Here are the last items to conclude my list of similarities between the Kyrgyz and the Navajo/Apache. This is not an end to the list because the longer I live here the more I find ways that we are alike. There are still similar attitudes, traditional beliefs, cultural pride and identity, things that cannot always be defined but are definitely felt. So without further ado…
1. Similar homes: Our traditional homes are similar, except yurts are made to be transported and hogans are more stable structures. Yurts are made and set up by a wooden lattice circular frame covered by wool felt for insulation, sort of like a pop-up tent but way more intrinsic. There is a hole left at the top for smoke to escape, which comes from a stove in the center of the yurt. Traditional Navajo hogans are built from logs and/or mud bricks and have a “chimney” of sorts so that smoke can escape from the stove in the middle of the hogan. During our first year here I learned that traditionally the entrance to the yurt was supposed to face east, and all through my childhood I heard how the hogan (actually, all homes) are supposed to open to the east. I’m not sure for what reason the Kyrgyz did this but for Navajos the door faced the east so that they could receive the blessing of the sun.
2. Similar nomadic lifestyle: As we made our way across the mountain pass (see part 3 of this 4 part series) we saw many yurts dotting the pasturelands of the mountains. In the past the Kyrgyz were nomadic shepherds who would take their flocks into the mountains in the summer for grazing and to get out of the valley heat. In the winter, they’d come back down to the valley. Some still carry on this lifestyle. The Navajo, too, were nomadic shepherds and I remember when I was a little girl we used to go into the mountains for “sheep camp,” a place where our sheep would spend the summer to graze. Some family member would stay there for a few days or weeks and we’d go up to visit from time to time. There are still people to this day that do this back home.
3. Similar food: I remember the first time I had mutton in this country. It was during our first week and we decided to do some exploring. We walked several blocks before remembering that we had to get back quickly for some event. On the way back we got hungry and saw a man cooking kebabs over hot coals. They smelled really good and we were really hungry. Using hand gestures we were able to tell him that we wanted the meat “to go.” He placed the meat in a bag along with some fresh thinly sliced onions. We stopped by a store to buy some bread and by the time we arrived home we were ravenous. We had one thing on our mind as we tore open the plastic bag and tore off pieces of bread: FOOD. Now, I had never eaten mutton with fresh onions before but, man oh man, on the way home the steam and juices from the cooked meat softened the onions and the two together were a heavenly match. The world stopped for just a moment as we savored every delicious bite. I love mutton (obviously) and so do the Kyrgyz. The thought of going a year without mutton ribs cooked over an open fire scared me, but that fear left the moment we ate the magical kebabs that one Saturday. The other food similarity is in their little morsels of fried bread called boor sok. Finding these wonderful pieces of bread, the Kyrgyz version of Navajo fry bread, was wonderful and helped curb the craving that first year.
I hope you have enjoyed this journey with me. I have learned much about the people who surround me and it has even helped me understand some of my home culture.