A Fortnight in Kyrgyzstan

I’m convinced I passed through some strange time warp when I entered Kyrgyz airspace in April. Sometimes, I pace around my room begging that time pass by a little faster; at other times, like right now, I am stunned to see how quickly a week, then two, can pass. With few students left in the city, my summer English club fell apart, leaving me with basically no work. A true Type A, the lack of work has sent me in a tailspin of stir-craziness and self-doubt. Reflecting on this second phase of my Peace Corps training, though, I see that even without official “work,” I’ve been able to do quite a bit this summer.

So, what can one fit into a fortnight in southern Kyrgyzstan?

Arrive at a Kyrgyz wedding reception with 10 teachers from the English department on time, only to realize that we are still in Kyrgyzstan, so we are technically three hours early. Sit down at a table like the one pictured below, snack on the salads, candy, and fruit already laid out on the table until the plates are empty; pick a new table, and repeat the process until the waitresses get annoyed and force us to stay at one table. Once the three hundred guests arrive, why not give a short speech in Kyrgyz to the newlyweds you haven’t met – “May you be healthy, happy, and have many children!” Get out there on the dance floor, where the music is so loud it blew out a five-year old’s ear drums, shake your thang, and win a glass pitcher as a prize for being one of the three best dancers at the diskoteka. All of this is on film somewhere, just so you know, to be admired by this family at reunions for years.

Take a bus thirty minutes west to visit fellow volunteers; during the ride, be “accidentally” smacked in the head by a jigit’s lanky elbows and hear his mother giggle with him about touching an American girl. Having arrived at the village, locate food for the day. First up, a delicious plate of lagman (Uighur spaghetti, basically) made by an Uzbek woman who speaks English solely from watching television; follow up with tea, homemade yogurt, and raspberries freshly picked from the garden at a volunteer’s home. Play card games for a few hours before eating a bowl of 10 cent soft-serve ice cream and heading home.

Enlist all the volunteers in a one-mile radius to help you carry your personal belongings from one house to another. Four days later, do it again. In the meantime, while technically homeless, spend afternoons lounging on a friend’s tapchan – chatting, playing cardgames, and dreaming up massive dinners. Make spaghetti and salad for her host family, chat with her host dad about destiny versus creating our own futures, and try to explain the difference between “the cosmos” and “space” in English (well, the English uses of the words – the explanation is happening in a mix of Kyrgyz and Russian).

See two new host brothers having the time of their life in the inflatable pool in the courtyard, and promptly put on the only pair of shorts you have so you can enjoy the cool water and finally get some sun on your legs (for the first time since last fall). Try to dissect their rapid, kid-slang-infused Kyrgyz; realize all of their questions are about Hollywood; make up facts about Hollywood. Repeat.

Somewhere in here, there could be a mantra about perseverance or staying positive – finding the good things to outweigh boredom or fear for the future or frustration with the lack of work or structure in my days. For now, though, I’m going to stick to something Isabel Mitchell, a doctor working in northeastern China in the early 1900s, wrote about being far from home: “Being here is the meaning.”

wedding gorgingmahalla wandering
tapchan chillingbarsbek swimming


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