Saturday, September 24, 2005

other events of the week

This was a big week politically in Kyrgyzstan, with all kinds of factions forming and dividing, politicians worrying about threats on their life, rich people wondering if their past crimes would come back to haunt them. But in my simpler, smaller world, my highlight of the week was helping a 13-year-old neighborhood girl, Alfiya, to write and submit an essay to an American magazine. It was accepted. In addition to her essay being published next summer, she’ll receive $30. That’s a big deal for a little girl with an absent alcoholic father, an 80-year-old grandmother, and a mother who is a teacher, but has spent time off work in the past due to reputed psychological problems. It makes me happy to see how excited she is and to know the respect she’ll get from her classmates and neighbors for her little spot of fame.

I was also involved in hiring several people this week. That’s one of my favorite aspects of being here, is finding smart, motivated young people and being able to offer them work because of their qualifications and potential, with no attention paid to connections, bribes or anything else. We’ve made some mistakes, but in the time I’ve been here, I’ve also seen others develop wonderfully and it’s a great feeling to watch them grow professionally.

Nigora had a toothache. She spent a couple days in real pain, wrapping a pink scarf around her head. Finally, she went to the dentist and had the tooth pulled. They gave her a painkiller shot, but it hurt enough once the medicine wore off for her to lie down and cry for two hours.

By that afternoon, she was already up and at a parent-teacher conference at Faruh’s school. Faruh has been mainly studying things like theater and music lately. “The other teachers haven’t come back yet or aren’t around,” he said.

Nigora said that the teacher passed out a questionnaire to parents and that most only wrote one or two word answers. “But I wrote and I wrote,” Nigora said. “They asked me about Faruh, his good sides and his bad sides and what I wanted from his education. I said that I wanted all the teachers to be there, for them to teach him well, and for there to be enough books.”

Weddings continue daily, morning and night. Every morning by 6:30 the sound of cornets and rapidly beating drums echoes down the street, coming into my bedroom. One morning on the way to work I passed by one and was invited to sit with the men at a table on the street. I drank a cup of tea, then they brought out a bowl of fatty bouillon with a big chunk of meat in it. I took a few small sips and told them I was late for work.

“We’ll be offended if you don’t eat it,” they said. When I said I really had to go, they got a plastic bag and put the meat in it for me to eat at work.

Finally, today a Felt Festival was held at a resort at the edge of the city. Who would have thought that felt could be celebrated for an entire day? But here, anything is possible. A community development group with international donors set up the day-long affair. In traditional Kyrgyz fashion, nothing started on time.

We heard the music of a traditional Kyrgyz instrument group, had an appropriately fatty lunch in a yurt (the owner of the yurt, who spent 30 years in it with his family, ate with us), complete with fermented mare’s milk, and saw how wool was cleaned, carded, dyed and made into two traditional Kyrgyz handicrafts, shyrdak and ala-kiyiz.

I enjoyed watching the dying. A 60-year-old woman, who has been involved in the craft for 15 years, collected mountain grasses and soaked them in water for 10 hours. Then she boiled them for 30 minutes, scooped out the grass, strained the liquid through a scarf, and was left with a dye that turned her wool a natural shade of green.

She used to work alone, but five years ago she joined one of the unions of handicraft workers sponsored by this organization. I asked why she did so. “It helps me to gain experience, we exchange ideas, and we get access to international markets.” She earns 11,000 som (about $250) every six months from her work.

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