Yesterday, I attended my fourth, and hopefully last, Halloween party of the year – yes, yesterday, November 11. Halloween in Kyrgyzstan has been the longest holiday celebration of my life… For weeks, I’ve been showing Halloween-themed movies at my weekly movie club. The week of Halloween, I attended three different parties; just when I thought I could safely put Halloween away and look forward to Thanksgiving, yesterday’s party sucked me back in to the spooky world of ghosts and witches.
Jalal-Abad’s Halloween festivities kicked off at the International University of Kyrgyzstan on the Thursday before Halloween. Students from this university organized a huge Halloween party, with skits and choreographed dances, a presentation about Halloween’s history, a costume contest, and a dance-off. The place was decorated with bloody footprints and handprints, beautiful jack-o-lanterns, and creepy pictures printed out from the internet.
The next day, I gathered students from my English clubs together for a much calmer get-together. Younger attendees drew masks while the university girls put on makeup and prepared their costumes in the back of the room. After a first round of selfies with the girls in their costumes, I split the partygoers into six groups and told them we’d be making mummies. After it looked like each group had put in an appropriate amount of effort, I told them they would be presenting their mummies and each one’s life story – in whatever language they like. These kids were so creative! “Doctor Mom” was once just a doctor who did the work of turning Egypt’s kings into mummies; in a show of gratitude for Doctor Mom’s dedication to Egyptian royalty, they allowed her to be the first normal person to be mummified. We also got to meet “Bugs Bunny,” “Princess Dina” (I don’t think it was supposed to be Diana…?), and “Monster Mumie Number 1” (the scariest mummy who ever lived).
After cleaning up the mountain of toilet paper and peeling the paper skeleton I built off the wall, it felt like Halloween could finally be over. Yesterday afternoon, I heard shouting and spooky music coming from the auditorium and went to check out the hubbub. It was foolish to expect I could just peek my head in to a party like this; Gulmira Eje, the head of the Linguistics Department, saw me and had me take a seat front and center. Now vulnerable and visible to the party planners, I was pulled up on stage for a toilet-paper-mummy decorating contest, a game the students called “Trick or Treat.” Accuracy of Halloween games aside, it was still a hoot to watch students from the neighboring college dance in their costumes and full face-makeup.
I wish I could say that the planning of Halloween festivities in Jalal-Abad counts as “second goaling,” that second branch of the Peace Corps mission that has volunteers sharing American culture with their host countries. But almost all of what I saw was organized by local students. I never expected that local students would know so much about or be so interested in Halloween, but it’s been amazing to see how young Kyrgyz people have interpreted American Halloween traditions and made them their own.