I can’t think of a time since childhood that I’ve been as vulnerable and incapable of caring for myself as I was when I first arrived here two months ago. I couldn’t use my words, didn’t know how to feed myself, got lost all the time, and was only like 80% potty trained. As far as anyone here could tell I was a six foot tall infant. But instead of being totally irresponsible, my moving to a developing country with no language skills or cultural competency at all was only slightly crazy because of the support of my host family.
In retrospect I’m amazed at the empathy displayed on their part in anticipating and addressing the needs of someone so different from themselves. Even if language hadn’t been a barrier that should have difficult, but they’ve been wonderful. They’ve been open-minded, (inhumanly) patient, gracious, and welcoming.
The Peace Corps encourages the host families to welcome their Volunteers as members of the family and the Volunteers to try integrate as much as possible; referring to everyone as mother, father, sister, brother, etc. I was pretty uncomfortable with that though, because the relationships within a family are maybe the most personal in a person’s life and it didn’t seem quite right to try to mimic that with anyone else, no matter how nice. And even now I can’t quite say that the Busurmanov’s – Kuban, Zahara, Sultan, Anika, Tamerlane, and Irlan – are my family, but they definitely mean more to me than I imagined they could.
Anika, with Tamerlane on her lap will point to me and say, “bul kim?” (“Who’s that?”)
He’ll laugh and point too,”bul baike.” (“That’s brother.”)
Zahara is always worried about how much I’m eating, whether or not I’m cold, if I’m sick, or doing my homework. Once in a while Kuban, who’s gravelly voice makes him difficult to understand, and I will just sit on the bench outside in silence and watch a rainstorm go by. Irlan took some time to warm up to me, but now asks about my days at school and we play card games. And between Sultan’s broken English and my broken Kyrgyz, we’re able to have any conversation under the sun. Making such an unlikely friend has been one of the greatest privileges of my being here so far.
Tomorrow I’ll spend the day packing and even though I’ll see them all again in six weeks I’m dreading saying good bye. I don’t know what I’ll say, not because my Kyrgyz is crappy (which it still kind of is) but because there’s just not a way to say thank you sufficiently in English or Kyrgyz. The best I guess I can do is say thank you, simply, even though it won’t be enough and hope someday I’m presented with a chance to repay them.