Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Horse in all forms

June 22, 2013

I slept in late today, and as such it was nearly 10am when I was awakened by a summons: one of my students was taking me to spend a day in the mountains with her family. Okay. The mother of this particular student is a math teacher at the Myrzamambetov School, and she is also related to the director of the London School. (She is the director’s niece, and from what I understood, her husband is the director’s husband’s nephew – although I could be wrong about that.)

My student, Burella, took me to her family’s house where her parents, brother, and cousin were waiting. Her brother, Murat, is also one of my students. Their cousin was visiting from Bishkek. He was a first-grader, and definitely a city boy. He did not seem to be enjoying his stay in the country at all. They also had an incredibly sweet, one-eyed, white-haired dog.

The family had a table piled high with boorsook, candy, and salad – and they were preparing plov. Now, before I had left *my* house, my host family had insisted that I breakfast on plov. As such, I wasn’t sure how much more plov I could eat, as it was only an hour since I had eaten breakfast! Then I learned that instead of the usual sheep-meat, this plov was made with horse-meat. My apologies to Honey and Merlin (my/mom’s horses in the US), but that stuff was delicious and I ate a lot.

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Left: Cousin; Right: Murat

After our late morning feast, Burella, Murat, their young cousin, and I loaded into the family’s SUV. Murat (who just finished 11th grade) drove. We drove up into the foothills of the mountains, not far from where Rakhat and Altynbek keep their sheep. Murat and Burella’s family has a small home up there where their grandmother lives, and where they keep several horses. Murat and Burella’s older sister Aliman (who studies at a university in Bishkek) was there visiting, along with the mother of the first-grader and her six month old infant.

Their land is the location of one of the nine springs which give the village of Toguz Bulak its name (toguz = nine, bulak = spring or water source). As a Floridian, the word “spring” conjures up images of large, round, deep, crystal clear holes from which large amounts water emanate, and in which swimming is possible. In contrast this “spring” was a boggy area from which water slowly leached out of the soil, first forming mud, then a trickle, and then a small stream. They showed me the spring and their horses, and then we drove further up into the foothills to visit their neighbors.

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Murat and one of his family's horses

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The "spring"

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Me and Aliman

We arrived at a small house near a stream (fueled by snow-melts) and surrounded by chickens, turkeys, and their chicks. We met the woman who lived there and her young daughter, with whom we then drank several cups of kumys (fermented horse milk). While kumys is a fermented beverage, it is generally considered ‘mildly alcoholic’ and even the few Kyrgyz teetotalers out there still drink it. This stuff, though, was pretty potent, and after several cups I was feeling a tad buzzed.

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Turkey family

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Chicken, stream, and outhouse

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Stirring the kumys

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Aliman and I wandered around the jailoo (high mountain pasture) for a little while, and visited another of their neighbors. This family lived in a yurt, and had an incredibly adorable puppy – which unfortunately was terrified of me.

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We then returned to the first neighbor’s house to watch them milk their horses. The nursing foals are kept tied in a row during the day, away from their mothers. At milking time, the horses are rounded up and their mothers are herded over to their babies. Each foal is allowed to drink a little bit to get the milk flowing, and then the horse is milked in much the same way as a cow.

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I was offered a fresh glass of horse milk. I was worried, because while I love fermented milk products, I cannot drink straight cow milk. It makes me gag. (I can drink chocolate milk, but not straight, white, cow milk. Yuck.) I was worried that I might have the same reaction to horse milk, but luckily I did not. In fact, horse milk tasted more like soy milk than cow milk – although I found the fact that it was still warm a tad disconcerting!

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Drinking fresh horse milk

After the horses were milked, we said goodbye to the neighbors and returned to the grandmother’s house for a mid-afternoon bowl of soup (accompanied, of course, by tea and more kumys), and then it was time to return home.

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