Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kyrgyz Humor

September 25, 2009

My six-month anniversary is fast approaching (I left the US on the March 28th, I believe). My language learning, which has been at a steady climb since I started has started to level off a bit without my tutor. I have been getting really lazy with my speaking (the side effect of having a really chatty host mom, I think), but I understand quite a bit. Now one of the teachers at my school has a plan to teach me one Russian word a day in exchange for one English word a day. Sounds like a good plan to me. Also, Peace Corps informed me that I could begin taking Uzbek lessons if I wanted to. Maybe I will take up that offer later, but right now I think learning two languages at once is enough, don't you? Anyway, my fake bazaar Uzbek has served me well so far, so I can just work on perfecting that.

School is still going well. It gets easier every day, but it is so different from American schools that I sometimes feel like I am on a different planet. Things that I would consider universal school practices completely baffle my students. I sprang a vocabulary quiz on my 10th graders, and the concept was completely foreign to them. The idea that copying work is bad is also completely foreign. Students do their classmates' work for them right in front of me and expect to be rewarded for their kindness, and are baffled when I scold them for it. I have yet to have a class where more than four students out of 25 have done their homework. I see this as a lack of interest and motivation, but this doesn't seem to be the case during the actual lesson. In all my classes, hands always shoot up into the air when I ask a question. Today I had my 10th graders write sentences about magazine pictures, and the ones that finished early asked if they could take another picture and write more sentences. It is all one big mystery to me.

Wednesday was a very mysterious day for me. It was National Kyrgyz Language Day, so there was an all-school assembly. There were a few soviet-style processions, and then some kids and teachers read poems and sang songs and there was some dancing. There was a group of kids who sang as a choir and did a choral reading. These kids, who I guess are part of some club or something, all wear these red scarves tied around their collars (the uniform requires a white collared shirt and black skirt or pants), but during their performance they had the scarf draped over their arm held in front of them like a waiter's towel. At some point in the assembly, someone called the teachers to do something and they shuffled me along with them while I asked what we were doing. One teacher just said something about “galstuk” (Russian for neck tie). It turns out that the teachers were supposed to tie the scarves around the kids' necks as part of the ceremony. I didn't get it at all. One of the performances in the assembly was a solo dance by a 4th grade girl. She did a belly dance routine complete with a fringe-y belly dancer outfit that is not age appropriate by American standards. I had seen this kind of dancing by little girls before during training, but I hadn't seen it in the south yet. It is very strange and makes me very uncomfortable. The old teacher next to me, who I had been chatting with in Kyrgyz, asked me if I liked the dancing, and I answered honestly, saying that she is a very good dancer, and American girls don't know how to dance like that. “But is it good?” she asked. “Yes, good,” I said. “Bad.” she said, and I could see she had set me up. She explained that it is ooyat (shameful), and good Kyrgyz girls should cover their bellies. I tried to ask why it is allowed in school if it is ooyat, but my Kyrgyz doesn't reach that far.

Now that I have been here for a while, I feel myself getting teased a lot more. The Kyrgyz sense of humor is completely beyond me, but then I think that my sense of humor is beyond everyone, so we are even. My host dad teases me the most. The other night he pulled a cooked sheep head out of nowhere (this was the third one in two weeks. I don't know where they keep coming from) while I was eating my soup, and carved it up. Cooked sheep heads are pretty gross looking anyway, but they are even worse when they are getting cut up. He wrenched off one of the ears and handed it across the table to me. I politely refused, but as usual, polite refusal doesn't work. Like always, I said I would taste it, so I did (barely) and put it aside. After a few minutes, he cut off the top lip and did the same. After that, he cut out the roof of the mouth and handed the wobbly flap of flesh over to me. I must have looked like I was going to puke, because he said, “tamasha!” (joke!) and took it back. He cut the piece of skin in half and handed part of it back to me. “This is the good part,” he said. I told a tiny white lie here and said that in my religion, we don't eat meat from the head. It was okay, because my host sister came by and devoured the whole pile in seconds.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Try the gray stuff, it's delicious! Don't believe me? Ask the dishes.

August 30, 2009

I have another reason that I can't get married in Kyrgyzstan. In addition to not being able to cut carrots thin enough for ash, , not having pierced ears (they give earrings instead of rings to get engaged. The word for “to be engaged” literally means “to put on earrings) and making my real mother very sad, I can't get a joluk (headscarf) to stay on my head.

Today I won a nice pink paisley scarf for losing a footrace at a neighborhood get-together, and one woman made a big to-do about tying the scarf on my head, and then calling everyone over to feel how soft my hair is and how the scarf just slides off it. Thanks lady. Once the scarf was on, I asked “Do I look Kyrgyz?” Some people laughed, and one person said, “No, Russian.”

