Saturday, January 10, 2015

More In-Laws!

One of the great things about being married is that you get a whole new set of family members (Hi, MamaTK-in-Law!). One of the great things about marrying a Peace Corps volunteer is that s/he likely has a whole other family is some village in some far away land. Now, one of the drawbacks (or maybe not, for some people) of life in the Foreign Service is that you spend years at a time thousands of miles away from friends and family back home. But one of the pluses of life in the Foreign Service is that you may be posted in that far away land (especially if you speak some obscure language like Kyrgyz) and... Poof! Instant family!

Now, Mr. ATK lived here for two years in the Peace Corps and before finding something to do, blogged about his experiences pretty regularly here. Since coming back to Kyrgyzstan, we've met up with several people from "the old days" including women from the handicraft association Mr. ATK worked with (who were in Bishkek for an exhibition and sale during Thanksgiving weekend),

Shyrdaks (traditional felt rugs)made by the women of Altyn-Kol, the organization Mr. ATK worked with in Peace Corps)

and most importantly, Mr. ATK's host family--my new Kyrgyz in-laws!

Mr. ATK's Kyrgyz family consists of Ata and Apa (father and mother) and four brothers. The two youngest speak English quite well. One is a student at university and the other is a tour guide, who takes tourists hunting in the winter and trekking in the summer. Everyone else speaks Russian and Kyrgyz, with a very strong preference for Kyrgyz. As a result, I'm usually just sitting and listening to everyone talk.  Sometimes I try to see if I can figure out what's going on, but usually I sort of daydream about whatever until I realize everyone is looking at me and they must have just been talking about me. Then I smile and shrug my shoulders a bit and we all laugh. They really are very lovely people. Three of the boys call me Jenge which is Kyrgyz for "sister-in-law who is married to an older brother" (age rankings are very important in this culture). Since Mr. ATK is older than three of the brothers, they have to call me that. I've only met the oldest brother once. I don't know what he calls me. I'm actually older than him, but apparently it's the ranking of the menfolk that matter and since Mr. ATK is younger than the oldest, I am "sister-in-law who is married to a younger brother." Like I said, I don't know how to say that. It might be that actually there is no word and he is just supposed to call me some sort of descriptor. The younger brothers, who I call by their names--Azamat and Aziz--told me that technically, I, as the jenge, am not supposed to use their names. Instead, I am supposed to call them whatever, something that basically describes them. Like, "guy who studies economics" or "guy who lived in Malaysia." Of course, that is just weird to say in English, and I cannot for the life of me remember the Kyrgyz phrases they suggested (which was basically, "guy who studies economics" in Kyrgyz) so I just stick with their names. They don't seem to mind, even if I am breaking the rules.

As you can see, I've learned quite a bit about Kyrgyz culture from my new in-laws (with help from Mr. ATK, of course.) Mr. ATK had already explain some things, like how the daughter-in-law married to the youngest brother has to pour tea for everyone (and basically do all the housework.)  I did pour tea at our first dinner and it was kind of nerve-wracking because, like, people just hand you their cup. After watching Apa do it over New Year's it is clearly something intuitive--like knowing the proper time to hand the cup over and when to look for the cups from everyone. Basically, it seemed to me that Apa didn't really get to eat. Anyways, at my attempted tea serving, Mr. ATK was the worst, of course. He just kept holding his cup out and I was trying to eat, so he would clear his throat to get my attention and then everyone would giggle. The actual Kyrgyz people were very sweet and I think they thought it was cute that I was trying. It's very interesting to me, because they just hand the cups back and forth without any verbal acknowledgement. No "Please, may I have some tea?" Or "Thank you" after receiving the tea. I find it kind of awkward, and I told him I thought it was awkward, but he looked at me like I was nuts. I guess he did live here for two years, so he just fits right into this little dance.

Apa tying on my joluk.

I think my favorite thing so far is that Apa even gave me a joluk (headscarf) when we first met. The Kyrgyz are traditionally Muslim and married women commonly keep their heads covered.  They aren't particularly strict or conservative Muslims--the headscarf is more of a "welcome to the family" gesture. I guess the the mother-in-law ties the scarf on the daughter-in-law like you see in the picture above: old lady style. As I understand it, the daughter-in-law has to wear the scarf old lady style until the mama-in-law tells her she can wear it in the more typical, do-rag style. The boys told me it is usually 3 days or so.  You'll be happy to know, I wore the joluk when we went to visit over New Year's and Apa said I could wear my scarf like a do-rag. So I no longer look like an old lady.

So all in all, life is good here. We've got some new family to spend the holidays with and it has been a pleasure getting to know them. Stay tuned for my next post which will focus specifically on New Year's out in the village.

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