A thunderstorm booms just outside a small corner of the world I call my room. Turning the lights on would only interrupt the natural show of luminosity unfolding before my eyes. What an incredibly powerful show of might, a thunderstorm. Many people are easily frightened by this illustration of booming sounds and light. However, thunderstorms always cause me to think. I remember back to the most incredible thunderstorm I’ve witnessed to date. I happened to be on a plane flying down the east coast, over the Atlantic Ocean to the Dominican Republic. I watched below me as the blanket of clouds lit up in swift sparks of lightening striking one strand after another in a rapid armed battle on the ocean. I imagine this is what a nighttime battle looks like. Flashes of light as the opposing sides open fire on each other. So there I had it, the clouds at war over the ocean, with only the beams of lightening to use as ammunition. For over an hour, I gazed wondrously at the most astonishing natural light show known to man.
It is late Saturday night in Peervomaiskey, a small village in rural Kyrgyzstan, which I temporarily call home. The baby boy (whom I refer to as “tamposhka” meaning “cute, chubby baby”) wails in the room next door, I assume from the booming of the thunder. The faint sound of Kyrgyz pop music drones down the hall from the kitchen where Erbol, the 9-year-old boy and his 13-year-old cousin are almost certainly playing a game of chess. My Kyrgyz family, including the children, typically stay up late, often past midnight. The overwhelming majority of Kyrgyz families do not eat their last meal of the day until somewhere between the hours of 9pm and 1am.
My Eje (honorable term referring to women older then yourself, also meaning “older sister”) is attempting to distract the sweet Tamposhka from his tears by singing to him a sweet Kyrgyz song which I can only assume is a lullaby. In Kyrgyzstan, the women are allowed 3 years of maternity leave after they give birth. In a conversation about professions with my Eje, she informed me that she is a Russian language teacher meanwhile explaining the “3 years off” standard to me. After which, she asked me how long women in the states are allowed for maternity leave. She was astounded when she heard my response. She thought I must’ve been pronouncing my words incorrectly (which routinely happens…) or I was confusing the words for “year” and “month”. When I assured her I indeed was not, she simply gasped and shook her head.
The concept of “family” is so incredibly important in this culture. In fact, the family card trumps all others. During introductions, Kyrgyz people are more likely to ask about your family even before inquiring about your profession. I was slightly shocked (in proper pretentious American fashion) when my host family inquired about my parent’s ages in our initial, introductory conversation. This concept of age is an entirely customary inquiry in Kyrgyzstan for one very important reason: respect. In Kyrgyz culture, respect is determined by age, and age is a factor of upmost importance in well, all settings. I made the mistake only once of referring to my Eje by her first name alone before my language teacher corrected me. “Amanda, you should always refer to people older than yourself as “Eje” or “Baike”. These are terms of respect. Please only call her “Ainura Eje”.” Note taken.
I realize I promised pictures of my host family in my previous post… I must report that I have yet to capture some. I’m working on it! Stay tuned!