I see my counterpart*, Kushtar, walking towards me on the main road of Barskoon with a sack full of sweet iced tea (the Kyrgyz version of iced tea is so sweet it tastes as if someone melted a popsicle into a plastic bottle and called it tea...) and another sack containing 2 melons. “Ahhh Amanda, I’m sorry for making you walk! My family is coming in the shrut now.” I laugh and exclaim “Kushtar! I don’t mind walking! Let me help you with those melons.”
Kushtar’s husband, Kumar, is one of the few marshrutka drivers in charge of ferrying people on the route from Barskoon to Karakol city and vice versa. For those of you who are wondering what a marshrutka is, allow me to explain. Imagine a tall van/bus equipped with a few rows of seats and some metal bars hanging from the ceiling from which people can hold on for dear life. Marshrutka rides tend to be packed, hot, uncomfortable, and cheap to boot, which is why most people prefer to ride the marshrutka versus the taxi, the more expensive option. In proper marshrutka etiquite, seats must be made available for older Kyrgyz people, women who are pregnant, and women with small children.
The bright yellow shrut approaches us on the main road and I can see Kumar flashing a big smile and waving us over. “Oh!” Kushtar begins, “My family does not want you to think that we all live together in one house! They are worried you will think this. Many people come to visit to take a rest and go to lake. Not everyone live with me.” I nod in understanding and we continue on and go aboard the marshrutka to find Kushtar’s large, bustling family equipped with great smiles to meet me.
We take the bumpy road down to a private, serene stretch of beach on the lake. Parking the shrut near the sand, we claim our territory for the day. Immediately upon arrival, the women jump out of the shrut and begin setting up camp- laying out tooshuks, setting up a grill, and digging holes for the melons and the drinks in shallow water to keep them cool. The children quickly strip their clothes and run full speed for the water. I take a seat near Kushtar’s parents in law, the elderly Kyrgyz of our bunch.
We sit for hours- talking, eating, laughing, and sporadically wading in the water to cool off from the blazing sun. Kumar is manning the grill and providing a steady stream of “shashlik” (pieces of marinated chicken grilled on skewers- much like the American model of a “shish kabob”) with pieces of onion and bread. Kushtar occasionally makes rounds with the melons- cutting off pieces of melon and handing them out to everyone. Kushtar’s father in law takes a swig from a bottle of vodka and them shoves it in my direction, motioning for me to take a drink. “No, thank you.” I tell him in Kyrgyz, but he persists. “Just a little bit…?” He says, using his fingers to squeeze the air in the universal sign for “little”. “No, no no.” I tell him again, chuckling a little at his persistent attempt to get me to drink with him.
When Kyrgyz people go to the beach, they tend to use up every bit of warm sunlight available to them. This means staying at the beach until the winds grows cool enough to cause them to replace layers once shed in a prompt dash for the glistening water before them. The small children begin crying, knowing that a departure from their beloved beach is soon to come.
I sit out of the last round of shashlik, feeling as though my stomach was full enough to last 2 or 3 days at the least. Kushtar comes around with a bag of candies and cookies signaling the children over so they may dip their hands into the sugar filled bag of goodies. I take one chocolate covered cookie and Kushtar swiftly hands me 2 more, true to pure Kyrgyz form.
Filing onto the marshrutka, we bid goodbye to our small escape from village life on the shore on the lake. We take the bumpy road back into Barskoon and I exchange kisses on the cheek with the women as I say goodbye, disembark the bright yellow marshrutka, and open my gate leading into my home as the last drops of sunlight escape behind the mountains.