How to keep naked guys from talking to you

I’m not sure of a more awkward situation than a naked guy striking up small talk while I’m scrubbing my privies. Yet this is the ritual I must endure every time I head out for my weekly bath at the local banya. (Ok, well maybe bi-weekly.)

When I say banya, picture a combination shower-and-sauna. Now instead of a shower, picture two taps and a bucket. Also there’s a lot of bare skin. (I hope you stopped picturing.)

Being the considerably less pigmented and infinitely more tattooed (I have two) of the bunch, I tend to be identified as not being from around here. This invariably engenders the usual line of questioning for a foreigner in Kyrgyzstan.

“Are you married?”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

Should I be scared that a naked man who I’m showering with is asking me if I have a girlfriend? I brush it off, along with the water that’s splashing off his naked body onto mine.

So to alleviate my bathing woes, I’ve developed a strategy. I start talking first.

Because here’s the truth: nobody likes small talk from strangers while they’re naked. It’s one of those universal human things.

The trick is to immediately upon arrival at the banya start asking a ton of questions—where are you from, what’s your name, do you like to eat meat, are you getting married—the usual. The other person quickly realizes, “Oh my gosh. It’s a talker. If I start grunting my answers and hide my shame towards the corner, maybe he’ll stop.” After a few of these exchanges, you can close your mouth and enjoy the remainder of your bi-weekly washing in peace.

And if the other guy doesn’t stop talking? Well, then you might just make a friend for life. There’s nothing more enduring than a friendship made in the nude.

Where I used to bathe when I lived with my host family out in the village

Life is a series of interruptions

There’s this really weird thing that happens in Kyrgyz schools. You’re teaching a class when all of a sudden the door opens, some random face peers in, the jaw goes slack, and the door closes. Then it happens again. And again. Count ‘em, six, seven, eight times or more the door opens and bangs shut, eight times or more the flow of the lesson stops, the waves crashing against the blackboard.

Not a single face asks for anything.

Not even a foot steps in the room.

There’s no answer. No reason. No explanation.

I caught one of the people once as they were turning down the hallway, running after them to catch up.

“Why did you just open the door and shut it again?”

He just shrugged.

Once I tried locking the door from the inside to keep people from opening it. The next person just knocked until I opened it.

“Oh. You’re teaching in here.”

Yes, I’m teaching in here! What else goes on in a classroom!!

It must be the universe just having a laugh at this lesson. And I mean the lesson I’m being taught as I stand in front of the room.

Life is just one long list of interruptions. Whoever called life a path was wrong. Life is not a path. It’s a game of plinko.

As I was trying to insert this plinko video, my girlfriend called me. I looked at the phone and thought, “Eh, I can call back. I need to finish this thought.”

Five minutes later I’m hearing on the other end of the line, “You didn’t answer because you were writing?”


“So…your blog thing is more important than me?”

“I…uh…you know…(actually plinko?)…well…actually you were interrupting my post on interruptions, so congratulations—you just made my blog!”

Oh, the irony.

Actually, it’s not ironic at all because interruptions are all that ever happen.

There’s no such thing as a line we tread through life. We’re jostled. Bumped. Tossed. Lifted and hurled. One of you out there tell me you’re in the spot you pictured being in 10 years ago.

My friend Maksat likes to say one little turn even from your current direction puts you in an unimaginably different place years down the road. One degree to the left or the right. One nudge. One phone call possibly.

And it’s so good to realize that. To know that the interruptions aren’t hurting your plans for your life. They are your life. That when the phone rings you’ve got life coming at you in a way you maybe couldn’t have anticipated and it’s your new little thread that you grab onto to ski along the waves. Life is interruptions, and that is great.


What are your favorite interruptions? Where have they taken you?

I just wanna be a Kyrgyz foodie

Hey all! 2015 has been rung in and I’m back in Kyrgyzstan for my last stretch in the Peace Corps. Six months left today until I COS (that fun acronym for closing my service!).

My blogging friend Grace over at cooking in the corps asked me some questions about food in Kyrgyzstan and I answered. Check out the intense post here. (If you dare!)

Drinking fermented milk in the mountains

Go out light and come back heavy

Makal Monday!

“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!

Jengil bar — Oor kel

Жеңил бар — Оор кел

“Go out light and come back heavy”

Part I

Thin tendrils of ice fractured the surface of the puddles in the street. My breath broke the morning air as I clomped along in faux-fur lined boots to the bank.

