A few weeks back, I was invited to visit a local secondary school by my counterpart. Her sister, Maria Eje, works at the school and wanted to show me around and introduce me to the students. It seemed like a coincidence that some of the high school students I work with invited me to an English party scheduled for the same day… I rolled up to the school, not sure what to expect.
Maria Eje welcomed me inside, where about 30 students formed the walls of a path leading to the auditorium. Eliza, one of the high schoolers I teach, handed me a bouquet of flowers; another student, dressed head-to-toe in traditional Kyrgyz clothes presented me with a platter of boorsok (nuggets of fried dough) and kaymak (butter-esque, with a tangy taste). A little overwhelmed, I kept following the crowd and found myself in the front row of the auditorium with a “RESERVED VIP” chair. Maria Eje introduced the day’s activities, and finally, it was clear what I was in for: an English/Halloween/Kyrgyz National Costume/Quiz Bowl extravaganza, which would all be kicked off with a short presentation from Colleen, a Peace Corps volunteer from America.
Surprise, surprise! I scuttled my way on stage, where I awkwardly flailed around – using gestures to further illustrate my descriptions of home and what I’m doing here in Kyrgyzstan. Maria Eje opened up the floor to questions for me, and I was thankful that the students in the room were less interested than their university-level counterparts in my current romantic history than my favorite foods, what teenagers like to do in the U.S., and whether I enjoy living in Kyrgyzstan.
After I hopped off the stage, the real party began. Maria Eje introduced the sarmeden, a Quiz Bowl-type game in which 9th form girls and boys competed to see who could list more tongue twisters, idioms, and riddles. (The girls won.) Students in the 8th form presented a skit about Halloween – they showing off strategies for trick-or-treating, the best costumes for a costume party, and how to bob for apples. This was followed by a “Parade of National Costumes,” in which kids from each class walked across the stage in a different piece of traditional clothing. At the end, all the students walked in a circle, runway-style, to show off the full extent of designs and colors. A student played komuz, a traditional stringed instrument, and another girl played Für Elise on piano, while a pair of girls in bright yellow dresses performed a dance.
At the end of all this, I gave a short speech, half in Kyrgyz and English, thanking the students and Maria Eje for inviting me to see their party and admire what they’ve learned. The Peace Corps life advice I shared earlier in the summer, to always accept random invitations, rings true. Sure, it might have been nice to know ahead of time what the day would have in store, and granted, I was a bit overwhelmed after 30 minutes of keeping a huge smile for selfie after selfie with students and teachers alike – but this day was fantastic and serves to remind me why I’m here.