Chong Ata

Most evenings, after dinner, Sultan and I go for a short walk around town.  This started off as a way for me to figure out the layout of Kengesh, but that didn’t take long since it is something like six blocks square.  Now it’s just kind of a nice way to end the day, practice the words for common things, and unwind.

This evening Sultan and I were walking, shaking hands with everyone we passed, and practicing some language.  Sultan gives me an English word and I give him the Kyrgyz.







Chong Ata.”

“Uh, grandfather?”

“No.  I mean, yeah.  That’s my grandfather.”

I looked up the street to where Sultan was pointing and saw, by far, the oldest looking person I’ve seen in Kyrgyzstan slowly coming our way.  Which made sense, because with Sultan’s parents being in their sixties, their parents would have to at least another twenty years older yet.

As we approached and then reached one another, we all shook hands and Sultan’s grandfather introduced himself as Hussein.

Greetings in Kyrgyzstan tend to consist of asking how well every person the other knows is doing.  I don’t always catch who is being asked about, but the answer is almost always, “Jakshur” (good).  Sultan and Hussein took off on this exchange and as I listened I tried to absorb all I could of this guy in front of me.

Hussein is probably about five-six.  He has sun spots on his arms and face and has thin, white hair under his white, bill-less cap with Arabic script in gold around the brim.  He walks with a cane that is a little big for him and has typical Kyrgyz, slightly Asian, features, with drooping eyelids over glassy eyes.

Sultan and Hussein finished chatting, we all shook hands again, and then continued on our respective ways.  As we did I asked Sultan how old Hussein is.

“Uh, eighty-five? No, wait.”  Sultan pulled out his phone and punched a few keys on the calculator.

“No, he’s eighty-seven.”

I looked back at the tiny man shuffling away from us.  He is almost ninety years old.  It’s difficult to imagine the changes people have seen back home in that time.  I can’t even begin to imagine all that’s happened here in his lifetime.


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About Cole Bedford