I speak Kyrgyz. Or, at least strange sounding syllables spill from my mouth that occasionally result in shared meaning. It might be the gestures though. It’s amazing the number of things you can get by simply pointing and grunting.
They say if you learn Chinese you can instantly communicate with another 1.3 billion people. The only catch is they’re all in China. (Well, if we’re speaking percentages, mostly anyway.) There’s nothing wrong with China, but you have to have pretty specific business to make the language knowledge worth it. Now take Kyrgyz. We’re talking 5 million, tops. You have to have a very specific reason to use that long term, like marrying a Kyrgyz person or being locked in a Kyrgyz prison for drug trafficking.
From the beginning I only had two goals for my Peace Corps service: make friends and learn the language. These come slowly for me and especially the language half – I have to study the same things over and over again until they stick. Yet, I’ve never regretted a single moment spent studying. Despite the persistent question of future usefulness, I guarantee you that every little thing I learn now is immediately beneficial. And learning the language helps make huge strides with making friends, too.
And that’s why I spend the hours and the energy, and soak in the sweat that drips from concentration and embarrassment alike. I do this to make my time effective, to make my time worth it and to grow these relationships. The Kyrgyz might only be one tiny fraction of the world, but they’re the whole world to me.
A lesson in vowel-harmony zen from Bakyt-Baike, our fearless tutor