Getting a Good Deal at a Central Asian Bazaar

My first bazaar experience was on my third weekend in Bishkek. I went with an American friend who had been to several other Asian countries before and had experience shopping at a bazaar. We went to Osh Bazaar, one of the largest bazaars in Bishkek and the best bazaar for buying souvenirs and national goods. As we wandered around the bazaar, in order to avoid unwanted attention, we spoke quietly in English. It was a refreshing break from speaking Russian so often with my host family and language partners. The biggest benefit of going with another English-speaker was that we could help each other understand the vendors: two heads are better than one. For instance, I was better at numbers, but she had a better general vocabulary. Together we were able to tackle prices, clothing sizes, styles, materials, colors, and so on as we shopped for national clothes and souvenirs. Also, shout-out to my friend if she is reading this — I had a great time!

Traditional Kyrgyz dresses at Osh Bazaar. These probably cost between 25 and 45 dollars. The Kyrgyz people that live in Bishkek don’t dress like this, except maybe for holidays or special occasions.

Next, I went with two of my language partners (during our free time) to Dordoi Bazaar, a conglomeration of several independent markets that stretches for over a kilometer on the outskirts of Bishkek. Dordoi Bazaar is better organized than Osh Bazaar. Each store is labeled with a number and each aisle is similarly labeled. In addition, the bazaar is divided into sections based on type of item sold as well as place of origin of item. We spent several hours there and only covered a fraction of the bazaar during our time there.

One of the many entrances to Dordoi Bazaar. The Cyrillic letters on the left read ‘Dordoi’ and on the right ‘Bazari’: Dordoi Bazaar in Kyrgyz.

While there, I was very thankful to have two native Russian/Kyrgyz speakers with me, but also often frustrated. They could speak with the store vendors and explain to them exactly what I wanted, switching to Kyrgyz tow communicate with some of the older vendors. I kept forgetting the words for things like ‘vest’ and ‘velvet’ and ‘design’ and so it was helpful to be able to point to something that I liked and then have the language partner understand my meaning and speak for me to the vendor.

Clothes for sale at Dordoi, hanging from racks, some with advertised prices but most without. That means that you have to ask the vendor for a price and they can tell you whatever price they think you are gullible to fall for. You can see the sky peeking through the center of the aisle. Anything that you could ever possibly need is probably sold somewhere in Dordoi Bazaar.

However, when I felt awkward that they were going to so much trouble to find a vest that fit all my criteria, I found myself at a loss as to how to tactfully tell them that I wanted to give up on buying anything and just wander around the bazaar. One of the language partners mumbled so that I could barely understand her and the other was very quiet and difficult to talk to. So, in the end I ended up buying a vest that I didn’t really want and then going home because I was too awkward to tell them that I just wanted to wander around. Granted, that probably could have happened even if I was with native English speakers in America–I trust myself to be that awkward–but the language barrier made it just a little to hard and awkward for me to force myself to deal with it.

Most stores consist of two shipping containers: the one at ground level serves as the store, and the one above serves as a storage area. Here you can see some people that somehow got into the storage container above the store. Of course, the different areas of the bazaar differ in set-up.

But they got me a good price on the vest, which was cool. Even though I didn’t ask them to bargain for me, they did it automatically. They made sad faces and acted like the vest wasn’t the best thing ever and got the vendor to lower the price a few hundred som (68 som = 1 dollar). I guess to the Kyrgyz it is so obvious that you need to bargain that they did it for me without even asking. For me, the hardest part of bargaining is not the language barrier, it’s the cultural difference: it seems to me to be very rude to ask for a lower price, as though I wasn’t happy with the product and wanted to hurt the seller financially. So the real challenge in getting a bargain was making myself think like a Kyrgyz, not just speaking like one. And, of course, the bargaining took place in Kyrgyz, not Russian.

Open air aisle without a roof. More clothes. We’d been walking for at least 15 minutes at this point and — still clothes.

I have to point out that it always surprises me whenever I see the people around me switching so smoothly between Russian and Kyrgyz. About 50% of the people in Kyrgyzstan speak Russian, and almost everyone that lives in Bishkek speaks both Russian and Kyrgyz. Russian is taught in all the schools in Bishkek, and most native Kyrgyz speak Kyrgyz at home. On peer tutor told me that the Kyrgyz speak Russian more accurately than native Russians do because they take classes on Russian throughout their school career. All university classes are taught in Russian. In America I’ve met almost no bilinguals, and the ones that I have usually only speak English around me. Here, the bilingual Kyrgyz switch between a language that I half-understand to a language that I don’t understand at all, and it’s both interesting and intimidating. It’s also frustrating, since it means that I sometimes can’t practice my Russian language skills because the people I’m listening to have switched into Kyrgyz. For instance, the bargaining for the price of the vest took place in very quick Kyrgyz, and then they told me the new price in Russian. Therefore, I wasn’t able to practice my own Russian language skills, either in speaking or listening. But, I suppose when it comes to money and getting a good deal, it’s best to do it in the preferred language of commerce and lay aside educational concerns for a minute. Anyway, I was able to practice a lot of my clothing and buying/selling vocabulary, and I certainly practiced my numbers a lot!

