This past weekend we headed out to the village for the бешик той (pronounced "beshik toy") of Mr. ATK's host brother's newborn son. It is customary in Kyrgyzstan to have a party forty days after the baby is born (during the first forty days no visitors apart from family are allowed to see the baby and mother.) I wanted to focus most of this post on the party, but also on the different cultural customs relating to childbirth and early child rearing.
So I've lived in a few countries and I've found that the different cultural customs surrounding childbirth and the early postpartum days are very interesting. In Bolivia I had not had any children so I couldn't really compare personal experiences, but I could generally compare what my Bolivian friends told me with what I was aware of in America. (And sometimes I would check-in with my mom or some other American who had birthed a baby to be like, "Do we think x, y, or z after a baby is born?" and they would generally be like, "I've never heard of that before.") Anyways, some general and/or traditional notions in Bolivia include the following:
- The mother can't touch water for a set amount of time after the baby is born (I'm not sure if there is a specific number, though. I feel it is something like three weeks.)
- For the first month the baby can't be exposed to a non-relative woman who is menstruating, because something about the scent makes the baby sick.
- You can't stand behind the baby and look down on it (Like standing behind the baby so it has to sort of roll its eyes up to look at you.) This will hurt the baby's eyes.
- Many people wrap their babies up in what is essentially an Ace badge. I always thought the babies looked like little Glowworms. It's basically like swaddling. They say it helps the baby's back/spine strength develop.
- It's fairly common to carry the baby in an aguayo (basically a blanket) on your back.
I'm sure there are more, but this is what I can remember and if I've misrepresented anything please let me know, Bolivian peeps.
So, why am I talking about Bolivia when this party is in Kyrgyzstan? Just because I think it's interesting to compare different beliefs and customs. I wouldn't necessarily expect them to be similar, but I think it is interesting if/when there are overlaps.
Anyways, the Kyrgyz have a similar aversion to water in the first month or so after birth. No touching water for the new mother. This happily means no dish washing and no laundry, but it also means no bathing...which, yeah, no. I wonder what it is with water, because, as previously mentioned, Bolivians have a similar rule. Nazgul (my Kyrgyz sister-in-law and new mother to Bekali) said it is because women are very weak after giving birth. After having gone through the miracle of child birth myself now, I can't imagine not being allowed to bathe afterwards for a month. I mean, as soon as I could feel my legs again, I wanted to hop in the shower. Of course, both Nazgul and my Bolivian friends were like "I just wanted to take a shower!"
She was also telling me that for the first month after birth, the mother has a very restricted diet and can really only drink/eat broth. No fruit, no raw/fresh vegetables. The broth is supposed to be good for your milk and vegetables and fruit (our nanny specifically mentioned grapes. Like, "Can you eat grapes in America after having a baby?") can cause stomach issues for the baby. I do vaguely recall being warned by the nurses not too eat too much of any one thing (like cauliflower or milk) but that generally it was okay to drink/eat whatever. (Obviously alcohol was an issue and I think things with caffeine were to be limited, but not outright prohibited. I remember someone telling me I shouldn't have chocolate and I was like, "Yeah, I don't think I'll be following that rule.")
And while I'm sure there are other things--my nanny said for the first month mothers basically stay in bed with the baby and aren't allowed to go anywhere or do anything...which yay! No housework! but also Boo! I'm trapped in a bed like James Caan in Misery"--the last thing I want to mention is the superstition against basically complimenting the baby. I'm not quite sure how to describe it because it still wasn't clear to me, even after having it explained by both my sister-in-law and my nanny. At first I thought they were talking about, like, protection from the evil eye or something, but that's not really it. Basically I was chatting with Nazgul and cooing over the baby and she left and got a bit of ash and put it on the baby's forehead (like Ash Wednesday!) and when I asked what she was doing she said that with all the guests maybe some of them say nice things and it protects the baby from getting sick. I was basically like, "Huh?" But, you know, who am I to judge?
Later, I was asking our nanny about this too and she was like, "Yep. It protects the baby when people say things like, 'Oh he's so big,' or 'He's so beautiful,' and then the baby gets sick." This confused me a bit and Kunduz (our nanny) explained it thusly, "Once when my husband was young, another woman said to my mother-in-law, 'Oh your son is so tall! My son is not so tall.' And my mother-in-law says my husband never grew any taller and she blames that lady." I was like, "So you're not supposed to say nice things about the baby?" Her: "No." Me: "Like, it's bad to say nice things? Like, it's bad to say, 'The baby is so cute!'" Her: "Yes." Me: "Oh...." Upon reflection, no one else said anything to or about the baby but me, so basically she was protecting the baby from me, but of course is too polite to be like, "Oh my god, stop! Stop saying my baby is beautiful!" I later relayed this to Mr. ATK and he was like, "Yeah, I know." I was like, "What the hell, man?!" I mean, he really dropped the ball on that one. He usually delights in telling me when I am being uyat (shameful). Whether I am disrespecting bread by throwing it in the garbage or sitting in such a way that the bottoms of my feet are facing someone, he is usually johnny on the spot letting me know. Anyways, I really hope little Bekali doesn't get sick or anything, because I'm pretty sure I know where the fingers will be pointing.
|Me and the new little guy. Probably shortly after one of the many times I complimented him.|
On to the toy. Well, there was a lot of food. I'll say one thing for the Kyrgyz. They sure can put on a spread.
|Round 2: The family gets to eat. The meat is tash kordo, made from BabyTK's lamb.|
We arrived the day before the party to visit, and there was much work being done to prep. Sheep were slaughtered (more on that in another post), boorsok was fried, and about 10 gallons of Olivier salad was prepared (that's basically a Russian potato and olive salad for those who are unaware.)
|Frying up some fresh boorsok. The oil is hot and the kitchen gets smoky.|
So the party itself, was kind of like New Year's. There was like three rounds of food. Really three rounds of guests. First the neighbors came and had beshbarmak. Then family and friends had tash kordo. And then, at like 10:30 at night, there were samsas and soup with friends.
|Preparing the beshbarmak.|
|BabyTK enjoys the food.|
But during all this eating, in celebration of the new baby, the baby and mother were conspicuously absent. We're sitting around the table enjoying the first course and I'm thinking, "Where are they?" Once BabyTK had finished eating and was beginning his usually throwing food phase, we took our leave and went outside. Mother and baby were busy in the kitchen (one was cooking and the other was sleeping. I'll let you guess which was which.) I popped in to chat for a bit. Not gonna lie- It seemed odd that the party was ostensibly for the baby and the baby was not in attendance. Late someone assured me people saw the baby. Mr. ATK thinks maybe it's like how in America you have a big party/baby shower for the first baby but then you don't have one for the second kid. I don't know. Also, I think around round 3 of the party, Nazgul and the baby came in the room and folks passed around the baby and coo'ed and whatnot (but no compliments, remember!) Nazgul still had to work pouring tea and serving, but she got to sit down some.
|Interrupted cooking to snap a mother-son photo|
All in all, it was a delightful time. Also for good measure, here is a picture of the baby next to a giant bowl of Olivier salad.