Since arriving in Kyrgyzstan I haven’t had the opportunity to thoroughly explore it, so a few weeks ago some friends of mine decided they wanted to show me around the Karakol area a bit. Any time we go on one of our adventures it always takes a significant amount of debating between all of them to decide where to go and what would be the best way to get there. I, still being new to the country and the area, rarely recognize any of the places they mention, but I enjoy the banter as they go back and forth between all of the tourist options around Karakol. After a location was decided upon and a date set I finally got to see some new (at least to me) places nearby. The place they decided to take me to this time was a village only about 40 minutes away from Karakol called Ak Cyy. This “village”(I would consider it a town based on its size, but everyone here calls it a village) is in the mountains and is apparently famous throughout all of Kyrgyzstan for its hot springs. The scenery was beautiful with the bigger mountains in the background and the river running through the middle of town. We began by walking through the town and exploring some of the rundown buildings and the hot springs, but then continued on towards the mountains for our picnic lunch we had packed. During our entire walk through town we kept running into spas and medicinal centers placed directly on the river to give paying customers a peaceful and relaxing experience (something I certainly wouldn’t mind doing at some point). Tons of people take the bus from Karakol to Ak Cyy just for the day to spend it in one of the health/spa facilities so we were all packed in the bus on our way out. After passing through town we continued on towards the higher mountains and spent the afternoon hiking and picnicking in some of the most beautiful mountain scenery I’ve ever seen. The whole day was spent relaxing and enjoying the beautiful nature around us and it just makes me even more excited about the next trip I’ll get to take with my friends….wherever that might be.
One of the biggest holidays here in Kyrgyzstan is Nooryz. This is when they celebrate the Kyrgyz New Year and is a time full of traditional games, foods, and house building. A few of my students told me that they wanted to take me around on Nooryz to show me all of the goings on in the town and to show me what their traditional houses and attire look like. We started in the center of town and made our way around the temporary yurt houses set up in the middle of the square. The yurts are circular tent-like houses with a domed roof that are native to the Kyrgyz people. We also had the chance to see some men and women dressed in their traditional gear, and once we had exhausted all of the sites in the center, we decided to move on to the park where carnival-like rides were keeping children occupied and old grandmothers were preparing food for any passerby feeling a bit hungry. At lunchtime we sat down and enjoyed some Ashlanfoo (a local dish here with noodles, spices, a little bit of meat, etc…) in the park and then headed out looking for somewhere else to go. After a quick stop in the Russian-Orthodox Church (none of us had been before and we were really curious), we thought a picnic would be the perfect way to end the holiday. We bought some food and soda and took a marshrutka (Kyrgyz bus) to the bottom of their ski base, walked up a little ways to a restaurant situated on the slopes and enjoyed snacks while just hanging out and talking. While seeing all of the festivities surrounding Nooryz was interesting and fun, I think my favorite part about the holiday is the emphasis it places on family and friends and the importance of spending time together.
Every year in March, Kyrgyzstan celebrates Women’s Day. I assumed that it would be celebrated similarly to Mother’s Day in America, you know when you send an ecard to your mom or maybe buy some flowers or go out to eat, but it turned out to be a much bigger holiday than I expected. Most women in Kyrgyzstan work hard every day, but this is the one day that they get to sit back a little and relax. As my friend and I went to serve tea and bread that morning, he taught me how to say happy women’s day in Russian and we started passing everything out. Normally people are fighting to get their food, but on Women’s Day the men made sure that all of the women got served first as everyone shouted happy women’s day wishes to each other.
Later that day, I was invited to go with some of my friends to their landlord’s house for dinner. I decided it would be nice to take something to them since it was the first time I would be in their home and since it was such a big holiday for the women. As I walked through the bazaar everyone was rushing around in a frenzy buying last minute gifts, food items, and tons and tons of cakes! Bakers on every corner were selling beautifully decorated cakes and men swarmed around them trying to buy for their wives and mothers. I finally settled on a cake and headed out to meet my friends. The evening was a blast and the cake was absolutely delicious, but what I really enjoyed was spending time with the women sitting around the table who ordinarily would have been busy scurrying around the kitchen preparing food.
In Karakol there is a gas station where several dozen day laborers huddle around in the mornings waiting for cars to pull up and hire them. Some of these people are too uneducated to get a high paying job, some just need the extra money, and others had previous employment that paid them less than day by day hiring would. So an El-Salvadorian living here in Karakol decided a while back to start taking hot tea and bread to them in the mornings while they wait for work.