The trolleybus that my friends and I rode to Dordoi broke down right after we got off, but after two minutes the driver had reattached the trolley poles to the wires running above the street and then headed off. Fun trolleybus facts: Trolleybuses were introduced to Bishkek during the Soviet Era as part of industrialization. Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Dayton are the only cities in the US where trolleybus systems are currently in operation.

A few weeks later I went to Dordoi Bazaar again, this time with two different language partners that spoke very clearly and were social and open. The experience was much better this time, as I was able to explain that, while I wanted to buy some new sneakers, I also just wanted to wander around. There was an entire aisle at least several hundred feet long full of shoe vendors. They asked me what my budget was and I told them 2000 som. We wandered into a few ‘stores’, tried on some shoes, asked prices, and then finally bought a pair of sneakers. Again, the language partners bargained for me, this time loudly saying something in Kyrgyz that I assume was something like, “Please, baike, 2000 som!” At least, I heard ‘baike‘ (байке) a lot, which is the Kyrgyz equivalent for ‘mister’.

Fruits and vegetables section. The place was full of bees. The Kyrgyz don’t seem to mind bugs and flies as much as we Americans do.
Still in the fruits and vegetables section. These are piles of nuts and dried fruit. This is also how these items are sold in ‘regular’ stores in the city. Pasta, rice, and sugar are also often sold in bulk like this!

After that we wandered the aisles and stores. They took me to the food section, an ‘everything for 50 som’ store, and the clothing section. Then we wandered around a bit more because we couldn’t find the marshrutkas (public vans) that would take us home. Both of the language partners were quite familiar with the layout of Dordoi. One said that she didn’t like it because it was so large and busy. However, to me it seemed strange that the high-priced malls could stay in business when the bazaars sold the same items for a third of the price. They told me that its because the stores are quieter, you can browse at your leisure, they have the newest styles, and you can be sure of the quality of the items that you are buying. I suppose that there’s also economic and even moral implications to shopping at the bazaar: you are supporting local commerce, but also work-shop labor in China, since most of the items sold in the bazaar are so cheap because they come from China.

Another aisle. The woman with the cart coming down the aisle is selling garlic. Sadly I wasn’t quick enough to photograph the people selling more delicious items or anyone pulling a heavy load.

Anyway, overall it was an amazing experience. I was able to chat with the language partners, read the signs, understand the prices, and speak with the vendors if I wanted to. And, of course, buy something nice for a good price. I also learned a few new words in Kyrgyz, such as ‘жол‘ (jol) which means ‘road’ and is what the men pulling carts full of goods yell as they run through the narrow aisles of the bazaar, since the carts are so heavy that they can’t possibly stop. I was also able to solidify food vocabulary, such as the names of different fruits, and also learned the words for several different kinds of traditional Kyrgyz snacks which people sold from carts in the aisles, such as samsi, kurut, and nan.

View of the inside of the marshrutka which we took to get back to Bishkek. Usually, marshrutkas are stuffed full of people standing in the aisles and by the front door, so it was nice to be able to sit for once.

If you are ever in Central Asia, be sure to visit a bazaar! If you’re in a former Soviet country then you will be able to use the vocabulary below to help you get a good price!

General shopping phrases:

  • How much does it cost?
    • Сколько стоит (это)? – Skolka stoit (eta)? (with your voice raised on the first ‘o’ in ‘skolka‘)
    • The ‘это‘ (eta) is optional, and if included, accompanied by you pointing at the item in question. You can also point without using this word, or even just say Сколько?’ (Skolka), as the rest of the sentence is implied by the situation. You can also replace это‘ (eta) with the name of the item if you know it in Russian (remember, it’s in accusative case!))
  • Tell me, please
    • Скажите мне, пожалуйста, – Skazhitye mnye, pazhaluista (the ‘zh’ is pronounced like the ‘s’ in ‘pleasure’)
  • Excuse me, please
    • Извините, пожалуйста – Izvinitye, pozhaluista

The most important phrase:

  • Make me a sale, please.
    • Сделаете мне скидку, пожалуйста. – Sdelayetye mnye skidky pozhaluista.
    • After this, they might offer a new price or ask you to name your own new price. My Kyrgyz friends recommended suggesting 75% of the original price.
  • How expensive!
    • Как дорого! – Kak doraga!
    • Usually, you can get an item for 75% of the original price. I was able to get a 1500 som dress ($22.50) for 1200 som ($18) (20% less), an 800 som ($12) vest for 600 som ($9) (25% less), and 2400 ($36) sneakers for 2000 ($30) (16% less). If you have actual bargaining skills, you can probably get an even better price!

After the sale:

  • Thank you
    • Спасибо вам– Spasiba vam

Kyrgyzstan-only vocabulary:

  • Miss/Missus (literally: older sister)
    • эже – eje (with a hard ‘j’ like in ‘jar’)
  • Mister (literally: older brother)
    • байке – baike
  • Thank you
    • РахмeтRakhmet (the ‘kh’ is pronounced like the ‘ch’ in ‘Bach’ or ‘loch’)
After all that talking and walking in the Central Asian summer heat, it’s important to get something to drink! Throughout the bazaar sit vendors selling drinks out of large coolers; you also see vendors like this all over Bishkek. A small cup usually costs 10 som (15 cents) and a large cup costs 20 som (30 cents). Be careful, though, the popular traditional drinks that these vendors often sell are fermented and rather bitter: an acquired taste that I have not acquired.

