June 21, 2013
Today was an interesting day, if somewhat depressing. Weather-wise (in contrast) the local weather gods decided to honor the summer solstice with clear skies and temperatures in the upper 70s. For the past few days Rakhat and Altynbek have been away from home, and the kids and I have been in the care of Altynbek’s mother and youngest sister who arrived from Bishkek mid-week. (While Altynbek’s mother has yet to make good on her threat to split a bottle of vodka with me, she has coerced me into taking one to three shots with her every evening. This woman has birthed twelve kids; she doesn’t take no for an answer.)
Altynbek has been away on business. Meanwhile, Rakhat was off in her home village preparing for today’s event. In mid-May, Rakhat’s father died, and here in Kyrgyzstan, on the fortieth day after a person’s death, a memorial service is held. The even lasts all day, although only the chief mourners (in this case Rakhat, her mother, and their close relatives) were there all day. At around 11:30, Altynbek’s mother, sister-in-law (who arrived from Bishkek around 11:00) and I set off in a taxi for the village of Turt-Kul where Rakhat was born and where her mother still lives. (Turt-Kul is a small village just west of Bokonbayevo.)
When we arrived, we were shown into a yurt filled with wailing, crying, and praying women, all of whom were seated around the edge of the yurt, facing the wall. Among them were Rakhat, her mother and (I believe) her aunt. I admit that this was rather uncomfortable for me, as this was such a personal moment for these people, and yet there I was, right in there with them. I closed my eyes and tried to pray. “Dear Rakhat’s father, I never knew you, but you raised a wonderful daughter.” What else was there for me to say?
At a seemingly preordained point the crying and praying ceased, and we all turned to face the center of the yurt. Altynbek’s mother and sister-in-law then presented Rakhat, her mother, and her aunt with several clothing items. At this point, a young man (in his late 20s or early 30s, whom I believe is Rakhat’s brother) entered the yurt and knelt near the door. He then uttered a long, sonorous prayer in Arabic. Afterwards, we went into the house.
In one room, there were three tables was laden with boorsook, rolls, fruits, salads, candies, and cookies. We sat at the tables for about fifteen or twenty minutes, somberly eating and drinking tea. During this time, the same young man came, knelt by the door, and uttered the sonorous Arabic prayer three more times. We then adjourned to the next room for beshbarmak, this time served with rice instead of noodles. At the end of the meal, a middle-aged man came and knelt next to us and uttered the same sonorous Arabic prayer. At that point, the guests left. There were others in the yurt, praying and crying, while still others were drinking tea and eating boorsook. Apparently mourners would be rotating through all day.