Thursday, May 20, 2010

School's Finished

I taught my last day of class yesterday and graduation on the 25th will mark the end of my two years of teaching in Tory-Aiger Village. I’ve always been antsy for change, so I’m excited for a relaxing summer at the lake and am already making plans for a brief stint of travel before I come home, grad school (fall of 2011), and a magnificent marathon of reunions in the States. However, all of these things don’t negate the sense of home and family that I’ve found in Kyrgyzstan. Saying good-bye to my host-family, friends, students, and neighbors is going to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do; and that’s no exaggeration. With three months left the only real responsibility I have left is to live in the moment. So, the following are a collection of stories that celebrate the charming mystique of Kyrgyzstan:

One of my favorite school activities is dropping in on the cafeteria ladies. The only items on the menu are sweet rolls, cookies, tea, and “pirashki” – potatoes and onions stuffed inside deep-fried dough. Despite the forewarning black-toothed grins of all the elementary students who file in for their snack, such sweets always seems to be just what I’m craving. So, I’ve gotten to know the cafeteria ladies pretty well and I’ve spent many hours chatting with like-minded colleagues over a few cups of tea. Well, the other day one of the cafeteria ladies gave me a disco-ball-inspired bracelet and just sealed herself a place in my list of top 10 favorite school employees! She gets points for her bold taste in accessories, but what really made me smile was the unexpectedness of it all. It was a good reminder to stay keen on delivering small acts of generosity.

Coming back from my Grandfather’s funeral in the States this April, I was consoled by all of my colleagues and neighbors. Dealing with the death of a loved-one is something that transcends culture and Kyrgyz people pay serious respect to the deceased. They follow Muslim tradition, infused with some untraceable customs such as group wailing and grand-scale animal slaughter (in my experience a cow, horse, and sheep). Well, when I came back, my host mother invited our neighbors to have some tea and salad at our house, so they could recite some of the Koran in honor of my Grandfather. It was a nice gesture, but this event ended up serving more as an opportune moment of self-deprecating humor. One of the women brought her year-old daughter along and, as usual, I reached out my arms and asked her to come to me. We all know that this child is absolutely terrified of me, but I’m determined to force my affection upon her before I leave – it’s disconcerting that my face can bring a baby to tears. Well, this time she held back. She leaned back into her mother, shaped her little mouth into a perfect oval and tweeted, “Mo-mok jok!” I thought she had told me that I wasn’t her mother, which sounds similar, but the eruption of laughter at the table prompted me to clarify. Turns out, the direct translation of her rejection was, “No boobs!” How do you translate “touché” in Kyrgyz?

I feel compelled to share that I made honey from Dandelions with my host mother. I’m certain this is the same weed that we seek to exterminate from our plush green lawns in America and that little kids pick to make head wreaths or smear on their playmates’ forearms, depending on their disposition. But it’s true – we filled a jar full of Dandelion heads, added water and a kilo of sugar, boiled it the next day, and put this “honey” on our bread and in our tea. I am amused by how resourceful people in different parts of the world are. I enjoy eating a product of Dandelions! Now all I have to do is convince my host family to eat the skin on their potatoes, something that they find equally hard to fathom.

My school director has been really buddy-buddy with me lately, a curious development that I’m just going to embrace. Yesterday we played three hours of volleyball and basketball with other teachers and 11th form students. Seeing my director and colleagues run around with no restraint can only be described as sheer joy. But the pinnacle of my uncomfortable interactions with the director happened last week, when she invited my host mother and I over to her house for dinner at nine in the evening. I had just finished baking nachos for my host family and somehow ended up bringing a full tray over to her house, which was rather awkward. My host mother insisted that it wasn’t strange, but there’s no way that it wasn’t and quite frankly, Kyrgyz people aren’t the best at expanding their palate. So, on top of extracting insincere compliments from everyone as they grazed on their plate of cold nachos, I also endured the “joking” attempt at an arranged marriage between myself and the director’s son. I’ll save my judgments and just assure you that we’re incompatible. So, there we were, all sitting on floor cushions around the table, drinking tea like addicts and eating dinner long after our metabolism had check-out for the day. I noticed that my director was wearing a putty colored polo that had a patch that said “security” over the left breast pocket. The humor of this image was lost on everyone else, because it ewonder if she knows what that word means. Conversation was spotty and I soon felt the temptation of sleep pulling at my eye and muffling out everyone speaking Kyrgyz. I felt myself going cross-eyed in an effort to keep my eyes open and developed a strong distaste for the artificial in-door lighting and white noise silence of late night. Ironically, this late night rendezvous made my director really happy – just a couple a gals hanging out past their bed time, gossiping and eating. I wonder what our next date will entail…..karaoke, riding horses, the options are endless.