Views of America from the Other Side of the World

The city of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (where I am living right now) is located in the timezone exactly 12 hours ahead of the Mountain Time Zone in America; Kyrgyzstan is literally on the other side of the world from America! Being so far from America, it was interesting to see how much and also how little American culture effects Kyrgyz culture, and what native Kyrgyz people think about America.

Kyrgyzstan is located on the Silk Road and therefore its history ties it closely to China as well as Turkey — the Near and the Far East. My host family religiously watches a Turkish drama, and many of the college students that I’ve met here study either Chinese or Korean, even the ones that are working as our conversation partners. English doesn’t seem high on their list of languages to learn, although it is on their list and many know basic English phrases. We Americans always hear about how immigrants come to America because it is a land of opportunity, but Kyrgyz people would rather move to China, Korea, Turkey, or Russia. Of course, that is not to say that people in Kyrgyzstan do not have any opinions on America, but it was interesting to be in a place where America was not a big deal. In order to learn more about America, I engaged two of my Kyrgyz friends in conversations on America, and then one of my host family’s relatives brought up America himself and we talked on that subject. What I learned is related below.

An aisle in Dordoy Bazaar, one of the open-air bazaars through which Silk Road commerce continues from China to the Near East and West, and may or may not be the topic of my next blog post.

America: The Land of Media

The first conversation that I had was with a young Kyrgyz man who enjoys anime and Korean dramas, as well as American TV shows and American music. He is interested in how there is so much variety and difference in America, exemplified by the different states. His favorite thing about America is Hollywood, he said, because he loves American movies.

Bishkek Park mall, the hip place to hang out with your friends. Although not many signs are visible from this picture, believe me, almost all of the stores in Bishkek Park mall are European or Turkish with names and signs in the Latin Alphabet. Also, coincidentally, Bishkek Park was the location of this conversation.

Speaking with him was not difficult because he spoke clearly and did not mumble, as many Kyrgyz and Russian speakers are prone to. Also, conversing about America is simple because there are many loan words in Russian from English that relate to the media, which was the main subject of our conversation (example: фильм = film = film). One thing that was surprisingly hard was understanding the names of the TV shows and movies that he had watched: either the title was completely different in Russian, was directly translated from Russian into English, or the English title was spoken with such a thick Russian accent that I had trouble making it out. The everyday vocabulary that we learn in class does not often include the sorts of words that make up movie and TV show titles (example: “The Avengers” = “Мстители” (Mstiteli)), and the complex and ambiguous meaning of a title is also difficult to understand in translation (for example: “Ocean’s 8” becomes “Eight Friends of Ocean” = Восемь подруг Оушена (Vosem’ podrug Oshyena)). To get around this issue, he would list off the names of the main characters in that show and then I would just have to decipher his accent.

The entire graphic novel section in a large Kyrgyz bookstore: American graphic novels and Japanese manga. Of course, the normal book section included your usual European and American classics, new books from around the world, as well as Russian classics and an entire section for Chinghiz Aitmatov, Kyrgyzstan’s own beloved Kyrgyz writer.

America: The Land of Freedom

The second conversation focused more on the freedom in America, but not so much political freedom as social freedom, especially freedom from parents. She focused on how, in America, one is free to choose one’s own path, separate from the desires of their parents, whereas in Kyrgyzstan one is expected to obey one’s parents and parents are very involved in their children’s lives even after their children become adults. According to her, Americans are more free to choose their own path because they have such a wide variety of universities they can be accepted into and a wide choice of programs within that university to pick from, whereas in Kyrgyzstan there are only a handful of universities with only a few majors (specialties).

The International University of Kyrgyzstan with advertisement banners.

She also spoke about how people in America are more open, about their beliefs, opinions, emotions, and in their clothing style. She said that Americans are not shy. By the way, although the Kyrgyz dress in Western clothing styles, it is almost equally divided between European styles and Korean styles: their “American clothing style” is filtered through Europe and Korea before coming to their stores. Only older men and women still dress traditionally, and then only occasionally.

This conversation was both easier and harder than the conversation with the young Kyrgyz man. I understood less of the vocabulary that she was using, but she also knew more English. Therefore, when the conversation came to a halt over my inability to understand a certain word, she could give the English translation and then continue on in Russian. For example, I did not understand the word that she used to mean ‘not shy’ when she said that Americans are ‘not shy’, so she said to me, “Not shy.” I’ve noticed that it’s often hard for me to learn new vocabulary when it is used in an interesting conversation: I do not remember the word that she used to mean ‘not shy’ even though she used it several times in the conversation and, at that time, I was able to recognize it. It is as though I learned to recognize it but not to use it myself. Now, I try to make a point of using a new word myself in the same conversation that I learned it in in order to improve my retention. I have also noticed that I have become better at making educated guesses from context clues. In this conversation, I would often ask her to repeat what she said in a different way so that I could try to understand it, and at that time I would guess what she meant and then check it against her repeated phrase. My guess as often right, but it was also wrong often enough to make it unreliable to guess.

