Life in Kyrgyzstan- Surviving Culture Shock

Hello from the first country to declare independence after the fall of the Soviet Union….Any guesses on where that is without looking at the location of this blog? KYRGYZSTAN!! Don’t worry I wouldn’t have gotten it either if I had been asked a few months ago. But life in Kyrgyzstan has changed all of that!  And yes, I’m surviving culture shock.

life in Kyrgyzstan

So I landed safely in KG (at about 3:00AM) and have been in the country for almost two weeks now. For the first few days we were put up in the countries fanciest resort-like hotel on Issyk-Kul, which (Fun fact alert!) is the world’s second highest unfreezing lake, after [intlink id=”141″ type=”post”]Lake Titicaca in Peru[/intlink].

So the resort was pretty posh for KG standards, and let’s be honest my standards too. I’m always surprised if my door locks and my bed doesn’t bite me, so this resort hit all of my standards. We received three square meals a day, there was Wifi in the lobby, and there were TVs that played everything from news in Kyrgyz to news in Russian.

Issyk Kul itself is a gorgeous lake, ringed with mountains on almost all sides, so it’s somewhat scenic just being in such a gorgeous place.   The day we arrived it was clear and sunny, the day after that it rained torrentially. Like being in Vancouver! At one point in the night, due to jetlag both my roommate Marta and I were lying awake, and she, without being totally sure I was awake, shook her fist to the sky and asked the universe “What did we do to deserve this punishment?” So the take away is that the weather turns quickly in KG and you feel like you’re in the middle of the Apocalypse. Much like life in Kyrgyzstan in general.

At this 3-day orientation, we were told what we will do (integrate into our communities, learn the Kyrgyz language, work on projects, capacity build, empower local people, gain new skills and experiences, and hopefully eat a sheep’s eye), and what we can’t do (anything illegal, as well as ride a horse without a helmet).

We also learned about what is ‘ooyat’ in Kyrgyzstan. Ooyat is translated to shame or shaming, and it means what is socially acceptable and not. Unfortunately there are a lot more ooyats for the ladies in the crowd. Already I can see that life in Kyrgyzstan is rough for us ovary bearers. 

Kyrgyzstan culture

Sidenote, I’m sitting in the front yard typing, and my three year-old home-stay brother just walked out the front door of the house completed naked except for his sandals crying for him mama, looking very half-way-through-a-nap kind of semi-conscious. I’m the only one home. It is officially heartbreaking trying to soothe a child back to sleep in a language you don’t know. I almost started singing the Titanic theme song, but then his sister came home and saved the poor little guy from that would be tragedy.

Anyways, back to ooyat. Ooyat is something that is not kosher in fine, and not that fine, Kyrgyz society. It ranges from sitting cross-legged at the table to being openly drunk. Women should not drink to excess, smoke, or have sex before marriage. Though boys can have sex before marriage. Think about that.  See, I told you life in Kyrgyzstan was different for girls. 

Like most cultures, many ooyats take place around the dining room table, so it’s important to be respectful at meal times. We also learned about Konock, or guesting, which is a big part of social life in Kyrgyzstan. It’s basically visiting each other’s homes for elaborate and never-ending food and drink. I have yet to go guesting, so I will write more about that later. 

Homestay Kyrgyzstan

After orientation, we were all split into 11 groups, which serve as both our language learning groups (yes, I’m learning the Kyrgyz language. And it’s just as hard to learn as you think it might be!! Especially with the different alphabet, FUN! ) and divide us by where we are living. I am one of 5 girls living in small village outside of Kant, a large town which is about an hour outside of Bishkek, the capital city. My village has three stores, about 3000 people, and one billion sheep. There is also a loudly braying donkey that is just asking to be slaughtered.

I’m living with an absolutely wonderful homestay family with 4 kids (15, 14, 11, and 3 years old) and my “Mom and Dad” are barely older than I am.   They are wonderful people and are very patient as I’m butchering their language. I have my own room, and have eaten more than I thought could have been possible, as well as drank gallons of tea. No vodka yet, so I’m starting to go through withdrawals, especially because of the regular Drink Wine Together Time the Kydd family instituted before I left.

pre-service training village in Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Over the next two months I’ll be living here and having either language lessons or technical training 6 days a week (School on Saturday! Ugh). After that we all split up and go to the villages/towns/cities that will be our permanent volunteering sites, and will be there for about a month. I don’t know where my permanent site and therefore my permanent life in Kyrgyzstan, will be yet, that is still in the works, but I’ll let you know when I do! After those weeks, we come back to this current village for one last month of training before being let loose on the permanent sites. And the Kyrgyz land as a whole.

life in the kyrgyz village

So that’s the general recap, I don’t have a ton of exciting tales or amusing news as I really haven’t gotten to do very much yet, but here are some random bits from the last while, because life in Kyrgyzstan is slightly different than Canada.

Life in Kyrgyzstan- Fun Facts

I use an outhouse. Which means that I have really checked my evening tea drinking, because blindly stumbling across the yard in the middle of the night is wrought with disaster. And the possibility of being covered in my own urine.

My 3-year old brother Ernazar doesn’t understand I can’t understand anything he says, but he still jabbers to me and I participate by making very excited noises in responses. Erno: “Kyrgyz baby talk Kyrgyz baby talk”; Me: “Whoahaohhyolohhh”. Hey it might even be a Kyrgyz word, I just haven’t learned it yet, these words are looooong and have letters going every which way! We also roughhouse and have light sabre battles. I do a great dinosaur impersonation. 

There was a karaoke bar at the resort we were at. They did not open it for business while we were on the premises. Probably couldn’t have handled me anyways.

Learning language in Kyrgyzstan

My first night at my home stay, I walked outside and there was a sheep carcass hanging from a tree. It was mid-butcher, but all of the guts were already being cleaned. I became the unofficial pourer of water into the intestines. Put that on my resume and smoke it.

Sometimes when I run in the morning I pass a large herd of cows, and hope they don’t overcome their laziness to charge me. Then I look up at the mountains and forget about the cows altogether. Which is probably when they are most likely to charge me.

As some of you know, I am psychotically afraid of dying from rabies. It’s a horrendous ailment that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, well maybe Keanu Reeves. But anyways, we are getting vaccinated, and I am one shot in. It takes three shots to be vaccinated! That’s how Satanic rabies is. It needs THREE shots to be averted. And even after the vaccine, you still need medication if you are actually bit by a red-eyed dog to truly avoid becoming a zombie and dying. Rabies, shudder. At least there are no monkeys in this country. Point Kyrgyzstan.

Do they use outhouses in Kyrgyzstan?

Putting on my pre-departure weight may have been a mistake since data shows that females arriving in this country are likely to put on weight in their first year in country.   I can assure you that carbo-loading is easy, between the bread, noodles, and rice. I could run a marathon every day. If I was anywhere near in the shape to do such a thing. Again, point Kyrgyzstan.

Sheep meat gets caught in your teeth every time. I have flossed more in these last two weeks than I ever have. To my dental hygienist: You win, you always do.

Well I think that’s all for me for this first post about my new life in Kyrgyzstan. There will be much more to come to be certain, especially as I learn Kyrgyz better and can actually understand some of what is being said to me!

Horses in village life of Kyrgyzstan

I arrived in my new life in Kyrgyzstan for my Peace Corps service. This started with a homestay family in a village, learning language and Kyrgyz culture

Intrigued by life in Kyrgyzstan? Check out the rest of my KG travel blogs and then put a trip to Kyrgyzstan on your bucket list! Click here to view them all: [intlink id=”50″ type=”category”]Kyrgyzstan travel blogs[/intlink]

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