The meaning of the word ‘Kokustuk’ so entertainingly told by my host brother

I happen to think blini served with peanut butter and honey is the next best delicious thing to gretchka served with peanut butter and honey. I texted thusly to Akmoor and she responded, “Kokustuk.” I had heard “kokusunan” which means suddenly, but I wasn’t totally sure what this meant, so I asked my host brother who happened to be in the kitchen making the blinis. (And he’s a darn-tootin’ good cook for 15 years young.)

IMG_1199The man flips a mean blini

My host bro said (and this was all in English):

Host bro: “If your parents come home and you with your girlfriend, this is ‘kokustuk.’ Ahh…if, if you go to konok (guest) and your baipak (socks) are not good, this is ‘kokustuk.’

Me: Ah–holes? Haha, ok.

Host bro: “And, ok, if you, for example, your girlfriend’s name is Aigerim—just for example—and you are walking in park with her, and you say, ‘I love you Jyldyz!!’ this is, oh, this is very kokustuk! And you go home and (makes sleeping sound) no—you—(motions wrapping noose around ones own neck)—yes, this is kokustuk…”

Me: (Dying with laughter.)

It was quite entertaining, and I think I get the sense of the word, but I’m still not sure why my girlfriend thought eating a blini with peanut butter and honey is ‘kokustuk.’ It was surprising? Shameful? It makes her want to die thinking someone she knows puts peanut butter on blinis? I should be eating these in the dark and disassociating myself from any recognition of said Akmoor while she’s in the same room? At any rate, you can be sure what word just got added to this guy’s daily vocab for the next week.

IMG_1202Forget PB&J — the PB&H is the real deal


Relationships are a marathon, not a sprint

I’m really bad at relationships. Like, really bad. In my life I’ve had 3.5 significant relationships, and all of them have crashed and burned during the 4-5 month range. So as this current one approaches the 5 month mark, I’m getting nervous. In what brilliant way will I manage to mangle this one beyond all recognition rendering it unfit for the gnarliest of salvage yards?

I used to run 800 meter races. The emphasis here is on the “used to.” The thing about an 800 meter race is that it is essentially a controlled sprint. When the gun goes off, the method is to jump off the blocks, sprint into position and then hold yourself right at the threshold of death for a little over two minutes, with your heart trying to pummel its way out of your chest and your legs telling you you should have been finished 700 meters ago.

That is pretty much exactly the way I run relationships. My heart is going so fast it would rather vacation outside my body and looking back I can only think about how I should have ended it several months before I found myself barreling down the track, exhausted and trying to support a brain made of oatmeal with legs made of rubber. With a current record of 5 months for a relationship, this essentially means I should have ended them before they started.

Yet I want to be in a relationship. I want that feeling where my head is in the clouds and my stomach is hovering just below and every swoop and turn and dive makes me weak with joy and excitement. Oh wait—that’s just air sickness and jet lag.

In relationships, I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s only verbally dawned on me that maybe I should take it slow. That maybe the little character flaws I see in her are just called being human. That maybe the little argument isn’t a red flag but just a Tuesday night. That maybe, just maybe a whole future isn’t locked in in a single weekend.

IMG_9732Unlike me, Akmoor has had this Mickey Mouse towel for almost 10 years. Jealous.

This past weekend my almost-five-month significant other, Akmoor, and I met with our pastor to talk about our relationship and ask for advice. We haven’t gone public with our committed relationship yet (you know, “Facebook official” or in other words the true mark of a serious relationship) and we figured it’d be better to talk about it in person before the “likes” and “huhs?” start raining down on our newsfeeds from actual real life friends. The advice he gave suddenly drew memories of advice I received from others over past relationships: “Get to know each other.”

Get to know each other. What could that possibly mean? I asked for clarification. Our pastor was like, “You know, get to know each other.”


