Baby’s First Koi Soi

I got home too late to see the sheep’s throat slit, but I made it just in time for music blaring from open car doors and to see the men hacking away at a pile of meat while a group of women huddled in the corner, washing and braiding its organs. I had expected to be scolded for coming back just past the curfew, and so was shocked to be handed bread and candy and welcomed into this party, aptly called a koi soi (sheep slaughter).

As an American guest watching this party for the first time, I wandered freely between the men and women’s corners. The ladies laughed as I made faces at the contents of their buckets. They washed water over the intestines and carefully braided them together; the action required little attention, and they chatted in speedy Kyrgyz that I couldn’t understand. I asked my host mother where she learned to prepare a sheep like this, and she shrugged, saying, “Sometime after I got married, I suppose.”

On the other side of the yard, men sliced through fat and muscle and bone on the table where my host sister usually washes dishes. One man, nicknamed “the German” for his predilection for punctuality, took an axe to the ribs, cracking them over a stump that served as a butchering table. Every few minutes, my host father introduced me to a new friend, who insisted we toast to my coming to Kyrgyzstan. I only sipped at the shotglass, which was filled with cognac for me, while I said simple toasts in Kyrgyz. “Thank you! I like Kyrgyzstan very much! I wish you good luck! Good health! A Lexus!”

Out of nowhere, my host mother brought out a steaming tray and proudly announced, “Kordok!” Someone whispered to me in Russian that this was the sheep’s heart, a fact I didn’t have time to process before another neighbor at the table scooped a huge pile of it onto my plate. (Bread proved to be my friend in the effort to eat it all.)

Around 1am, we started pulling sleeping children from the living room and matching them with their sleepy parents, who we put in the back of the cars that had earlier been blasting Russian club music. The night was quiet and warm after they left, and I helped my host mother tidy up the table before crawling into bed myself. A day later, the only visible reminder of the koi soi was the sheep’s furry head, stuffed in a plastic baggy and put carefully in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator. (He sat there for a week before my host father and brother lit his head on fire with a blowtorch, scraped off the char, boiled it once or twice, and stuck the leftovers in a bowl to be eaten at a later date.)

[Pictures to come soon]

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3 thoughts on “Baby’s First Koi Soi

  1. JERRY GILLIS says:

    Thanks for explaining, what could have been, a night at our deer hunting shack…..will almost. Great writing.

  2. wmaltbie says:

    If you want to learn a fairly safe slang word that is more like “Oh crap” and not quite swearing…use “Innen Durine” (I phoneticized it for you). It’s especially heard from Talalskie people, but pretty much everyone understands it. Also, never pour alcohol with your left hand, don’t whistle indoors (or pretty much anywhere), and never take the trash out after dark.

    My wife is Kyrgyz – Talaskaya.

    Also, pretty much anyone over 40 speaks Russian, unless you are way in the sticks past Issyk Kul or Osh’ or up in the mountains.

    Good luck….the Kyrgyz are a wonderful and rich culture. They are some of the more inviting and hospitable people on the planet. That being said, always be wary of people under the age of 25…they are becoming more Muslim and get offended more easily and are likely to be a lot more nationalistic.

    One phrase to help you…when toasting or addressing a group, you can start by saying “Esteemed gentleman, ladies, and children” (men first in Kyrgyz): “Urmatyy Baikoler, Ejeler, i bobuktur” They will love it that you were so formal.

    Have a great time there…you will make some lifelong friends and meet some awesome people. Right about now you should ask someone to take you to the mountains for Mare’s milk….fermented horse milk called “kumis” It will clean you out but has some incredible health benefits!! And afterward you will feel like a million bucks for months.

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