was quite tasty and also led to a long discussion on the quality of life, how to get what one wants, and maintaining a work-life balance. It was really nice to hear a world expert on Animal Health talk about the importance of having fun outside of work, of really prioritizing what matters most, the things that make you happy. This person has reached the top of their career ladder and realized that what matters most is actually the balance. It’s important to have a job that you like, but without all the other pieces, it is meaningless. Though I now have to wake up in a matter of hours, I felt an urgent need to capture this thought in a blog post before it slipped away into my dreams.
Even though I have never been to Central Asia, the city of Astana has brought out a strange self of nostalgia. The main area in which this nostalgia presents itself is food. Oh the food. Every food from my childhood to my current Russian-infused diet is here and all of it is just as good as I remember. It’s amazing how long the sense of taste stays with you. As a little girl vacationing in Moscow I remembered the distinct taste of “Plombir”, a creamy ice-cream popular in the U.S.S.R.. Determined not to leave Kazakhstan without a bar of this ice-cream, I finally located it at a nearby grocery store and the joy I felt in eating it rivaled what I felt when I first tasted it over 20 years ago.
Then there is the meat. The succulent, falling off the stick kebabs, the “village” chicken, all of it amazing and juicy and smoky.
A new food that I discovered here and am instantly in love with is this bread called baursaki, which pretty much tastes like an unsweetened donut…fried, fluffy, and delicious.
Whether new or old, the ability of food to transport us back to a time, place, or person is simply remarkable!