Archive for November, 2013

Twenty-seven Questions and First Impressions of Kyrgyzstan (Part III)

My last part of a letter I wrote to Tanya, dated May 8, 1994. She was a teaching colleague and friend at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota where we taught ITAs (International Teaching Assistants) together.
20) How are you surviving in terms of food, heat, housing and friends?
The food has little fiber or what there is might be peeled off because of uncertainty in the pesticides used. I am back to eating the apple skins if they are good apples. Many people eat sunflower seeds everywhere. There is LOTS of meat here so for all vegetarians who plan to come to this part of the world, think again. Many of the Peace Corps volunteers that I trained last summer had to succumb to the lifestyle here or they were forever in a heat about all the meat that was served. It is simply part of this culture, the nomadic tribesmen herding their sheep around.
In fact, yesterday I was at the market wanting to buy some sheep for the manti [steamed meat dumpling] party I was to have with my Kyrgyz students that evening but there was only beef. On my way home I was walking on the sidewalk of the main drag when I saw a sheep running at full tilt down the main street in the oncoming traffic lane. He was being chased by three-four men. I thought to myself, “that was the sheep I need for my party.” The sheep kept getting away from the men and probably was hit by a car. It is unusual to see a live sheep in the middle of an urban setting, they are EVERYWHERE out in the country. Food is plentiful and the vegetables are seasonal. The winter months there were no cucumbers or tomatoes but now that is ALL that you will see for salads at restaurants for the next six months.
As far as heat, I had a cold apartment but that is because the windows are not insulated well. This is because of poor workmanship. However, the winter months here are mild compared to Minnesota winters. I didn’t suffer too badly from my cold apartment since I had an electric heater and blanket. I love the place where I live, seven stories up with a view of the mountains from the east AND west sides. I pay $130 a month for a four room “flat.”
You asked about friends…I have my teacher friends and I have friends that I made through Peace Corps, the sauna, and also the church that I attend. There are plenty of people here I can go to plus I have e-mail so that I can keep up with old friends back in the States!
21) Have you had to deal with any shortages?
No, not like when I lived in China (1986-88) where they didn’t have sugar for a time or butter at other times. But yes, because they don’t have peanut butter or brown sugar or Stateside items like that, I just bring it with me when I have a chance to go home. We do not have massive shortages that I am aware of like I experienced in China or that they have in Mongolia, for instance. Also, I have money that can buy me more things whereas the local people on their subsistence living could probably tell you about shortages.
22) Have you had many opportunities to get to know any of the faculty there?
Yes, my dean, of course we are becoming friends in a professional sense. Others that I teach pronunciation to, I have had them over for a manti party. I don’t feel particularly close to any of my Kyrgyz teaching colleagues since they often have more than one job to supplement their income. They are busy with family too.
23) Have you been able to make many friends with the locals? As I mentioned before, I have my sauna friends and my landlady is my friend, as is my Russian teacher. I have not invested a lot of time in getting to know their culture by going to their homes and participating in their traditions. It would be a Russified form and not a true picture of the real Kyrgyz.
24) How would you typify the culture? It is a sort of hybrid of Russian and Kyrgyz, more heavily influenced by the Russian communist way of thinking. Perhaps there is some Asian way of thinking but compared to the Chinese I know and living in China, the Kyrgyz are more westernized. By the way, they have a strong dislike for anything Chinese! Carryover of Russia’s prejudice against their formidable border foe.
25) Would you say that it is heavily influenced by Russian culture, Turkish culture, Mongolian or what?
As mentioned already, the Russians have heavily influenced the capital city and the Turkish language has had a heavy influence in the Kyrgyz language. Perhaps if you went out to the countryside, the Mongolian presence would be strong, but I don’t know.
26) Do you feel it is easy to get to know people or do you find the people to be somewhat reserved?
They are fairly easy to get to know and rather “too” straightforward about their opinion sometimes. (Russian influence) They are not reserved like the Chinese I know. In fact, most of the Kyrgyz students I have are quite extroverted and outgoing. Their speaking skills are very good for never having had a native speaker talk to them before this year.
27) How are you looked upon being a single woman?
It is much easier to be single here in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan than it was in China. There they thought something was wrong with you if you weren’t married by age 25. Here, for foreigners, they made allowances up to 30. But here in Bishkek they seem to have a more westernized view of life and again this is my views from the people in the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps in the countryside they would think that I should be married with seven kids by now.
Tanya, that is all for now. Hopefully I have shed some light on the little bit that I know about this Kyrgyz culture. I remember a year ago I had these same questions. So answering them now to the best of my abilities made me think that I have actually learned something about this culture and am happy to share it with you.
By the way, Tanya, your name is very popular here. One of my best friend’s name is Tatyana, she is living in Almaty, Kazakhstan and her friends call her Tanya for short. I hope this has helped you and that you apply for a Fulbright here because they would love to have your expertise…

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