America: The Land of Riches

The last conversation that I had was the most interesting. It was with a male relative of my host family who has two college-age children. He didn’t directly bring up the topic of America, but instead began talking about money, asking questions such as: How much do people usually make per month in America? and How much does a kilogram of mutton cost? This forced me to exercise my number skills; doing math in a different language is surprisingly difficult, and it is challenging to listen in Russian, do math in my head in English, and then reply in Russian. And then there is also the worry that, for example, I’ll accidentally say “fifty” (пятьдесять – рitdesyat) instead of “fifteen” (пятнадцать – pitnadtsat) because, like in English, the words sound very similar. However, the greatest challenge was that I simply did not know how much the average American earned in a month or how much a kilogram of mutton costs in America, so I had to look them up, which took time and made the conversation a bit awkward. Also, in class and in previous conversations, I usually only used numbers for time and dates, or the cost of items, which usually did not get over a few thousand, so talking in terms of tens and hundreds of thousands was new and confusing territory. For example, once I misunderstood ‘140,000’ (сто сорак тысяч – sto sorak tysich) as ‘14,000’ (четырнадцать тысяч – chetyrnadtsat’ tysich) which is silly because the two numbers sound very different — my misunderstanding was not that I misheard him but that I mistranslated the number of zeroes in my head. To sum it up: talking about numbers in a foreign language is very hard. Other than the numbers, though, the conversation gave me the opportunity to utilize the vocabulary that I had just learned about jobs: words for salary, employer, duties, quality, and so on.

A bus stop with a yellow trolleybus and a grey marshrutka (public transport van), which are the only modes of public transportation in Bishkek. Taxis are also often utilized, especially after dark, when the trolleybuses and marshrutkas stop running.

The most interesting part of the conversation, though, was what he thought about America. Seeming to ignore the fact that the cost of living in America is expensive, he was enthralled by the relatively high pay in America (the average monthly salary in Bishkek is about $275, and it’s even lower in all but one of the other regions of Kyrgyzstan). He told me that he wants to move to America and work there for a few years and then move back home. I asked him what he works as and he replied that now he works as an economist, but in America he will work as a driver (водитель – voditel), and as he said that he made the motion of someone turning a steering wheel, helping me to learn a new word. It seemed sad to me that someone with a specialized job in his own country would want to move to America to work as a taxi driver, since by American standards that is a very low-class job. (According to a quick google search, the average entry-level cab driver in America makes $2750 a month — 10 times the average monthly salary in Kyrgyzstan!) The only thing stopping him from moving to America is that he doesn’t know English.

“I was stolen”: Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan Part II

“I was stolen”

While casually conversing with Nuraida (Nuraida is not her real name), a married Kyrgyz acquaintance of mine, I brought up how some of the other students were joking about bride kidnapping and it bothered me. I Google-translated the word for ‘bride kidnapping’ and showed it to her on my phone (by the way, it’s not correct on Google translate). Nuraida immediately began laughing and, with the expression of someone telling you about something that had been bad in the past but in retrospect seems lighthearted and funny, told me that she had been stolen (kidnapped).

Immediately afterwards, Nuraida said that, if she had never been kidnapped, she never would have gotten married and had a family because she had been so focused on her work. Her parents and the parents of her husband worked together. Like someone relating a joke, she told me that they had their first meeting, then the next meeting was when he came to visit her at her house, and then their third meeting was when she was kidnapped. The joke would be that he kidnapped her after only meeting her twice.

For the most part, Nuriada was lighthearted and cheerful throughout the conversation. When we discussed the possible problems of bride kidnapping, she would smile nervously and knock on wood. A few times a serious look overcame her face, such as when I asked her to recall how she felt when she was first kidnapped, but overall she was very cheerful. When she told me that she wouldn’t allow her son to kidnap a bride, he happened to be in the next room over and she called to him and told him that it was forbidden and he responded with the same “Of course, Mom,” voice that teenagers always use when their parents give them advice for the future. Her lighthearted attitude was free from any sign of regret, anger, or unease.

Nuraida even somewhat defended the practice of bride kidnapping. That really helped me to distinguish what is intrinsically wrong about bride kidnapping and what seems wrong only from an American perspective. She told me that her sister, whom I had met just the day before, had been bride kidnapped, and at that moment I recalled how I had a friendly conversation with her and her husband, both of whom seemed very happy and friendly, and whose son is absolutely adorable. She pointed out that she, as well as two of her sisters and a friend of hers that all had been bride kidnapped, are now living happily and have many children. She said that, of course it doesn’t always end happily, and sometimes the wife and husband fight and it ends in divorce, but marriages of love can end the same way. It’s about a 50:50 ratio of happy marriages to unhappy marriages from bride kidnapping, she told me. Bride kidnapping and free love can both end in difference and divorce, she pointed out, and then knocked on wood.

A small town in the countryside of Kyrgyzstan. This photo was taken near Ala Archa, approximately 40km south of the capital city, Bishkek.

