Recently I went to a party here in the village. This party was for the 100th birthday of a famous doctor here in the country. For over five days preparations were done to make the village and surrounding area ready for the celebration. Cleaning, painting, flower planting were all done in anticipation. It was quite a site to see it all occurring, especially as I’d only been here for about three days. Work was cancelled and students didn’t have school. I don’t remember a time in America where anything like that has occurred. Talk about a different culture.
Over forty yurts were put up by people from each of the forty tribes. These tribes are the backbone of the country and people pride themselves on what tribe they originate from. Most of the people came from close by towns and villages but a few were from the far side of the lake, which meant a 4-6 hour drive. The day before the party the other volunteer and I went down to the site to see the yurts going up. It was quite a site and it was so cool to see them building them from scratch. (I’ll make a slide show eventually for all to see). I think the thing that struck me the most was that the basic foundation looked like the smallest wind would knock it down but the final product was so sturdy and strong. It was truly amazing. Also, what amazed me was the differences in each one. No two were alike and each individual yurt represented what the tribe meant. They were absolutely beautiful and I wish I had one to take home.
So when I get to the party I’m immediately set down at the place of honor next to the white beard (oldest male gentleman of the tribe) and the chong ejes (grandmothers and women with greatest respect). I didn’t understand most of them and was just overwhelmed by all that was happening. They knew I was the American staying in the family but it was still an awkward and funny situation at times. They were all honored that I was there but at the same time they didn’t really talk with me or seem to care that I was there. When they started to leave I took my cue and left as well and proceeded to view the rest of the yurts and the beautiful lake.
On the lake were many boats each having a party and celebration. One of the boats left off fireworks (in broad daylight so of course they couldn’t be seen). They were nice boats, beautiful and well kept. The lake itself is absolutely gorgeous and clean. It was cool and sandy and a nice place to be for the day. I walked around and took many pictures of people and the outside of the yurts, whenever possible. Later that afternoon I met up with other volunteers who had come to the festivities and we went to listen to some music and then to see the horse games. We saw wrestling, horse racing, horse wrestling, the Kyrgyz national game involving a sheep’s head and many others. It was cool to see them all, we’ve heard loads about them. Everyone was curious as to why we were there and those from our village took great pride in the fact that we were from their village and could speak Kyrgyz (poor Erin and Mike, they have learned Russian and were hassled as to why they don’t know Kyrgyz). Later that evening my family invited us to our family’s yurt for food and we went inside and sat with the elders of the tribe. We toasted, ate and had a good time. They were honored that we were there with them and toasted us. We did our best to toast them back and definitely enjoyed the food. The yurt was beautiful and amazing. The food was outstanding and after all day I was finally able to see inside the yurt. Yay!
Although I found myself throughout the day frustrated at times because I didn’t understand people and no matter how many times I said that they didn’t seem to understand. Also I found myself having a harder time understanding the kids than other people and I also found myself frustrated at people wanting their picture taken. I have no idea who most of these people are but they would grab me and have me take their picture, and not just them but with family, then friends, then couples, then kids.. Never ending. Overall though the music, food, yurts, and people were great. I had a good time and enjoyed myself. I learned a lot about culture and how I fit into that and fully realized how protective a village can be for the volunteer. Erin and I were definitely referred to as the Kyrgyz volunteers in the village and anyone from our village was happy to proclaim that fact.
All in all it was a long day but one that was worth it.