Small Scenes of Central Asia 6

I’ve been here for 18 months now; long enough to give birth twice (Kyrgyz Irish twins), but I’m still only 75% (only?) through with my service. I haven’t done one of these Small Scenes posts in 7 months, which is not to say there have been no small scenes in that time, just that I haven’t compiled them. Obviously I love digging deep into Kyrgyz internet and falling into holes of Kyrgyz music videos and building bigger, more thoughtful posts, but I think it’s time for sharing some straight and simple moments.


It was barely raining when I left Cholpon-Ata, but somewhere around Grigorievka, the rain drops turned to sleet chunks turned to crazy snow. I understand why the driver was sympathetic to hitchhikers, having to stand out there in the bad weather, but at one point our long-distance marshrutka was stuffed to the gills worse than some Bishkek buses. At one point, I gave up my seat to an old woman who walked with a cane; another woman (who turned out to be the driver’s wife) offered me a seat next to her, which involved some serious Tetris with her grandchildren. In the end, the 4-year old cried into her knees while the 1-year old stood wedged between our shoulders. Neither baby was particularly keen about the seating arrangement, but then again, neither looked away as grandma and I made goofy faces at them.

I love that my family got a cat (Roger and/or Rajah, depending on one’s grasp of the American “r”), but I especially love how my host mom enjoys his company. Since he’s always jumping around the kitchen, looking for scraps or a leg to scurry up, he’s also often in the way of my host mom Cholpon as she tidies up or makes dinner. Every time she steps on his tail, she makes a point of telling me that Roger is upset with her, and I see her sneak him treats to get back in his good graces. Last night I stumbled downstairs looking for water to find Cholpon asleep on the couch with Roger napping at her toes.

There’s almost nothing as Kyrgyz as looking out the window of a long-distance marshrutka, trying to admire the view of an autumn sunset when a man on a horse gallops up to the bus, reins in one hand and an open 1.5 liter of beer in the other.

Maybe the only thing to beat that scene? The group of kelins dancing in a circle, accompanied by music blasting from a car with its doors open. Even though it’s only mid-July, it’s cold up here in the mountains — they’re decked out in beautifully embroidered headscarves and velvet vests in varying jewel tones. Babies peek their heads out of yurt doors, trying to figure out the source of the noise and when their mothers will come back to play with them.

On an excursion into the mountains near Cholpon-Ata with my bio-family, host mom, and a neighbor, we stopped the car to check out a honey salesman while our driver scaled a cliff to pick some juniper branches. This honey salesman, ethnically Russian and very excited for the chance to chat up some foreign guests, had a huge collection of rocks scattered around the honey jars. After inquiring about my aunt’s zodiac sign, he scoured the pile for the perfect talisman and offered instructions for capturing its protective powers (which, obviously, included reading Pushkin’s “Talisman“). Our honey man also pledged his support to HRC, for what it’s worth.



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