One unexpected aspect of life in Kyrgyzstan is how much food is consumed. Obviously in the U.S. we’re good at eating, but despite our healthy appetites, I’m sometimes caught off guard at how much food is placed before me as a guest in someone’s home. This culture of hospitality can lead to some interesting situations (particularly when we keep in mind the expectation that the guest eats).
We were being given a tour of a small town in southern Kyrgyzstan (known around here as “the south”) by a good friend when a family from the village called to invite us to their son’s birthday party.
“We need to hurry home because my wife is making lunch,” my friend said, “And then we can head over to the party.”
It was late already (nearly 2pm), so we headed home, hurried through a Korean soup for lunch, and then immediately walked the couple blocks over to the birthday party. Of course, this is Kyrgyzstan, so at the party the adults were all sitting around a low table, which was piled high with bread, salads, candies, and steaming mounds of plov.
“Have some salad!”
“Here, I will put more on your plate.”
These are the typical things you hear as a guest at someone’s home. It is wonderful, but … right after lunch? Seriously? As one friend observed: “Why am I fed a normal lunch just moments before going to a party where there will be lots of amazing food?”
The same type of thing happened again just the other day: we had to go drop off rent at our landlord’s house at 7pm, so, thinking as typical Westerners, we ate dinner around 5:30 and headed to her home. She warmly welcomed us and sat us down behind her desk, making small talk along the way. Then she got down to business.
“For me, relationships are always primary,” she said, “So it is always important to spend time talking before dealing with business.”
I’m beginning to wonder if “spend time talking” is code in Kyrgyzstan for “eating together” (much like “Do you want to drink some tea?” <insert link for previous blog about tea>). Her daughter prepared a hearty noodle soup and a side of pot roast for us. It was wonderful, but it was also my second dinner of the night. Two hours later, we did get to pay the rent, but not before spending ample time just being hosted as guests by a wonderfully hospitable Kyrgyz woman, and not before eating more than enough bread covered in fantastic, homemade strawberry preserves. As we left, she invited us back with the words, “Any time you’re bored, just come see me. But please give me three hours of warning.”