June 25, 2013
My last classes at the school in Toguz Bulak went well. Many of my students had their cell phones out recording our songs and my last lesson, and of course many of them insisted on having their photos taken with me. I gave them all my address and my email address, but who knows if I will actually hear from any of them again (especially via the email address, given how few of them actually have internet access).
My last night with my host family was quite wonderful – although a tad bizarre. Nuraika and her Bishkek cousin decided that they wanted to dress in ‘traditional’ Kyrgyz clothes and have me take photos. Somehow the first part of this turned into dressing the two and a half year old boy, Nurel, in a shiny gold dress. Not sure why, but ok.
Then, once the girls had donned their outfits, Altynbek’s mother (who had definitely taken quite a shine to me) decided to gift me with a traditional Kyrgyz robe and hat. Then we took numerous family photos.
Nursultan gave me a miniature felt yurt, designed to old pens, cell phones, documents, and other small items. I gave the kids a set of flashcards that I had made last semester and had brought with me (but which I hadn’t had the need to use) which consisted of photos of animals (both singular and plural) with the words identifying them in English on the back. I also gave Altynbek my wind-up lantern, as he had been so impressed by it during our snow-caused power-outage.
The following morning, though, my joy of living with these folks was slightly tarnished by their creation of the Worst Kite Ever: a bird with its leg tied to a string and a weight attached to the other end of the string to prevent it from flying more than a few meters. This catastrophe was then given to Nurel for his amusement. Given how I hate to see any animal suffer (especially when the suffering is merely for entertainment), this was rather traumatic for me, and an unfortunate final memory of my homestay in Toguz Bulak. (I did, however, get to use the seemingly useless phrase that I learned back in 2008 during my abortive attempt to study Kyrgyz: чымчыкка отурба – don’t sit on the bird.)
Shortly after 10am, Kuban (pronounced with the b nearly silent), my “host father” from Bar Bulak arrived (not surprisingly, in a 20ish year old Audi) to ferry me to my new home. I put “host father” in quotes, as he is my age, and his wife, Rita, is a year younger than me. Although they have four kids… something that I cannot imagine ever having, much less having right now! He is some sort of imam at the local mosque, and he also owns or manages a farm. His wife is both a history teacher at the school where I will be teaching for the next four weeks and the school’s director. They have four kids, although one of the children is currently out of town. The remaining three are two girls (Aidai, 10 and Jarkynai, 2) and a boy (Akhmat, 4). Rita, Kuban, and Aidai all speak excellent Russian, so as in Toguz Bulak, I will have no trouble communicating with my host family. Akhmat seems a little confused as to why I don’t understand his Kyrgyz though!
I am actually staying in the older house next door to the house in which the family currently lives, and which seems to be used mainly for storage. My room, however, is quite comfortable and clean. After I unloaded all of my things into my new room, though, I discovered that the power was out. Hahahaha. Apparently I gave away my wind-up lantern too soon, as power-outages are fairly frequent here. Sigh. One of the first things I did was to turn on my computer to see if I had an internet signal of any sort with either my Beeline or MegaCom SIM cards. I had absolutely no cell signal on my phone, so I was quite surprised when my cell-modem connected. I was able to quickly shoot off a brief email to friends and family, letting them know that I had arrived in Bar Bulak, before I lost the signal entirely. The fact that I got a connection at all must have been a fluke, as I have yet to be able to re-connect. (You know the old adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Well, my hosts probably think I’m a bit nuts as I continue to attempt an internet connection over and over with absolutely no luck.)
Giving up on the internet, I went outside to explore. Near the back of the property, I spotted a small, reddish-brown, Mochi-type dog, which I approached using my talking-to-dogs voice. It skeedaddled. (It belongs to one of the neighbors.) Then I heard a loud, large-dog WOOF! At the back of the property, sadly stuck on a very short chain, was a large, white dog. I approached him, continuing to talk in my talking-to-dogs voice, and he immediately began wagging his tail. He turned out to be a big baby, who wanted nothing more than to have his head scratched. I was later told that I should be really careful around him because he is a “злая собака” (evil/angry dog) – hah! The dog and I are friends and he’s going to get a head rub every day for the next month.
Then it was time for tea – a bit of a slow process, as there was no electricity and we had to heat the water inside a fire-powered самовар. While we were drinking tea, the elder daughter mentioned something about a мышык. Now while мышык might sound an awful lot like the Russian word for mouse, it’s actually the Kyrgyz word for cat. My immediate reaction was to ask, “You have a cat?!” The answer? “Oh yeah, he’s around somewhere.”A scrawny, young, black tomcat showed up about half an hour later, vociferously demanding food and attention – and to my joy he was welcomed into the house.
As I am sure you are aware, I usually either travel with my pets or acquire pets at my destination. Or both. Not having pets during my month in Toguz Bulak was really difficult for me. The only thing I’ve missed more than non-sheep food has been my pets. The dog and cat here in Bar Bulak aren’t my pets, but they certainly are making for some lovely interim substitutes.
After tea, I scooped up the cat (whom I have decided to christen Котчик since he doesn’t have a name) and headed for my room to nap. Котчик was thrilled with the attention and purred and snuggled like crazy. I always like to read before I nap/sleep, but this time sleep was not to be. As I snuggled with Котчик while reading a book, Rita came in and told me that it was time to go to a party. It seems it’s always time to party in Kyrgyzstan.
Apparently one of their relatives had recently gotten married, and her family was having a feast in order to celebrate. At this point in my trip, such feasts have become commonplace for me: tables laden with breads, jams, salads, cookies, and candies, and multiple courses culminating in beshbarmak. There were two things that were different about this party: 1. No booze, and 2. More vegetables! Juice! Ham! I’d been a little worried that I might come down with scurvy up in Toguz Bulak with our meat-n-potatoes diet, occasionally augmented by an onion or a carrot or a plate of sliced cucumber. In contrast, the vast selection of salads at this party was impressive and I ate a lot. (I was surprised at the inclusion of a Russian-style, mayonnaise-covered salad containing diced ham, given the no-booze and prevalent Islamic paraphernalia at the home where the party was held, but I didn’t question it too much – it was meat from a non-sheep!
I had prepared myself for a six+ hour affair, but was pleased when things wound down around the three-hour mark, as I desperately needed a nap. We returned home, and I rounded up Котчик to be my napping partner. He snuggled, purred, and accompanied me to sleep – and was still at my side when I awoke two hours later.
I got up, organized my things for my first classes the following day (using the same initial lesson plan that I had used in Toguz Bulak), and then went out to watch Rita milk the cow. I even gave it a shot. Turns out milking a cow is harder than it looks. You have to pull on the cow’s teats surprisingly hard. I was able to do it, but nowhere near as rapidly as Rakhat or Rita. At that point Aidai said that she wanted to show me the mountains. We met up with a friend of hers, and walked across the street.
Bar Bulak parallels the main road along the southern shore of Issyk Kul. The bulk of the village is located on the southern side of the road, which is lush, green, and fertile. Directly across the road are large, steep, barren, scree-covered hills. We climbed to the top of one of the hills. From the top we could see the entire village, as well as Issyk Kul (located roughly two kilometers away).
After climbing back down the hill, we wandered over to the old school, located about 50 meters from “our” house – and where I will be teaching. There is a brand new school building in which I had been given the option of teaching; however, it is located over a kilometer away and atop a steep hill. Needless to say, I chose the nearby old school. The school building itself was locked, but we walked around the playground. Aidai and her friends played on the equipment and then picked a bouquet of flowers for me. At that point it had grown fairly dark, so we returned home.