I had written an update from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on May 8, 1994 to my colleagues and friends who were teachers back at the University of Minnesota English Center in Minneapolis. I will type out the questions asked by my American friend Tanya in bold and my answer follows:
1) Does virtually everyone speak Russian? Yes, everyone in the capital
2) Or do some people only speak Kyrgyz? People in the outlying areas perhaps ONLY speak Kyrgyz. We met a gentleman who spoke Russian poorly because of a strong Kyrgyz accent, this was only about a half hour outside of Bishkek [the capital of Kyrgyzstan]. My experience revolves around the capital so I may not be able to answer exactly.
3) What language do the people use in the markets, banks, schools, etc? They use Russian as the language of trade but the banks are trying to upgrade to English and the schools are teahcing both English and Kyrgyz. The markets is where you hear Russian and it is funny that some of the older vendors will sell things for “one rouble” they have not been able to change to mouthing the words for the new currency of “som.” There have been many changes and the issue of languages keeps the people in a constant staet of flux.
4) Does the younger generation speak any Kyrgyz? Yes, it is in vogue now to know Kyrgyz and very helpful if there is a grandmotehr at home who speaks it around the house. It is to these students’ advantage to be Kyrgyz in the first place and to have a working knowledge of it. The Russian students have a disadvantage now and have to work extra hard to learn it in order to be politically correct.
5) Or have they let go of past traditions? If you mean other than language, then I think the “traditions” you mean is their faith, their dances, their songs, etc. Many of the people in Bishkek who are ethnically Kyrgyz will say they are Muslim but do not practice any of the traditions known to be Muslim. They may have funerals or weddings in that tradition but a watered down version.
6) Do people listen to a lot of European and American music? Yes, I have recognized quite a few American songs here. Whitney Houston is a big name as are others but since I am not up on who is who in the music world, they seem to be better informed of the latest stars and hits. As far as European music I know even less but my guess is that they like American music.
7) Or is the local ethnic folk music still appreciated? I have a Canadian friend who has made it his life ambition to study the three strong instrument named Kosmus (?). He has been studying under ofe of Kyrgyzstan’s better known musicians, and his repertoire is up to three songs now. He travels in the folk music circles and can tell you a lot more about how well it is appreciated. I think it is by the older generation. As mentioned before the students I have, seem to liek English songs but then I work with some of the most privileged students in Krygyzstan who have money to buy the latest.
8 ) Can you still find folk dancing? Yes, I have been to several concerts at their concert hall that shows very vibrant, colorful costumes and beautiful dancing. A lot of what they show is the glamorized version of country life, riding horses, harvesting, courting practices, etc. One concert that I attended the dancers must have changed into 20 different costumes. It was wonderful with the Kyrgyz instruments playing the background. It is not an unpleasant sound like what you find in China with Peking Opera where the clanging and gonging is still ringing in your ears hours later.
(to be continued)