I asked Nuraida to relate to me what happened after she was bride kidnapped. She didn’t go into details, but she told me that at first she was very unhappy. But there was nothing that she could do about it. “I did not love him, but what could I do?” Most Kyrgyz consider being bride kidnapped to be like a first kind of marriage, and Nuraida told me that, if she had refused to marry him and returned home, then people would say that she had already been married and she would have been shamed. I asked her if she loved her husband and she laughed and said that it took a long while, but, yes, she came to love her husband. She decided to marry him and wrote a letter to her mother saying that she was alright and that she was getting married, and they were wed a month after the kidnapping took place. Apparently it is tradition for the kidnapped bride to write such a letter to let her parents know that she is okay; if no such letter is sent, it means that she is not okay. At some point in the conversation she made a point of saying that her husband is very peaceful and polite, which, as far as I could tell (I had not interacted with him much) was true. I believe that she did this to show that not all bride kidnappers are the wild, uncivilized savages that the media portrays them as.

Now they are in their forties, but Nuraida was 27 and he was 28 when she was kidnapped and they married. She had finished her eight years of study to become a doctor and was already working as a doctor. She still works as a doctor. She pointed out she was quite old to get married by Krygyz standards: in Kyrgystan women get married usually before 23 and men before 25. She said that it is rare for them to get married in their teens, which conflicts with what I learned in later conversations on the subject, where girls as young as 18 and even 16 are kidnapped.

I asked Nuraida what she would do if any of her daughters, whom I had also met, were bride kidnapped and, after nervously knocking on wood, she said that that would not happened because they live in the city, and that they would have to make their own decision about what to do: to agree to marriage or to call the police to rescue them (by the way, her husband was a policeman when he kidnapped her). She said that the kidnapped woman has the resources to be able to call the police to rescue her–the woman has choices. She said that, if her daughter wanted to get married to someone and she (her mother) disapproved, then her daughter could let herself be ‘kidnapped’ by her lover in order to be able to marry him.

View of the countryside of Kyrgyzstan from the top of Burana tower in Chuy Valley.

Nuraida told me not to worry about being bride kidnapped because only native Kyrgyz are kidnapped and then only in the villages, not in the city. And since I resemble a Kyrgyz, she advised me that, if while I was at Issyk-Kul, in the country outside of the big city, and began to be bride kidnapped, I should start yelling in English and then they will realize that I am a foreigner and stop kidnapping me. Nuraida laughed about that and I laughed too, because it seemed so ridiculous, like a comedy: the men start kidnapping the girl and then realize that she’s not the right kind of girl so they put her back and everything is alright.

But at the end of the conversation, a pensive look came into her eyes and Nuraida said that bride kidnapping isn’t right. “Такая кража — неправильная” (‘takaya krazha — nepravil’haya’ – this kind of theft (kidnapping) is wrong) But then she smiled and pointed out that she has four children and a happy family. However traumatic the experience might have been for her, and it seemed like it had been rather traumatic, she had come to peace with it.

The conversation unsettled me, but I couldn’t tell if it was because I found it sad to see a woman justifying a wrong done to her in the past, or because it challenged so much of what I assumed about love. Both Nuraida and I agree that bride kidnapping is wrong and do not wish it to happen to anyone. But she pointed out that it isn’t all bad: many happy families come out of it, and many unhappy families come out of marriages of love. I guess if the end result on the family is what matters, then the method by which the marriage is arranged is not of great importance. Free love is a big deal in America, but if the purpose of a marriage is to remain together and create a happy family, then free love is not of great importance because it is not required for such a marriage to be created. Many marriages in both America and Kyrgyzstan end in divorce.

View of the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, from the road when approaching from the east. Farmland, mountains, and city pollution.


In Kyrgyz culture, the measure of a good and successful life is having a good family with many children. Therefore, Nuraida, measuring her life by the measure of her culture, honestly believes that she has a good life, regardless of the trauma of her past. She also believes that, if she had not been kidnapped, then she would not have gotten married and had a family, meaning that her life would not have been successful and happy. She sees her kidnapping as something bad that ended in good.

In American culture, choice and freedom are first and foremost. Therefore, it is very difficult for an American like me, or like the reader, to imagine how one could come to terms with having such an important choice taken away from them. All of the people that I spoke with, as well as I, agreed that bride kidnapping is a horrible wrong and should not happen. However, Nuraida was not going to let that define her life. She looks at her children and sees that she has a good life and is happy. Is it Stockholm syndrome? Is it just a coping mechanism? I don’t know. But I have met her children and they are beautiful and that she is a wonderful person and it seems as though she and her husband do love each other.

The difference of emphasis on freedom and family also helps to explain the responses of the other people that I spoke with. The man that I spoke with placed the wrongness of bride kidnapping in the fact that it is ‘stupid’ and ‘nonsensical,’ not that it violated women’s rights. If family comes first, then marrying someone with whom you have a low chance of creating a happy family is terribly wrong and irresponsible. The violation of the right of choice of the woman is also a problem, but secondary to that violation of the importance of family. The younger two women that I spoke with had more progressive views of the situation. One was furious that her relative was stolen and stated that she would walk out if she was ever kidnapped. However, she also very carefully explained to me why women marry their kidnappers: because they are afraid that they will never be able to get married otherwise. This shows that those women place marriage and a future family above their own freedom of choice and desire for free love. Of course, the choice is unjust and motivated by fear and many women do not choose to stay with their kidnapper. It seems like misogyny to refuse to marry a woman that has been kidnapped before and to place family above the individual rights of the woman. The fact that many kidnapped women did choose to stay with their kidnapper shows that marriage and family are more important to the Kyrgyz than freedom, for better or worse.