I suppose we could do that. I suppose we could meet each other’s friends and do each other’s hobbies and ask questions and have conversations and share activities and be there for each other just to say hey. But how much time is that going to take? I want that relationship now. I want that unshakable trust, that deepest desire, that blind and assured confidence that sticks up for you, even when they know you’re wrong. And I want it immediately.

No. It’s marathon time. It’s time to slow up. I’m never going to make it at this pace. We’re never going to make it at this pace. I’d rather just finish than go for the personal best and burn out before the first water stand. Because a relationship is not in the sprint. It’s not in the kisses that say “I’ll miss you” as you head to the fridge to bring back a beer. It’s not in trying to figure it all out so that you know she’s the one you want to date. You can only figure that out as you go through it—as you go through it in time.

It’s in the slow Sunday afternoons. It’s holding hands on the bus. It’s the comfortable silence. It’s cooking dinner and picking up the kids and rushing off to work and looking at the same TV. A relationship is made bit by bit, shared experience after shared experience. It’s looking at each other and saying, “Ha. I know what you mean. And remember when…?” Yes, relationships are marathons. That’s what they tell me anyway.

I’m the foreigner

When the Japanese travel to the US and other foreign countries, it’s not uncommon to hear a Japanese person walking down the streets of, say, Las Vegas proclaim, “Just look at all these foreigners.” He’s looking right at hundreds of American citizens and it never occurs to him that in fact he is the foreigner traveling about.

It’s easy to fall into this trap. Suddenly you find yourself surrounded by people who are not like you and you feel them to be strange. But, being heavily outnumbered and after the novelty quickly wears off, your head tells you, “Wait a tick. I’m the one who’s strange!!”

Adding evidence are those vast numbers quickly pointing out to you all the ways in which you so expertly meet the criteria of being a strange foreigner. Sometimes though, it hits you all on its own, like when I met up with some American friends for the weekend at a rented apartment in the capital.

“Oh no. We’re now that group of 15 foreigners stuffed into a one-bedroom apartment, from which strange, ethnic smells waft and the sounds of new beats of music keep the locals awake.” Stereotyping is funny and cute until it’s happening to you.

Yet again it’s me on the other side. I’m the token American, pulled out at parties, name-dropped at school seminars. The one who’s expected not to understand, who sometimes finds himself sitting alone while everyone else is at a meeting I didn’t catch the memo for.

To some extent, no matter how long I stay I’ll always be an outsider. After all, this place isn’t part of my shared history and no matter how many days I lay out on the beach on Lake Issyk-Kul, my skin tone will never blend in. I suppose I’ll always have this “cute” accent too, as some of the more kind-hearted so eloquently patronize.

wedding crashersWedding crashers, Kyrgyz style. You can see the relative joy.

When I lived in Japan, I never did become part of their culture. But that’s also not surprising due to their general culture of insider status only being granted to those born to two Japanese parents in Japan and staying there perpetually while constantly and continually displaying centuries old established social mores.

Luckily I’ve got it a little bit easier here in Kyrgyzstan. Every host family I’ve lived with has referred to me as their son, with even relatives accepting me into the fold with corresponding labels. People want me to have a Kyrgyz name and encourage my participation in holidays and so forth. (Though the whole Kyrgyz name thing might have something to do with “Luther” being completely unpronounceable in any language, or dialect for that matter, outside of middle America—I was “Duusaa” in Japan and now enjoy the extra 2 or 3 “rs” added to my current name, “Liuterrr.”)

Well, to wrap things up here, I’ll make a bold promise to you all so you can help hold me to it: As soon as physically possible, I’ll be adding a post about how to serve sheep’s head. For those of you who find yourself in Kyrgyzstan, knowing how will go a long way in the effort to scrub down that rough and itchy foreigner edge we so easily display.

Fear the chupacabra

“Makal” in the Kyrgyz language means “proverb.” Kyrgyz is full of wonderful and puzzling little proverbs – some that match common proverbs often heard in English and some that are real head scratchers. Most Mondays I’ll post one of the more fun ones for you. Let’s see if we can’t make some of these commonplace in America by the time I get back!

