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Memories from year of service
Spotsylvania resident Jason McIntosh experiences the culture--and food--of Kazakhstan as a Peace Corps volunteer.

 Jason McIntosh and other Peace Corps volunteers worked with villagers in the Tienshen Mountains of Kazakhstan. They taught cheese-making classes and provided equipment.
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Date published: 1/5/2006


Jason McIntosh learned a lot about Kazakhstan when he was there with the Peace Corps.

He met some of the many ethnic groups in the country that once was part of the Soviet Union. He felt the bone-chilling cold. He used his skills in public relations to help school groups publish journals and get new chalkboards and computers.

But what the Spotsylvania County man describes most vividly about his time in the Central Asian nation is the food.

McIntosh consumed the meat of dogs, the fermented milk of mares and the boiled heads of sheep.

On trips through the countryside, he saw as many herds of horses as of sheep, because both animals are raised for food.

"Horse turned out to be good," he said. "It's better than beef, sadly."

The 38-year-old can't say the same about sheep's head, a delicacy served with lots of symbolism.

For instance, if the honored guest is expected to listen to the villagers, he or she gets a slice of ear. Those who will be shown something special during the visit get a piece of eyeball.

A similar principle applies to those who end up with the brain or tongue, and McIntosh got to sample all of the parts.

He tasted other foods prepared by people whose ancestors lived in nomadic tribes and never wasted any part of a slaughtered animal. He consumed lots of cabbage and sour cream, as well as cognac and vodka, and came to love a dish of ground lamb and potatoes seasoned with so much lard it glistened.

"It's good," he said. "It's all good."

McIntosh appreciated the diversity, both on the menu and among the people who call Kazakhstan home.

Maybe that's because it took him so long to get there.

McIntosh, who works as communications director for a small public-relations firm in Maryland, dreamed about joining the Peace Corps for as long as he can remember. But after high school and college, between work and involvement with the Republican Party, the right time never came along.

Plus, his family needed him.

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