May There Be A Road

There is a bookshelf at my parents’ house.  And on this bookshelf is at least one copy of every single novel Louis L’Amour ever wrote.  I say at least one because, as my dad will tell you, you don’t really have them all if you don’t have the separate editions too.

If you don’t know, Louis L’Amour was the most prolific western writer ever and a bunch of his books became movies.  If it starred John Wayne you could probably bet he wrote it.

Google says: Having written more than 100 books and 400 short stories, L’Amour remains one of the most prolific and popular authors in the world. There are more than 200 million copies of his books in print and more than 45 of his novels were adapted into Hollywood films.

Over a period of who knows how long, my grandpa and dad put together this collection: a testament to the old west, cowboys, gunfights, and dusty trails.  But because I was more thick-lensed glasses than shiny belt-buckles growing up, their collection was more something to look at than to actually read.

Except when we went camping.

Every summer we’d pack up for the weekend and head to Custer State Park or the Big Horns or some small, isolated campground in the middle of the Black Hills.  Once there, we’d do like any good campers and lounge around, nap, maybe hike if we were feeling ambitious.  But sooner or later, after the sun went down, we would inevitably end up reading a western.  We’d probably be sitting around the campfire, decked out in flannel, with stomachs full of marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, listening to Dad reading out loud one of his thin paperbacks.  To say the least, it was a pretty good deal.

Now, you might say, “all of that is really nice, Cole.  I’m glad you have a bookshelf and went camping when you were a kid, but that doesn’t have much to do with Kyrgyzstan.  And let’s be honest, Kyrgyzstan is more interesting than you are.”

And you’d be right to say that.  Louis L’Amour was not really relevant to my experience here in Kyrgyzstan.  At least it wasn’t until my Kindle broke, dad started sending me some reading material, and a collection of L’Amour’s short stories called May There Be A Road turned up in one of my care packages.

So, I’m in bed surrounded by Dorito crumbs (I just got a care package, remember) reading the title story.  As it turns out it’s about a young, nomadic guy living in Asia in the 1800’s.  It’s all about the sacred road to his village and it’s being a metaphor for a path to the future.  While I read along, I’m thinking, “That’s kind of neat. Way to branch out Louie.”

I get to the final climatic scene of the story where an old tribal chief cuts a suspension bridge Temple of Doom style to sacrifice himself and save his tribe from evil invaders.

As he does he yells out, “Zhol Bolsun!”

I kind of stared at that.  Not really comprehending for a second.

“Zhol bolsun” totally translates into “may there be a road” in Kyrgyz.

Louis L’Amour – The quintessentially Western writer whose stories colored my childhood camping trips – at one point learned a Kyrgyz phrase and then wrote a story based on it.

Kyrgyz isn’t even in the top 100 most spoken languages in the world.  It has only 4.3 million native speakers but until pretty recently Louis L’Amour knew more of it than me.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like the most shocking coincidence to you, and I suppose it probably isn’t, but it was still a pretty crazy reminder that even though it sometimes feels like I’m in another world, the one I’m from really isn’t THAT far away.

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About Cole Bedford