Language-wise, I learned a lot about the passive construction from these conversations. Where, in English, I must say, “someone kidnapped her” in Russian I can simply say “her kidnapped” (this is equivalent in meaning to the English construction “she was kidnapped”). This construction, in my opinion, makes the ‘kidnapper’ even more mysterious because he does not have a noun in the sentence referring to him. The woman is the victim of some mysterious force, revealed only in the fact that ‘kidnapped’ is in the masculine past-tense. I also found myself at an impasse regarding my low conversational skills. While I was able to ask the simple questions that I wanted to ask, I did not know how to ask them tactfully, and that made me feel awkward while conversing with them. However, all of the people that I spoke with spoke freely and did not seem to mind my direct questions.

Also, I was surprised to find that conversing on such a strange and unique topic required very little new vocabulary. All of the conversations used the usual vocabulary regarding family, necessity, motion, and theft. As I stated before, the Kyrgyz do not use the word for ‘abduction’ or ‘kidnapping’ ( похищение – pokhischeniye) when discussing bride kidnapping; they use the word for ‘to steal’ (украсть – ukrast’) and for ‘theft.’ (кража – krazha) (Google Translate and Wikipedia give ‘похищение невесты’ for ‘bride kidnapping’, so perhaps that is the technical term, but in Kyrgyzstan ‘кража невесты’ is used.)

Lastly, I am always afraid that I have misunderstood and misrepresented something that they have said. Understanding conversations relies heavily on utilizing context clues. However, when dealing with such a sensitive topic, assumptions can be dangerous. Also, it is difficult to utilize context clues in such a strange and unfamiliar topic. Several times, I thought that I understood what they told me, based off context clues, but when I repeated back to them what I thought that they meant, they corrected me and showed that they meant something completely different, hinging perhaps on a word or grammatical construction that was unfamiliar to me.

Theft of the Bride: Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan Part I

Kyrgyzstan is one of only a few countries in which bride kidnapping is practiced. In Russian, the practice is called ‘кража невести’ (krazha nevesti), which literally means ‘theft of the bride.’ The following are summaries of five semi-casual conversations that I conducted with Kyrgyz natives on the topic of bride kidnapping.

I had heard about and read up on bride kidnapping before coming to Kyrgyzstan, but had been avoiding the topic because it made me uncomfortable. However, after hearing some of the other American students in my program discuss the topic, my interest was piqued and I decided to do my own research and converse with some native Kyrgyz people on the topic. The following is the result of my conversations, along with a few casual conversations with other college-age Kyrgyz young people. It completely changed my understanding of bride kidnapping to hear personal accounts of the practice from Kyrgyz natives. It was difficult to converse face-to-face in Russian, since I am more confident in my reading skills than in my conversation skills, but because of that I was able to hear and understand these narratives firsthand instead of through an article that someone else had written.


If you look up ‘Kyrgyzstan’ on Google or Youtube, chances are that one of the first results will be a video that went viral a few years ago (now it has 6.8 million views) depicting groups of men grabbing women off of the streets and forcing them into cars. That action is part of the practice of bride kidnapping, a practice with a very long history in Kyrgyzstan but which has been making news in the country in recent years.

The explanation of bride kidnapping is that it began as a way for lovers to get married in a society where going against one’s parents’ wishes was forbidden. The woman and the man both agreed to the action, and the ‘kidnapping’ was only necessary because the woman’s parents would not allow the marriage otherwise. However, since the Soviet era, and especially afterwards, the practice has become horribly twisted. It is common now for a woman to be kidnapped without her consent, and sometimes she has never even met the man who is kidnapping her. But bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, or “кража невести” (krazha nevesti – literally “theft of the bride”) is more complicated than just kidnapping. The woman is grabbed off the streets by a group of the kidnapper’s friends and taken to the kidnapper’s house. There, she is locked in a room with the kidnapper’s female relatives who try to put a white scarf on her head and coerce her to agree to the marriage. If the white scarf is placed on her head, then they consider that she has agreed to the marriage and soon after the couple is publicly and officially married. It is not a completely barbaric practice. However, some bride kidnappings do involve rape and some even end with the kidnapped woman ending her own life.

This is probably the sketchiest house that I’ve seen in Kyrgyzstan. I put it here to show how poor some parts of rural Kyrgyzstan are. This photo was taken at Aalam Ordo in the Tong region by the shore of Lake Issyk-Kyl.

“She was stolen”

I told two female Kyrgyz acquaintances about my interest in learning more about bride kidnapping, which lead to two interesting conversations. Both wholeheartedly condemned the practice. The first, who was married, pointed out that the kidnapped woman has no choice and is often in her late teens. The woman is without any university education, leaving her completely dependent on her new husband afterward. She said that in the villages there is an enormous stigma after a woman has been kidnapped, so that she will be shamed for the rest of her life if she does not agree to marry the man. She said that regardless of how the girl cries, screams, and fights, if the mother of the kidnapper can place a white scarf on her head, then she is considered married, and once she spends one night in her kidnapper’s house, she will not be considered for marriage by any other man anymore.

