When I first arrived in Kyrgyzstan I knew absolutely no Russian. Honestly, I guess I did know до свидания (do svidanya), which means good-bye, thanks to the cartoon Anastasia but that was it. But I quickly picked up on two non-everyday words. First was the Russian word for avalanche because that’s what everybody said my name means, which in my opinion is pretty cool. Sometimes I like to joke when first meeting someone and quickly say after my name that I’m a natural disaster. After a couple seconds, they get it and smile. Talk about not forgetting someone’s name.
The second word I picked up on was relative, родственник. After our daily embarrassment (see: Can You Guess Where I’m From) we’d hear, “You’re family!” because the Kyrgyz believe that today’s Native Americans are descendants of long-ago Kyrgyz. They believe that a band of Kyrgyz went north to explore, up to Siberia, and eventually crossed the land bridge from Russia to Alaska. Now, the Kyrgyz aren’t the only ones who claim Native Americans as their own. We’ve also heard this from other Central Asian people. Even the Turkish claim that there is one American president that is Turkish! And that’s because he is part Native American and therefore part Turkish. I don’t know how true it is that Native Americans are direct descendants of the Kyrgyz people but there are many similarities between their culture and the Navajo culture (of which I’m from and is my main framework), and this is much more than just coincidence in my mind. Stay tuned to find out how similar these two cultures are.