What would we say is the essential piece of furniture in the American culture? The Lay-Z-boy? The couch? Dining room or kitchen table? I realized the incredible disconnect and variety of furniture that we find important may be something that people in a different part of the world have no concept of. This came up in an English lesson I was recently teaching. We were going through the different rooms of the house: kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom. The lesson was designed to introduce prepositions, but I didn’t expect that this lesson would actually be teaching much more basic aspects of an American culture. The first question that popped up was: what is a living room? This actually stumped me. “well, it is where the American family spends their time doing life together.” Be it watching TV, reading, doing homework, working on the computer. We spend our time together in that room. Hmmm… I could tell that I was already on shaky ground to begin with. The look in their eyes communicated total puzzlement. Life together, what does that look like in a rural Kyrgyz home?
The one thing I know is central is the tushuk. These are the center pieces of furnishing in either the nomadic home or the city appartment: they are the couch, the dining room chairs, the bed, the blankets, even the wedding dowry. Some are cheap, factory made with garish fabric, and others are crafted together with a beautiful patchwork design. In small simple living spaces they are easily spread out and gathered up: piled in the corner or hung outside to freshen up. Most mornings, I see women lug piles outside to hang over banisters and clothes lines to allow the fresh air and sunshine to clean their tushuks. There is a lot of life lived on those tushuks!