The race was part of the tradition that honors a baby taking his or her first steps. At my host niece's party only the little kids took part in the race. (Actually I got a kick out of how my host family was deciding who would run. The discussion was almost identical to the one that takes place almost every year with my real family at Easter, deciding who should participate in the egg hunt. At the end it was settled by Aijamal and me insisting that we really, really didn't want to run.) This party was much larger and included the whole street. The little kids ran first, and then the older girls were supposed to run. Again, I said I didn't want to participate, mostly because I knew they were giving out cash for prizes, and I didn't want them to press money on me. I asked if I could run with the married women, because I assumed that they wouldn't be given cash. In the end, I was dragged to the starting line with the girls, and it was a good thing too, because while we girls each got a scarf and some money (I refused to take it, but they stuffed 20 com into the waistband of my pants. Gotta love these people.) the married women got much bigger prizes. The winner got a big rug, and my apa, who came in next to last, got a more expensive scarf and 100 com. When the men ran, they all got kalpaks, and also things like new dress shirts, bottles of vodka, and pocket knives.

August 31, 2009

First of all an update on yesterday's post:

My hair was the topic of conversation again later yesterday afternoon. My Kyrgyz tutor was telling me about a new business that his family opened up. It is a Uiger medicine store (I hear about these Uiger people all the time, but I know absolutely nothing about them. No offense to them, but its another one of those words that sounds like it comes from Star Wars or Lord of the Rings) that sells natural Halal alternative medicines. My tutor was giving me a sales pitch, and suggested that I could take a medicine that would make my hair grow, since I have few hairs on my head. Nice of him to bring it up.


Today is a Kyrgyz holiday – Independence Day, I guess. Everyone in my house is celebrating by taking naps and watching movies. Nice. We went to a party last night and didn't get home until about 2 a.m., and my poor host mom and sister, who are still observing the fast, had to get up before dawn if they wanted to eat breakfast, so they deserve a nap.

I am getting better at cooking breakfast and lunch for myself in my family's kitchen. My savior is the egg. Eggs are a fabulous food, and they taste the same in any country. Without Apa breathing down my neck in the kitchen, I have been able to come up with some tasty creations, all with eggs, and usually adapting Kyrgyz recipes to my own tastes, like making this Kyrgyz French toast stuff and eating it with jam instead of salt (Apa has already told me she thinks this is very strange), or frying up some leftover ash with an egg and some onions and spicing it up with some hot sauce from home.

Here's a really awesome easy Kyrgyz recipe that is great even without alteration if you have some eggplants laying around (sadly they are out of season here. Too bad, because this was one of my favorite foods, and I have to wait until next year). All you do is dip round slices of eggplant in egg with a little salt and pepper and fry the slices in oil and slices of garlic. Then make a little sandwich with two slices of eggplant and a slice of tomato and some of the garlic in between. Yum! They are best when they are hot, but they are pretty good cold too.

September 1, 2009

Well, I survived the first day of school. At first I was terrified, but once I found out that the first day of school only consists of an all-school assembly followed by homeroom meetings and that I wouldn't be having any lessons, I was relieved. However, somehow it slipped everyone's mind that I was expected to give a speech in front of the whole school. The girl at the podium was making some announcements, and I was kind of tuning out like I usually do when people aren't speaking directly to me, but I picked “...volunteer from America...” out of the Kyrgyz (easy to do because “volunteer” and “America” sound about the same as they do in English. Makes my life a little easier. Just like how I send silent “thank you”s to my real parents all the time for being a “sekretariat” and an “ingeneer” who makes “traktor”s. I love cognates.). The English teacher beside me nudged me and told me I should go up to the microphone and make a speech. “What should I say?” I asked her a bit too angrily as I got up.
“You can congratulate them a happy holiday,” she answered.
“Uhh..., what's the holdiay?”
“It is the National Day of Education.” Her English is very good, but she speaks slowly, and I was already standing there kind of stupidly while the whole school waited for me to move up to the podium. There was some Enrique Englaisias music playing. My grand entrance music, you know. I asked her how to wish a happy holiday in Kyrgyz (luckily it is short) and I ran up to the podium, trying to figure out what else to say. In the end, it went something like this:
“Hello, now I am learning Kyrgyz, and lots I understand, but few words I can speak. For that reason, happy holiday! Okay, that's it.”

I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself for pulling out the present progressive tense and a phrase using “can” under such high-pressure circumstances. I sat back down and asked the teacher on the other side of me, who teaches Kyrgyz class, if I spoke correctly. She said yes, but I think she might have been just being nice.

