Monday, February 21, 2005

My first invitation home

In the last few days, the white blanket of the sky has lifted, revealing the sun. The ice has melted, leaving mud in its place. Never did I think mud would be so attractive. The signs of spring have appeared before, only for us to fall right back into the cold of winter. But I’m going on vacation during the second half of March and have been assured that spring will definitely be here by early April. So there are only a few more weeks to go. I can’t wait to pull my bike out of storage and start getting more exercise.

Last night the children tried to make shashlik on a small outdoor grill, but for some reason, they didn’t have any luck. So Nigora reverted to grilling over the stove, taking off the burner and setting the beef skewers over the flame. I told her I’d like to take a picture, so she invited me inside.

It was the first time I’d been inside their portion of the house. A few days ago Nigora said that they never invited me over because it was dirty there.

“You can probably tell by now that I’m not the type of person who is bothered by a bit of dirt,” I said.

Nigora, Shavkat and their three teenage sons live in two rooms. Since I felt like coming into their residence was a privilege, I tried not to peer too intently at their living conditions.

They invited me into the living room to look at digital photos on their computer. A foreign friend gave them a nice digital camera and they showed me pictures of collecting mushrooms on emerald green hills, of picking wild flowers, of views from the tops of mountains. It made me so excited to experience Kyrgyzstan in the summer. It looks unbelievably beautiful.

Also in the living room was the TV and a stack of rugs. I didn’t look carefully, but I think they probably sleep on mats and rugs on the floor.

The second room was the kitchen. A gas and coal stove divided the two rooms, providing heat, as well as a cooking surface for Nigora. Most of the room was taken up by a raised platform, on which were spread mats and a low table. Shavkat told me that the stove kept the kitchen warm and the platform could be used either for eating or sleeping. We sat cross-legged on the mats around the table. It was really quite comfortable. Nigora handed out dishes of mashed potatoes with beef kebabs and a homemade ketchup. She opened a large jar of canned peaches, pouring the sugary juice into cups to drink (called compote), with a whole peach at the bottom of each glass for dessert. Habib asked for refills repeatedly and by the end of the night, the giant container was already emptied.

Nigora recalled her surprise when she was first married and she saw how Shavkat’s family ate.

“They would open a large jar of compote and at the end of the meal, it was already empty. Or they’d set out a big jar of jam. By the next day it was half gone and the following day it had disappeared. Whereas, all my siblings had married and just my parents and I lived together. When we opened a jar of jam it would last forever. I remember going home to my mother. “Oh, how they eat!” I told her.”

After dinner, I returned to my space to get ready for the banya.

“If you ever want to watch TV, feel free to come over,” Nigora said.

I’m unlikely to do so without an invitation. Given that five people live in the same space I live in, I feel selfish imposing another person into their space. But I felt good that they trusted me enough to invite me into their home, that they could be themselves around me.

While by Western standards, their living standards aren’t very high, by local standards they are not bad off. They have a computer, a TV, a car, a digital camera, foreign friends and a strong family. Moreover, as I saw from the photos, while in the winter these conditions can be rough, in the summer this looks like a nice place to live. It’s no problem to go outside to the bathroom in the summer, colorful flowers grow in the courtyard garden, figs grow on trees in their front yard, and two of the boys sleep in the room (currently unused) across from mine.

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