In my old village I didn't have too many local friends. I had my host mom, who was more like an older sister then a host mom, work colleagues and my American site mate. It wasn't really until midway through my second year did I really develop a local friend. Around my age. That is mostly due to the kyrgyz vortex. This vortex is very common especially for women. Basically young girls from the age of 16-24 are sucked into marriage, children, and home. Many times their education is forgotten, discarded, or bought. Even if they do work their family comes first. It’s a hard life. They get up early and go to bed late caring for the family, working, running the household, etc. sadly, especially in villages, it is very difficult to escape this vortex. So as a volunteer, and an american, this vortex can be difficult to deal with. It's oftentimes difficult for women volunteers to have local friends because the girls their age are married, planning to be married, have children, have no time to socialize or are forbidden.
Yet I did end up finding a local friend who is married with a child. Her and her husband became good friends and often did a lot with my site and I. So I know it is possible to escape, or live with the vortex. I wondered, though, when I moved from the village to a city if this would change. I was hoping to have more local friends. For two years I only a two and was wanting to have more, at least more around my age. Thankfully that has happened. I have found myself having at least half a dozen local friends that I daily interact with. All of them speak English in some capacity- not all fluently, so often it’s a mix of Kyrgyz and English and all are between 22-28. Two study at the university, two are married with children and one is a full time worker. Yet despite their differences they are all trying to change their lives and work to become better. However, despite our interactions, despite their progressiveness, they too are still being sucked into the vortex. I noticed it recently with the full time worker. She is in her mid twenties (25) and by kyrgyz standards needs to get married now. For me I see a young woman who is actively working to better herself and her country. She is actively engaged with youth and works heavily in the social sector. She doesn't want to get married yet. She is a strong, independent woman that sees a future for herself. Yet, she is continually getting pressure from her family- father in particular- to step into the vortex. He is actively seeking husbands for her and in this culture she can have terrible repercussions if she says no to his choice. Yet she sees no other choice because here the vortex is stronger, its tradition, its life. There's no escaping it. My two friends whom are married had a similar experience. They were pressured around 23/24 to be married and so had to forgo their plans. My university friends see this. They don't want to have to step into it but really don't see another choice. For me this is sad, and difficult at times. I’m 28 and not married. Kyrgyz people don't really understand why we don't view this as a problem in America. They don't understand why it's ok to not be married or be married later, or to have a choice in our marriage, if we so desire. No matter how we try to explain it never truly sets in.
I’m not saying this vortex is completely wrong, nor does every Kyrgyz person believe in it. I know several amazing men and women that do not. They believe in making your own choices and living their own life but they do always admit that this pressure to “enter this vortex” exists. It can never be truly escaped. It is a part of life here, no matter how progressive you yourself may be. On a smaller scale it is still apparent in America too, especially in the south and midwest. Its not just Kyrgyzstan either, it's a worldwide thing. I'm not sure if there really is ever a way to escape it, or if we should. It’s just an observation that I’ve noticed here. I have no straight answers for it because so much affects it. Yet I do think we need to be aware of the vortex. For, no matter where we are, we are in some way affected by it.
Until next time...