Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A genuine Kyrgyz picnic

June 27, 2013

After my first day of class had finished, I had a quick lunch with the family, then we grabbed our swimsuits, hopped into the car, and headed down to the lake shore to attend a picnic. When we left, it was in the 80s, hot and sunny, and we all set out dressed for a sunny summer’s day at the beach. You’d think I’d have learned by now how quickly the weather here can change, and therefore would’ve thrown some warm clothes in my bag… but of course I didn’t. But we’ll get to that later.

We arrived at the lake shore around 1pm, and found the picnic already underway. The older folks sat around drinking tea and chatting, while the younger folks and the kids played in the water and on the beach. I took a long stroll westward along the beach, taking photos as I went and splashing my feet in the rather chilly (IMO) waters of Issyk Kul. (“Issyk Kul” means “hot lake” in Kyrgyz, but even at the height of summer I’ve found it far too cold for my liking. I am a Floridian after all!)

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I returned from my stroll to discover that Kuban’s Audi had been pulled up next to a gigantic and rather industrial looking truck. A blanket had been strung between the Audi and the truck, creating a tent to shade the tea-drinkers below – and I’d returned just in time for the first course (salads). After the salads, it was time for more swimming and hanging out.

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The men played cards. The women busied themselves with cooking and/or tea drinking and/or taking care of infants. The teens and twenty-somethings swam and/or played that awful volleyball derivation which I’ve only ever seen in the former Soviet Union which involves trying to smack the crap out of your helpless opponent with the ball. The second course was a very flavorful sheep-based soup, containing a variety of spices and peppers! And tomatoes! All this variety!

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Then the weather changed. The temperature dropped and drizzle began to fall. The locals all pulled warm clothes out of their bags. I shivered. Eventually the drizzle turned into rain and I retreated into the Audi. Despite the weather, the party was not going to end until we’d had our beshbarmak. Of course, by the time the beshbarmak made its appearance, the weather was truly frightful: pouring rain, biting wind (children had been drafted into holding the blanket in place above the table as the wind had blown it loose from its holds in several places), and it was bitterly cold. The blanket, which had provided excellent protection from the sun, did little to keep out the rain.

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I was summoned from the warm, dry confines of the Audi to partake of the beshbarmak. Let’s just say that was the quickest divvying up of beshbarmak that I’ve ever seen. Despite the absolutely foul weather – and the fact that by the end of the meal everyone was completely soaked and shivering, everyone remained in good spirits, laughing and joking, even as we frantically passed portions of beshbarmak to one another. An elderly fellow – a retired cop – turned to me and said with a smile, “Вот: настоящий Кыргыз пикник!” (“This is a genuine Kyrgyz picnic!”)

The instant that the plastic bags had been passed around for us to bag-up our leftovers (which for pretty much all of us consisted of ALL of the beshbarmak) we fled to our various cars and made for home. The “road” to the shore – which had been nothing more than a sandy track on our way in – was an absolute mire of clay-enhanced mud on our way out. I am amazed that we didn’t get stuck, given how we slipped, slid, and spun our way up to the main road.

I huddled under the covers with Котчик for the remainder of the afternoon, then spent the evening planning lessons before returning to the warm, cat-filled confines of my bed.

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