Both acquaintances told me about a recent event that was all over the news a few months ago in Kyrgyzstan, in which a 20-year-old woman was killed by her kidnapper. She was a university student in Bishkek, but her family lived in a village. She had been kidnapped by this man before but had managed to escape. When she went to visit her family again for a holiday, he kidnapped her again. Her parents called the police and the police intervened and they were both taken to the police station. In the police station, he stabbed her to death with a knife. And he didn’t just kill her, he also defaced her body, carving up her chest with his initial and the initial of her fiancé, as well as a large cross. How did he get the knife? How was he able to kill her and carve her up in the police station? What kept the police from arriving in time to save her? And no investigation has been made into how this was possible.

Apparently, even when parents call the police asking them to rescue their daughter, the police either ignore the request, telling the families to solve it among themselves, or retrieve the girl but let off the kidnapper. The police in Kyrgyzstan are easily bribed. Often, the father has to gather a group of other male relatives and friends and go to the kidnapper’s house and forcefully take his daughter back; if he goes alone, the kidnappers friends will stop him from taking back his daughter. These happenings show that the government of Kyrgyzstan is not taking the problem of bride kidnapping seriously.

These two conversations were easy because the married woman was fluent in English and the other woman had studied in America, although her English was rusty. If there was something that I did not understand, they could explain it to me with hand motions, different vocabulary, or in English. In order to make sure that I understood my language partner correctly, I would repeat back to her in my own words what she told me, which also helped me to remember the material and practice my own Russian communication skills. I was surprised that she spoke about bride kidnapping so openly that she was willing to repeat herself and explain herself. At first I was apprehensive about talking about such a touchy subject, but it seems that in Kyrgyzstan it is a less controversial topic than it would be in the West.

Another photo of the Kyrgyz countryside. This photo was taken near Ala Archa, approximately 40km south of the capital city, Bishkek.

“My sister was stolen”

One night several of us students, together with some of our Kyrgyz friends, watched the soviet comedy “Кавказская пленница (‘Kavkazskaya Plennitsa’), ‘Kidnapping, Caucasian style’ (literally, ‘The Caucasian Captive’), which centers around a plot to force a young woman into marriage by kidnapping her and holding her hostage until she consents to the marriage. Despite the serious subject matter, it is a very lighthearted and funny comedy and I recommend watching it (the official version with English subtitles is available on Youtube for free.

After the movie, one of the Kyrgyz young women mentioned to the girl next to her that her sister had been kidnapped (note: the Russian word for ‘female cousin’ is ‘двоюродная сестра ’ (dvoyurodnaya sestra), and the Russian word for sister is ‘сестра’ (sestra); throughout the conversation she referred to the kidnapped bride as her ‘sister,’ but, given context clues, I assume that she used ‘sister’ as shorthand for ‘cousin’). She was 20 years old when she was kidnapped. The man who kidnapped her had only met her twice before. He kidnapped her and brought her back to his parent’s house, where his female relatives pressured the kidnapped girl into consenting to marry her kidnapper.

At this point, she paused to explain to me how this could happen. If a kidnapped woman leaves the house of her kidnapper after she has been kidnapped, it is taboo and she cannot get married in the future. That was how it was in the past; now, it is possible for the police or the woman’s family to rescue her and she can return to her life, but in the past, if a woman was kidnapped, she either married her kidnapper or never married. Faced with the possibility of never marrying, her sister caved in to the pressure and consented to marry her kidnapper. It’s been five years and they have two children. “Are they happy?” I asked. “Наверное (navernoye – probably),” she replied. “I have not asked her.”

She told me that when she learned that her sister had been kidnapped, she was furious (she used the Russian word ‘зла’, which means ‘angry’ but also ‘evil’ and ‘wicked’). When I asked her what she would do if she were kidnapped, she said that she would refuse to marry and leave, definitely. She is not afraid of the taboo. When I asked her about the capability of the police, she admitted that they often do not help, accepting bribes and trying to make the families solve it between themselves. If the woman’s family had enough men, they could go and take her back, but if they did not, and the police did not help, then there was not really anything that they could do. She left it at that.

This second conversation was both easier and harder than the first. It was harder because this woman more quickly and did not leave me as much time to ask questions. However, when I realized that I was not completely sure that I understood her narrative, I was able to ask her a second time and she patiently explained her story to me another time and this time I made sure to ask all the clarifying questions that I needed to.

After conducting the first three conversations and settling my thoughts on the uneasy subject matter, I considered how the conversations had helped my language skills. I was surprised at how little specialized vocabulary was needed to talk about the subject. For example, I do not know the Russian word for ‘to kidnap,’ but that did not matter because the Kyrgyz use the word ‘to steal’ when talking about bride kidnapping, and I had learned that word a while ago. Speaking about bride kidnapping allowed me to use words that I already knew in contexts that I would never have imagined using them before.

Sunset on lake Issyk-Kul, the vacation spot of choice for almost all Kyrgyz. According to one legend, the salty water of Lake Issyk-Kul comes from the tears of a girl whose parents forbade her to marry the man that she loved. This photo was taken at the shore of Lake Issyk Kul in Bar-Bulak village in the Tong region.