The people were a bit hesitant at first to accept the food, but have since become very eager and enjoy standing around and talking to my friend (and myself whenever I have the opportunity to join them). I have only been twice so far to help, but it’s been a blast both times! And not-so-surprisingly, each time I’ve stood there passing out bread to everyone, some of the more talkative and curious ones will ask me questions about who knows what in Russian. I don’t speak any Russian and am just starting up my Kyrgyz lessons so anytime they talk to me it sounds like gibberish and I can only hope that someone proficient in both Russian and English pops up to save the day. Nevertheless, I’ve had such a great time getting to interact with all of these people and learning more about them and their culture. As I pass out the bread I just smile and hope that as my language learning progresses I’ll eventually be able to get to know them even more and make some new friends.
I wrote last week about the interesting discussion my students had about what the perfect wife should be like. The girls’ idea of a perfect husband, however, was fascinating and really eye-opening for me. Of course they wanted him to be handsome, stylish, and muscular, but there were several characteristics that threw me off guard a bit. The first is that the girls wanted guys to be sad. Now I can relate to girls wanting a guy to be “soft” and willing to show some emotions, but these girls said they wanted their husbands sad. The second is that they wanted their husbands to be busy. This was initially completely unexpected by me since it seems to me that a busy husband doesn’t make time for his family, but once I considered some of the issues of alcoholism many men suffer with it all began to make sense. The busier you are and the more purpose you have, the less idle you will be and therefore probably not as tempted to fall into those kinds of lifestyles.
The most shocking quality given by the girls though, in my opinion, is that they wanted angry husbands. I still to this day don’t know what they meant by an angry husband (Angry at them? Angry at their children? Angry when something went wrong? Angry when someone did wrong?). One guy said it was good for a man to be angry if his food wasn’t prepared on time. Mostly the guys agreed with the girls, except for the emotional part, so I began to talk about the United States and how in many (if not most) families the husband will either help out with house work or even do it entirely. The girls thought that that was a good thing and even said that they expected their husbands to help out a bit but the guys protested bitterly to helping around the house at all. In fact one said that if his wife didn’t cook he would be fine with that but that he would eat fast food everyday before he’d ever cook himself! The entire hour and a half of class was so interesting and such an educational time for me as I learned about what the cultural expectations are of a husband and wife in Kyrgyzstan and what the reasoning behind each characteristic was.
In one of my conversational classes I thought it would be interesting to discover some of the cultural views of the roles of women and men in Kyrgyzstan, more specifically within a spousal relationship. From a recent presentation I heard, most men and women have entirely opposite ideas of what the opposite sex likes or should be like which leads to miscommunication and misunderstandings. I will be doing a two part blog on this, the first about what the guys thought the perfect girl should be like and the second is what the girls though the perfect guy should be like. My class is mostly girls (which might have tempered some of the answers a bit from the guys!) but I had everyone split up into girls and guys and make lists of the characteristics they thought were most important in a husband or wife. As the guys began to read off their list I chuckled at some of the required characteristics such as “must like football (soccer)”, or “must have long hair”.
Two of the first qualities written by the guys were cooking and cleaning (at the mention of these the girls made a little protestation, but it was mostly accepted by them as well). The guys even wanted their wives to be sweaty!! This was a mispronunciation I soon found out as they meant to say sweetie instead! Once I began probing the guys a bit more on what they thought a perfect wife should be like they ran into some opposition coming from the girls’ side. On top of being a good cook and cleaner, their wife needed to be a good dancer, singer, humorous, beautiful, thin, romantic, respectable, and tall. This list got the girls going while the guys were trying to explain their points. The overall idea given by the guys though was that a wife’s responsibility, regardless of whether she works or not, was keeping the house in order and that she should be a woman respected by others and beyond reproach.
Our English classes have started up here so I decided to do some activities with the students in my classes to help them get to know each other and myself. While I was thinking of activities we could do, I wondered what sort of games they play here in Kyrgyzstan so, in my first class, I asked them what kind of games they liked to play. The first few answers were somewhat generic and expected such as football (in this case meaning soccer, not American football), tennis, basketball, chess, cards, etc… But I then asked them if there were any national games that they played. I noticed immediately that the students perked up at this question and the students began spitting out names of games I had never heard of. As I began to question them about the games and ask them what they were, one in particular stood out to me. A student was trying to explain it in broken English and so I thought that the first time I heard the explanation I had heard wrong. Turns out their explanation was spot on. The game, called KYZ KUU MAl, is a game where a man will get on a horse and then proceed to chase a girl around the town or village. If/when he catches the girl he has the privilege of kissing her. This was traditionally a game for a bride and groom and once the man had managed (if he was able to catch up to her) to kiss the girl while they were both riding, she in turn chased him all the way back to the starting point. If the bride caught up to the man and removed his headscarf it was a sign of her victory. Of all the games I have heard of this one is by far one of the most unique! And I hope to possibly have the opportunity of watching KYZ KUU MAl sometime while I’m in Kyrgyzstan.