Really, I just love translating Kyrgyz literally into English. Sometimes the phrases sound like they should have “Confucius says:” in front of them, and sometimes they sound completely idiotic. Like what my host sister said to me just a bit ago to call me to supper: “Walk. Food we eat.” While I was eating, I glanced at a celebrity gossip magazine laying around that had an article about Barack Obama. When my family is done with it, I want to snag it and make a project out of translating it literally into English. I have a feeling it will be very funny, since the information that I picked out of it so far is already ridiculously mundane, such as the fact that Barack is 187 centimeters tall and 7 centimeters taller than Michelle. Wow.

Ugg, I just tried again to wash the fish smell out of my hands from dinner and was unsuccessful. Ata brought home a big smoked fish as a treat (yesterday's treat was roasted horse meat, which was actually delicious!) and the way my family dug into it was a little bit disgusting to me. I don't want to be a snob, but sometimes I wish that my family wouldn't eat things like cavemen. The fish itself wasn't all that bad, but it was so salty it made my eyes water. I set myself up for eating a big chunk though, because when Ata asked if I like fish, I said that I really, really like fish in America, but I haven't had good fish in Kyrgyzstan. He said that he got a really good fish today, and brought out the salty smoked thing. Bleh. I bet Apa will expect me to eat some for breakfast tomorrow, too.

September 3, 2009

Teaching is hard.

Yesterday, I taught all six periods of the school day from 8:30-1:30. They kind of figure out schedules as they go, I gather, so this will not be the norm. It looks like I will end up teaching four periods a day Monday-Friday – much more manageable. But now the assistant director, who is making the schedule, is concerned that it will still be too much for me if I am doing clubs too, but I think it will be okay, as long as I schedule myself a nice break to go home and eat lunch.

Damn it! I just had to chase a chicken out of my room AGAIN, and stepped on a fresh present it left me on the rug in the process. As much as I love having fresh eggs all the time, I HATE chickens.

Anyway, back to school. We (me and my counterpart teacher) started out by giving the kids Anglo-American names. I was going to have them pick for themselves, but the names they came up with were along the lines of Beyonce and Madonna. So, I wrote up a bunch of names on cards and had them draw them out of a hat. It went pretty well, but I never realized how much irregular spelling goes on in English names. I know that more than a few were confused with the pronunciation of their names. One poor girl's real name is Kanekei, and was given the name Christina. The students all wrote their real names on the back of their English name cards, and Kanekei/Christina made a valiant effort to spell hers out in Latin letters like this: Ka Chanekei. Why didn't I just do Kristina and leave it at that? No one would ever know that one spelling is more common than the other.

Its fun for the kids, and it works out for me, too, since Kyrgyz names can be ridiculously difficult. And it seems like if there are easy names, like Eliza or Muhammad, there happen to be two or three in one class, which makes things difficult anyway. I think I did a pretty good job of eliminating doubles, but I had to rack my brains to come up with the huge list I came up with.

Again, my ego is swelling at an enormous rate, since everyone wants to be in my classes. It was also encouraging (but also a bit annoying) to hear the kids who had been in my summer club show off everything they learned to their classmates and also imitate my Audra-isms, complete with my tone of voice: “Okay,” “Hey, guys”(when trying to get attention), and “Oh my gosh!” (Although I am still dismayed that they didn't catch on to “what's up.”) One boy in the seventh grade who I have never met before gave me an apple and won my instant affection, which is, I suppose what he was going for with it.

In a closing note: I have been listening to my itunes on shuffle and it just came across the Urinetown soundtrack. You know, for some reason, I don't find it quite as funny as I used to, now that I don't have access to plumbing. Its a shame.

I just got finished eating supper, and I was reminded that I need to sing the praises of this new food that I have just discovered. It is probably the strangest food I have ever seen, and against all my expectations it turned out to be delicious(all other weird Kyrgyz foods have turned out to be as disgusting as they should be. Salty yogurt balls and fermented horse milk. Ick). This food is so strange that I don't think that I can properly describe it with words, but I will take on the challenge. When I first saw it, it looked like a square block of damp cement or wet gray sand on a plate. Apa ordered me to eat it, and I was scared that it might be some kind of meat pate or something like that, so I asked what it was. She said a word I somewhat recognized but couldn't place, so I had no choice but to just taste it. Pulling a piece away, I realized that the texture of it was something like cedar mulch, but it was a little bit sticky like sugar. As soon as I tasted it, I remembered what the word was: sunflower. The gray stuff tasted like sunflower seeds and sugar, and Apa informed me that the food is made with sunflower, sugar, and oil or butter or fat (it is all the same word and it drives me nuts), but I have no idea how it works. The texture is so strange, and once you chew it, it kind of melts and then gets hard on you teeth like a Butterfinger. So strange! It’s like space food.