“How much would you like to take out?” she yelled through the glass.

“63,000.” (About $1,300, or the price of a small horse.) I answered back, trying not to sound too conspicuous.



“How many thousand?”

“Sixty. Three.”

I punctured the glass with my words. The two other people in the room had stopped moving and were now staring.

“Do you have enough on your card?”


“Here—write your pin number on this paper.”

She slid a scrap of a post-it note and a pen under the window. I wrote it small and passed it back. She punched it in, and the money was there. Her coworker came out of the vault with the top of an old cardboard box filled with cash. She began counting it out.

“Where are you from?”

“Here, in Kochkor.”

“No, where are you from, from?” The daily question came early today.

“The US.”

“What’s your name?”




She asked me to scratch my name down for her and passed me back the same slip of paper with my pin code on it. I ripped it off, wrote down my name and passed it back.

Her name, it turned out was Akjol, or “Goodluck.”

“Goodbye, Goodluck,” I said, a hand in the air and 63,000 som in my pocket. “And hope you can hang onto some,” I thought. It seemed like the bank needed it.

My life is things

There is an entire industry consisting of multi-million dollar companies which exist for the sole purpose of providing us ways to haul around our shit.

Think about it.

Samsonite. Jansport. Chanel.

We have so much that we run out of places to keep it on our own person so we have to fashion straps to a large pouch and drag it around.

Turtle syndrome – even more painful than it sounds

I was walking out of school one day with my counterpart, Nazgul, when another teacher tagged up with us.

“What’s in his bag?” The teacher asked Nazgul, pointing at the turtle-like shell connected to my back.

“Ask him yourself,” Nazgul said, a kind head jerk thrown my direction.

“My life.” I answered automatically.

“Good answer,” she nodded, adding one of those breathy nose laughs for good humor.

Then it hit me. My life is things. It’s not people. It’s not situations. It’s not doing or even being. My life is a laptop computer, a water bottle, various power chargers and apparently a few used Kleenexes and empty candy wrappers. My life is sad.

I remember one occasion vividly, if not for its harrowing sear, then for the humiliation. I had detaxied and was standing in the center of the large bazaar in Naryn City with a giant backpacking bag on my back and another 40L bag strapped to my front, and was unsurprisingly looking around at where to pick up even more shit. I looked utterly ridiculous. Two kids passed me in the bazaar, stopped, turned around, came back, circled me, and then lost it in fits of laughter. I’m not even exaggerating. They absolutely lost it, doubling over and slapping their knees all while pointing and generally drawing the type of negative attention to me that I deserved. I looked blindingly stupid.

I couldn’t tell you today what was in those bags. I know I didn’t touch three-fourths of it on my two day journey. So why had I felt the need to carry it around all weekend?

IMG_4757Let’s see, what am I forgetting…oh yes, my sanity.

I eat pieces of stuff for breakfast

It’s just stuff. And this is one of the hardest lessons for me to learn.

I’m getting better at it. I’m getting better at letting people touch my things, pick them up and mull over them. (Or maw over them with their grubby little fat fingers, placing oily little fingerprints on every surface and…ok, ok, breathe.)

Once, for a secret-santa-slash-white elephant gift giving party many years ago, I parted with my SpongeBob alarm clock I paid seven dollars for at a CUB Foods grocery store. It spelled out the word FUN in big plastic letters and launched into “F is for friends who do stuff together, U is for you and me…” at whatever interval you set it at. It was glorious. And giving it up was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I still think about that clock.

Now two plus years into the Peace Corps, I’ve given away so many items I don’t really think about it anymore—books, chargers, food, clothing items, cookware, to name a few. I still get a little cringy when anything under the age of 12 walks through my door and starts pawing stuff, but as long as they don’t smash anything I can’t cheaply replace, I let them go on touching. (While quickly thinking of an intriguing story that would usher them to further shelves beyond the line of my room.)

We need things. We do. Our quality of life insofar as health and well-being and options depends on them to some extent. But we know that life is not measured only in number of years spent trudging along, dragging our stuff behind us.

It’s measured in the time we give each other.

It’s measured in the wide space in which we allow our minds and souls to soar.

It’s measured in growing and stretching and experiencing and engaging and finding new and fantastic ways to love life, love each other and love the world.

It’s measured in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee. (Oh, wait, nope. That’s just my Rent DVD.)

And now I’ve found another thing to get rid of, another item to lighten the load, and a refocus on things that matter—the things you can’t carry because you always hold them in your heart.