One of, if not the, most important thing I do in Talas and Kara Suu is get to know my neighbors; chat with kids at school; become recognized by the marshrutka drivers, shop keepers and café owners; eat dinner with my host family – really just become a member of my community. And to that end the people here have made it incredibly easy by welcoming me into their lives with a hospitality I never could have expected.
Everyone wants to chat, help me with my Kyrgyz, or invite me to tea. The days of leaving my house without being stopped are long gone. I’m more grateful than I can say, but for someone as indisputably introverted as me, it can be a little overwhelming. There’s definitely something to be said for anonymity.
When I do need to get away, there’s one specific spot I can hike to out by the reservoir away from town. I take a seat on a comfortable looking rock, get some reading done, listen to some music, or just sit and regain whatever sanity I may have lost during the day. Yesterday was a long, busy day of running around to English club, a meeting, and a teacher training in Kirovka and by the end of it I was definitely in need of some sanity recovery.
I left the house and made my way to my spot – but not before chatting with some girls about school, trying to convince them I don’t know Russian, and telling a neighbor about my weekend. After crossing the highway and the edge of town, I stepped out onto the wide, open flood plain in the bottom of the valley. Finally, I made it to my rock and sat down with a sigh of relief. The sun was low and reflecting off the water in the distance. It was quiet and I was all alone. It was really pretty pleasant.
Then this little kid – maybe seven years old – came clomping up on a donkey.
I saw him coming from a ways off in the corner of my eye hoping that he might just pass by; I was having a nice time being alone, dammit. I didn’t want to look and encourage him but I could hear the donkey’s clip-clopping come to a stop right behind me. I waited a few seconds hopefully, then gave a defeated sigh and turned toward him.
“What’s your name?”
“Hi Sultan, I’m Cole.”
“What are you doing?”
“Yeah, it’s a nice day, isn’t it? I’m just sitting and looking.”
He was quiet for a second, thoughtfully following my gaze off toward the reservoir. Then he hopped off his donkey, threw his riding cushion on the ground next to me, and plopped down.
*sigh* “Sure. Why not?”
We chatted a little about school and which English words he knew – he was particularly proud of his ability to count to ten – but before too long we ran into that language barrier that I’ve become rather well acquainted with.
So there we were: me sitting on a big rock with a seven year old Kyrgyz kid in the middle of nowhere, not talking, watching the sun go down with a donkey munching on some grass behind us.
Pretty quickly I felt guilty about being annoyed with him at first and once it started getting dark I figured it was best get back home. In any case, Sultan’s parents were probably wondering where he was.
“Well, should we go home?”
Sultan got situated back on the donkey and clomped next to me as we walked back to town. We said good-bye when we got to his house and by the time I got home myself I was feeling more sane than I would have had I just sat out there alone anyway.