Holidays in Naryn

Naryn City is small, with a handful of dukons and apartment buildings scattered along one main road, but it’s among my favorite places in Kyrgyzstan. I love the way two mountain ranges meet, one Alps-y, another moonscape-y; I love the bazaar and the underground fruit stands; I love the color of the river and thinking about how that water feeds so much of Central Asia. I adore the Naryn region so much that I went to visit twice in one month, once for Halloween and again for Thanksgiving.

naryn river

Halloween brought me all the way down to At-Bashy, which is geographically more southern than Jalal-Abad but is culturally considered the north of the north. Watching a room full of adult Kyrgyz women spin each other around in toilet paper and parade around in a mummy fashion show brought me more joy than I ever knew it could. After the training (which had a methodology component, I promise), a handful of volunteers tried out the “smoothies” for sale in the health store downstairs before giving up on the protein shake in favor of lagman and fried food next door.


lunch crew

Photo credz: Xtos

Halloween itself was nothing impressive; the day was spent walking around the woods behind the river and making a day’s worth of food in a rice cooker.

A few weeks later, I came down again to help cook a Thanksgiving feast for twenty people; a few stretches of svet jok meant that I was cubing squash, chopping onions, and kneading dough in candlelight, but the electricity came back just as it was the apartment was starting to get cold.

The next morning, we met the turkeys – chaperoned in a shared taxi from a nearby village – and prepared for the slaughter. It was a strange experience, to kill the turkey, one that my high school vegetarian self would have frowned on. But all four turkeys were killed and hung without too much fuss, and we carried the beheaded birds across town in another shared taxi, hoping no one would notice the bits of blood that seeped through the bag. We plucked and gutted the birds in an apartment courtyard, while kids played nearby and passerby didn’t blink an eye. With the sun setting at 5pm these days, we millennials lit our workspace with iPhones, which we had out anyway to google the proper procedure for cleaning a turkey.

turkey 2
turkey 1
dead birds
in the dark

Our table overflowed with American Thanksgiving classics: roasted squash, mashed potatoes, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, and several pumpkin pies, as well as some Kyrgyz dastorkon staples: beet vinaigrette, salat oliv’e, loaves of nan bread, and vodka. About twenty people, a mix of Peace Corps volunteers, other expats, and local friends, gathered around the table for toasts and expressing thanks.

final dinner

This point in service is proving to be a stressful one. 75% finished, 25% left, but 25% still translates into more than 6 months, which is no short amount of time to push through culture shock, loneliness, holiday homesickness, and work stresses until we get to cross the COS finish line. Despite the struggles (or maybe because of them?), I think it’s an important practice to take time to reflect on the light in my life and give thanks for the small joys instead of focusing on my daily encounters with patriarchy, bureaucracy, and literal bull****.

So thank you to my global support network, thank you to my mom and family back home, thank you to my Terra Incognita sisters, thank you to my favorite who makes me laugh and think, thank you to my host family, to my Chkalov neighbors, to my counterpart, to my students (especially you, 7G), to my colleagues and friends in Cholpon-Ata and Jalal-Abad, to the marshrutka drivers who get me where I need to be (even if a few hours later than expected and with a few close calls of veering off the road), to the owners of Narodnyi for putting one within walking distance, to Peace Corps staff and doctors, for this opportunity to live in Central Asia, and for all the health, wealth, and prosperity I’ve enjoyed this year.

Ыраазычылык Кунуңор менен куттуктайм, С праздником Дня Благодарения, Happy Thanksgiving.


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