Saktykta korduk jok

Сактыкта көрдүк жок

“With care and precaution, there’s no asking around”

I’m still a little fuzzy on the translation of this one. For some reason it takes about 30 words to explain a Kyrgyz proverb in Kyrgyz and even more in English. But it goes something like this: when care and precaution is taken, one doesn’t need to go beg for things lost through folly.

I’ve been getting a steady stream of Kyrgyz from my new host dad, and lucky for me I have someone so willing to explain. He’s the master of quoting proverbs, always pulling me aside to say, “Baatyrbek—(my Kyrgyz name)—in Kyrgyz we have this proverb…” My ata is 66 years old this year and still works as an ear/nose/throat doctor at the local hospital as well as working several hours a day in his garden. We have rose bushes, garlic, carrots, cabbage, and rows upon rows of potatoes. He keeps a small chicken coop that provides our eggs and six sheep—wait, only five after this evening’s party—and checks the upkeep on the property. He’s a man who has saved all his life and built a household on those savings.

The number of sheep in our yard dwindles as we host parties. But those losses are of our own volition. What ata doesn’t want is to lose one of his sheep to the chupacabra.

Yes world, our little slice of Kyrgyzstan has a chupacabra. “Imported from Mexico,” some say. “Planted by the Americans,” say others. “A half wolf—half dog turned vampire,” say the more outrageous of the bunch. Pictures and video of sheep, dead as a doorknob and white as a sheet, have been featured on the national news. And animals continue to die.

IMG_5331Taxidermic finds in a local museum in Kochkor—my chupacabra vote is for the guy on the bottom right

It’s not the fact that farm animals are getting picked off. That’s an expected part of a life lived on the edge of the wild. It’s the manner of their deaths that’s so strange. Whatever is killing them only sucks the blood. The meat is left on the animal, ashen grey from the absence of the red stuff pumping through its veins.

What it could be is anyone’s guess—or tall tale. Like any good mythological beast, no one can manage to snap a photo. It’s always too fast. Some have claimed to have seen it: a grey/brown, fury/hairy, dog/cat like animal disappearing through a doorway, around a bend, and into thin air.

It’s 11:00pm. Our guests have just left for the night. My ata grabs a flash light, slips into a pair of flip-flops and shuffles outside. He’s a man who has saved, reared, worked and invested. His home is well maintained and his family is well cared for. “Out to lock up the sheep for the night,” he says, “The chupacabra is on the prowl.” Suddenly he pauses, puts a hand on my arm and pulls me close: “In Kyrgyz we have this proverb…” The way ata works, he won’t be asking around any time soon.

The grass is always greener, er, toilet redder or something

I’ve made the move. I’m currently sitting at my new desk, in my new room, with newly painted walls that don’t rub off on your clothes, using new 3G Internet on my new iPhone to put this new post online!

Ok, so I lied—the phone’s actually quite old. It’s a 4 sans the s, but that’s ok because I doubt even Siri knows Kyrgyzstan exists. (It does btw.)

My new 15-year-old host brother and I were sitting at the dinner table comparing each of our “new” iPhones and I started to say how excited I was about moving into a village that gets fast 3G internet. But after saying the word “3G” and before I could mention the being excited part, he jumped in, “Oh, I know! It sucks that we only have 3G here—no 4G like in Bishkek. I can’t watch TV all day!” My eyes narrowed into thin, little slits and I just stared at him. Clearly he wasn’t appreciating what blessings had been bestowed upon his teenage head.

Dolphin ToiletThis is the dolphin-graced definition of “blessed”

The whole set-up is really nice and we even have a flush toilet. I asked my host bro if there were any limits on its use and he looked at me kind of funny and then said, “Yes, from 8pm-9pm…naw, just kidding, there’s no limit!”

I think we’re going to get along quite well!

And I think I’m going to get along pretty well with my host brother too.

IMG_0406We’re bartering Russian and komuz (pictured above) lessons for English and guitar