Would you believe that I went to a party, offered a toast in Kyrgyz, sang a song alone and without accompaniment, and was accused of being the best dancer in attendance? Yeah, I wouldn’t have either. Yesterday was the kind of day that proves that the things that actually happen are way weirder than anything we expect to happen.
Last week was the last of school for the year here in Kara Suu and as I understood it, I was invited by the graduating seniors to go out to Talas City to celebrate with them. I thought, “right on, sounds like a good opportunity to get to know some locals and the area too. Two birds, one stone.”
I was told to be ready at 10:00 AM the next day to get picked up.
So, 10:00 came and went, 11:00 came and went, and by noon I assumed the plans had just fallen through. Then I got a call from Aigul, the English teacher in town.
“Are you ready? The students say they’re on their way.”
“Uh, yeah. Are we still going?”
“Yes, of course.”
So I went outside only to find a regular parade of cars with honking horns and kids hanging out the windows. I saw some familiar faces in one and hopped in.
With the kids still hanging out of the cars, waving flags and hats, we raced toward and, to my surprise, past Talas City.
We ended up at Manas Ordo, a cultural site and the burial place of the Kyrgyz national hero, Manas. I was part of a video the students were having made, went for a hike, and checked out a museum complete with Manas’ pants.
After a few hours there, we raced back past Kara Suu to Kirovka where the celebrations were really beginning.
The graduating seniors, myself, and Aigul arrived at a banquet hall and over the next couple of hours about 75 teachers, parents, and friends showed up. There was a huge spread of fruit, bread, candy, meats, and desserts. And, having not eaten since breakfast that morning, I dove right in. After eating, an MC started inviting people up front to give toasts, sing songs, and play music.
As conspicuous as I was at the gathering – after four days here everyone in town already knows who the weird American is – there was no way I was going to be allowed to sit out the dancing.
“Alright,” I thought, “I can dance a bit. Not the end of the world.” And in any case some of the older guys had already had a bit of vodka and weren’t exactly setting the bar that high.
Eventually, Aigul let me know I was going to be called up to give a toast.
“Oh, um, yeah I guess I can try. When?”
Thanks for the head’s up Aigul.
I whipped out my trusty dictionary and pocket notepad – I don’t go anywhere without them – and tried to write out something that made sense. Just about the time I finished, I heard my name over the loudspeakers. I went up front and said something to the effect of:
Yesterday I was new here, but today I have many friends. Thank you for welcoming me and I wish you all good health and good luck.
Who knows if any of it made sense or if anyone understood me, but I got an applause and that’s all that really matters, right?
Then, as I started back toward my seat the MC stopped me.
In Kyrgyz he said, “No, you’re going to do a song?”
“No, I don’t know any Kyrgyz songs.”
If there had been a way out, I promise I would have taken it.
But there wasn’t. I was really on the spot. So, I took a second, a deep breath, and gave a pretty rousing rendition of “Rose in Paradise” by Waylon Jennings. (I know you’re laughing. Stop it.) Again, I got an approving applause and I was finally allowed to sit down.
The rest of the night was (comparatively) quiet and I made it back home by curfew.
It was one hell of a day and now I can’t help wondering, “is this what the Peace Corps is going to be like?”
Am I just going to do crazy things every day until I forget everything that ever made me uncomfortable? What things do I think I wouldn’t do today that I’ll end up doing tomorrow? I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but while I obviously had no real idea, I’ve found myself stepping up to the plate so far. So, let’s keep the curve balls coming and see what weirdness comes tomorrow.
Can you Imagine a Room Full of Kyrgyz People Listening to this? Granted, Waylon Did it Better.