Part II of ‘Things I’ve discovered about America.’
Мекениңдин кадыры башка жакта билинет
“The value of your homeland is known once you’re in another place”
As a foreigner living in Kyrgyzstan, I’m asked all the time what I like about it. It’s a regular part of introductory conversations. Some people are just looking for the typical answers like, “it’s nice” or “it’s pretty” or “the food is…edible.” But others really want to hear your opinion. It’s not normal for foreigners to live in Kyrgyzstan outside of the capital, Bishkek, for any extended period of time.
The westerners who do venture forth usually do so in government registered vehicles with tinted windows and fly through the villages, staying not much longer than the time required to tick a box on their grant checklist or shake a few hands.
It’s not always their choice—they have loftier goals than the common Peace Corps Volunteer since most are busy doing great things at the national level. Yet, there are so many aspects of a place that can’t be experienced until you dive in and stay awhile.
The fly-by rule is also true of many natives. There are Kyrgyzstanis who wouldn’t spend 2 weeks outside of Bishkek much less 2 years. It’s hard for them to believe why someone would put themselves through that kind of “ordeal” for the sake of “peace and friendship.”
Some believe we’re operating under ulterior motives beyond our work at schools, village health committees and organizations. Add to it the decades of being conditioned for suspicion, and you can understand why some people seem a bit incredulous that we would give up 2 years of our lives to live in tiny villages without the comforts of showers or coffee shops or broadband internet or whatever else it is that Americans spend all their time on.
In truth the question of what I like about Kyrgyzstan does make me a bit introspective. Why am I in Kyrgyzstan? Why did I re-up for a third year? What is it exactly that I like about the country?
So here it is, a working list. Maybe I should call this Part I: What I’ve discovered about Kyrgyzstan:
- I miss the Kyrgyz language. It is fun and exciting to see the world through the lens, or in this case filter I guess, of another language. Specifically I miss saying, “God willing.” There’s this deference towards a higher calling on life that I miss being reminded of.
- Friends. I’m not ready to leave and I’m thankful for another year with them.
- The way you can always catch a ride, if you’re willing to expend a little patience. Since I don’t have my own car in Kyrgyzstan, I have to rely on public transportation. Oh wait—there is no public transportation out in the regions. So you rely on people going the same direction as you. It’s usually fun, and if not, there’s always a story to tell.
- The incredible potential. Kyrgyzstan is a battle ground for good development and in the last decade or so businesses and organizations have been springing up like the wildflowers that cover the mountains. I have a few ideas floating around for how to maybe stick around after Peace Corps.
- Working with my hands. I never made the time for this in the states.
- There’s an entire set of history, pop-culture, local lore, friends, systems and a myriad of interests that’s only accessible within the Kyrgyz language and within the borders of the country. It’s an incredible notion that there are all these totally different places in the world waiting to be explored.
- Kyrgyz proverbs. There are hundreds. You’ll keep hearing about these from me.
- Akmoor. She’s a lot of fun to be with and I miss her!
- Joking around with friends and being ridiculous.
- Maksym. It’s this naturally carbonated, non-alcoholic drink made from wheat, corn and barley and is sublime. You can buy it from little stands all over the capital, and many people in the villages make it in their homes. It’s a summer drink and will keep you strong, healthy and I suppose hydrated. It’s delicious!
- The benefit of a community that knows each other and has each other’s back. In small communities you have to put up with the gossip and the fact that you can’t even make a dash to the outhouse anonymously, but the trade-offs are huge: you find a group of people that look out for each other, never let someone be alone and pitch in wherever help is needed. A sense of belonging.
- Vodka being the cause of, and cure for, all of life’s problems.
- Komuz music. The komuz is a 3-stringed lute like instrument. The sound is lovely and quite unique. While its tone is not like a violin, the komuz is comparable in the fact that it takes a lot of practice to make it sound beautiful. I purchased a cheap $30 one and have so far proved to be quite the talented hack, so I enjoy listening to people like these guys play instead.
- Canning delicious pickles and winter salads.
- Students who make you feel like a superstar.
- Extremely long meals involving many courses.
- Bishkek! The capital is also the “true Kyrgyzstan” because it exists there. It’s my opinion that the difference between village culture and city culture is bigger than the difference between America and Kyrgyzstan in general. (Think about rural life America vs. City life America and all the ways we contrast those.) The capital is where a lot of cool things are happening in education, health and business and there are a lot of opportunities for volunteers. Bishkek is also a good place to come to take a long, hot shower, have a drink and use the internet. 🙂
What else would you like to know about Kyrgyzstan? Send me any questions and I’ll answer them in future posts!