Friday, March 25, 2011

A Space for Grief

Today we learned about the ceremonies and rituals that surround the loss of a loved one here in Kyrgyzstan.  I wish, especially for the friend and co-worker of ours who lost her father last week, that we never would have had to learn about them in a real-life situation. 

Today the school hired a marshuka to take some of the staff to Elnura's home.  And there, sitting around a table loaded with salads, dried fruit, horse meat, fried chicken, tea cups, sugar, bread, sweets, with plov to follow, Peter and I learned of the customs.  Here is what we learned.

The burial occurs 3 days after the death.  During those three days, a yurt is constructed outside the home.  The body lies in the yurt for three days.  The yurt is filled continuously by wailing daughters, wives, sisters, female friends.  Men sit outside of the yurt.  On the third day, men take the body to be buried.  Every man present adds a shovelful of dirt.

There are several death anniversaries that are observed- 3 days after death, 7 days after death, 40 days after death and one year after death.  In some places, it is traditional that every Thursday for an entire year the family hosts a gathering where people come and talk about life.  At this time, people are invited to gather with the family, who provide tables full of food, like the one we sat at today.  When people gather, the eldest man puts on a Kulpak (a traditional Kyrgz hat - tall, like the ones we brought home) and reads or recites a specific passage from the Koran.  At one point during the reading you hold your hands together, palm up and open in front of you.  Then when the reading ends you "wash" your hands over your face and they end in a position of prayer.  The same thing occurs at the end of the gathering.  For at least a week after the death, the family hosts a number of gatherings, all with lots of food.  A horse is slaughtered out of tradition, and also because it provides a good amount of meat.

Those who come to the burial or the gatherings traditionally bring money to the family.  Many families are very careful to write down how much they were given by whom.  The family then seeks to, or is expected to, give that same amount back on a similar occasion  (or a more joyful one).

All in all, I am intrigued by these customs.  The death anniversaries and the Thursday gatherings seem to me to be a healthy way of recognizing that life is different, and always will be.  It provides a reason for the community to get together and remember or support the family.

On the other hand,  at our gathering today, Elnura and her sister were so busy serving us it didn't feel like we were there to support them in any way.  They had to work hard all day to prepare the food for us, and then would have a lot of work to do after we left!  While we were there, they were giving us new plates when we needed them, refilling our tea cups etc...  It was not a time to sit and ask them how they were doing.  I felt like I should've been the one making the food!

The sitting in the yurt and wailing is intriguing too.  In many parts of the U.S.  those attending funerals are afraid of showing too much emotion.  Showing sadness is not condemned, yet we all try not to show too much.  On the other hand, we have heard that wailing here is not optional for the female relatives, and the louder one wails, the more one loved the deceased.  That too could seem a little forced at times.  I suppose it would be best if, no matter which culture one is in, that one could feel the freedom to grieve as one would like.

All these customs have made me realize how much we Americans tend to try to ignore death as much as possible.  We are told (at least my family was), not to watch as the guys from Hooper and Weaver come and take the body away.  And Hooper and Weaver come within hours:  Death is unpleasant, so we push it away.  On the west coast, we plan the timing of the funeral for when all the family can arrive:  Death is unpleasant, so we try to make it convenient (okay, and some people have to come from quite a distance away).  We don't have established death anniversaries:  Death is unpleasant, so we try to pretend it didn't happen.  Life goes on in our motto, even though a part of us is dead.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Humble Beauty

According to Charlotte in Charlotte's Web, one definition of humble is "close to the ground".  It was this sort of beauty that we discovered today.  Beauty that is easily overlooked, easily trod upon.  Beauty that can be seen only if one seeks to see it, if one can take the time to discover it.  It's the kind of beauty that only whispers, "psst."

Today, Peter and I stopped to smell the flowers, so to speak.  Actually, as the city has not planted flowers yet, there are none to stop and smell, so Peter and I went to smell the flowers.  We went in search of crocuses today.

We hopped on Marshuka # 172 and, after enduring a rather crowded ride, we disembarked at end of it's route, south out of town a little ways, close to the foothills. 

First we wandered through some open, low-lying land that felt like a strange mix between an orchard and a trash-dumping site.

  As we traveled upward into the hills we left most of the trash behind.

Up and up we went, through more orchards on terraced land.  And then we found it!

We walked higher and higher, until we could soon see a view of Bishkek to the north, and the mountains to the south.

And now, for the glimpses of beauty we found....

Congrats for looking this far.  There are only a few more photos.  There are times when you find that you just must take a picture of poop. (Or you are surprised to catch a sighting of something cool in the midst of the mundane business of life). Today was one of those times:

And, the lines in this photo are just too fun to not publish:

So, two more shots...  this one Iris might have stolen the show:

What a great day.  We escaped the city for a bit, and are thrilled to know that we can easily do so on a regular basis (no offense Bishkek).

May you too catch glimpses of humble beauty around you!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Story book snowflakes and other miscellaneous items

Here are a few random pictures with commentary!  Enjoy!

First off, we forgot to blog about the ice-lake.  On the way back from our skiing trip at the end of January, we stopped at a lake that was frozen over.  Very cool.

We're in the money!  When we exchanged money last time, we got this bill for the first time!  It's worth about 100 buckaroos.  Guess we shouldn't keep this one as a keepsake!

A serious statue and the moon.  Between the guy's face and his musical instrument (it's not a gun people!), is the waxing gibbous.

Last week, when it was bitterly cold, it snowed.  I have never seen such beautiful snowflakes in my life.  They were truly the story book snowflakes, the kind you make out of paper and hang on the windows in the winter.  Light, fluffy, perfect.  Peter says he's seen them on the slopes....  I think the trouble is, when I'm on the slopes I'm much more concerned with the snow below me than the snow that is falling above me.  :)

Hmmm... Peter - want to take this bus?   No?  Why not?

February 23rd was Men's Day.  It began a long time ago as a chance to celebrate those in the military.  It morphed into a celebration of all of the male gender.  Women's Day is on March 8th.   You should see the flower stands around here!  We, as of Friday, get to have Women's Day off!  This is what the women at the school pooled their money to buy all the men. 

These are a few pics from our walk this evening. 

 The snow has mostly melted, leaving a muddy mess.  Temperatures in the 40s means children are out again on the playgrounds.
Kyrgyzstan, eh?

 Looks like I just pummeled Peter in the stomach, doesn't it?  I didn't.

And finally, a link to a song that shows a fairly accurate portrayal of what many apartment complexes look like around here.

Accurate details:

The playground
Paint halfway up the walls in the staircases
The doorbells
The occasional graffiti
The heat radiators
The doors

Not accurate details:
There aren't too many Doberman Pincers around!
The outside of the buildings do not look Soviet enough (not enough concrete dressings)
Animated, love-struck young women aren't a common sight