“My mother was stolen”

“This was during the time of the Soviet Union. My father served in the military near Moscow for two years. Soon after his returned home, he went on vacation with his friends to lake Issyk-Kyl. There, he saw a girl who caught his eye and he asked his friends about her. ‘She’s a local girl,’ they answered, ‘She’s good.’ And the next day he told his parents his plans and then kidnapped her. Soon after, they married. And now they are very happy. They had four children and I am the youngest. They love each other.”

That was the story that a 28-year-old Kyrgyz male acquaintance of mine told me when I asked him for his opinion on bride kidnapping. Overall, his stance seemed to be that bride kidnapping is not the big deal that people make it out to be. He said that the practice is downright stupid: why kidnap someone that you’ve just met and who doesn’t even like you? (Or he could have been saying that it’s ‘rude’ or ‘offensive’; the words for stupid (глупый – glupii) and rude (грубый – grubii) are very similar to me.) He also cleared up another question for me: when a man kidnaps a woman, he can call his friends to kidnap her for him, or he can kidnap her himself; both variations are practiced.

However, he approved of the practice when the two loved each other and mutually consented to the kidnapping. In Kyrgyzstan, honoring one’s parents is very important, and it is forbidden to go against one’s parents’ wishes regarding marriage. Therefore, if a woman’s parents do not consent to her marriage to a man, then the only way for them to be married is for the man to ‘kidnap’ the woman. He framed it as ‘going against the system,’ which is something that we really like in America. Interestingly, none of the younger women that I spoke with brought up this situation, focusing only on the incorrect practice of bride kidnapping as it occurs today and not the original tradition. A 22-year-old man that I spoke with only told me about this original tradition, and then admitted that the tradition became twisted, but then denied that it is a problem now. It doesn’t happen anymore, he said.

When I asked him (the 28-year-old) about whether or not bride kidnapping is ‘right,’ he replied that, maybe it was right in the past, but it is no longer right. This is because it is forbidden now; therefore it is wrong. In the past, people were more religious and followed the traditional culture more closely. Women did not have a say and were under the control of the men in their lives, and bride kidnapping was an extension of that. Also, he pointed out that, traditionally, bride kidnapping was only practiced in those situations when the bride’s parents disapproved of the marriage, and never happened between people who did not know each other or did not both consent. Kidnapping a bride without her consent is stupid, he explained, because you am going to live with her for the rest of your life, so why would you kidnap someone that did not love you or even know you? (Yes, sometimes the conversation became interesting as we used “I” and “you” to refer to a stand-in theoretical kidnapper and kidnapped person.)

In response to the question of whether or not bride kidnapping is a big problem in Kyrgyzstan, he said that it is not. Becoming a bit impassioned, he said that the western media loves to find something strange and make a big deal about it, painting Kyrgyzstan in a bad light just to get a good story. And bride kidnapping does make a very interesting story. But it is not as though every bride in Kyrgyzstan is kidnapped against her consent (as we talked a wedding cortege passed by and he pointed to the bride and said, “Look, do you think that she was kidnapped? No!”). There are much bigger problems in Kyrgyzstan that deserve more attention, he said. Regarding the police, he responded that often they can be bribed by the kidnapper’s parents (the police bribery problem is one that extends beyond bride kidnapping) and that it is difficult for the police to know how to solve the situation. They do not know if the bride consented or not, nor do they know if the man and woman know each other and can solve it between themselves without police intervention.

The previous conversations were all the result of a first, spontaneous conversation, which I believe deserves it’s own blog post, which I will post immediately after this one. During that initial conversation, I made sure to remember all of the words which I was not sure of and look them up. This helped me to create a list of words related to bride kidnapping so that the next conversations could be conducted more easily. Above all, that first conversation showed me that cultural problems in a foreign country are not something that is foreign to the people living there. It seemed to me that bride kidnapping was something that happened to nameless, faceless, Kyrgyz women, something that I could blissfully ignore as a foreigner. But once that bride was given a name and a face and I looked inter her eyes, I realized that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them,’ no progressive Americans and backwards Kyrgyz, only people.

Building a Yurt in Ten Simple Steps

Last weekend, I took a trip via my language program to the famous lake Issyk-Kul and there learned about yurts, the traditional houses of the Kyrgyz people. Yurts (Russian: юрта – ‘yurta’; Kyrgyz: боз үйү ‘boz uiu’) are nomadic dwellings that are portable: they can be built in under an hour and taken down in half that time. Yurts come in different sizes: some can fit a hundred people inside and others, such as the one that I helped to build, can house three or four people comfortably. The yurt which I built with the other American students and our Kyrgyz peer tutors required 30 minutes to build and 15 minutes to take down.We built the yurt at Kyr-Tash, near lake Issyk-Kul.

While we were building the yurt, I asked the owners of the yurt, who live at the base of the Tien Shan mountains every summer in their own yurt, about the construction process. The conversation was rather difficult, as the names for the pieces of the yurt are in Kyrgyz. It was interesting to observe how the bilingual, native Kyrgyz speakers mixed the two languages (Russian and Kyrgyz). However, at the same time, understanding the instructions was extremely easy, as many of the instructions were non-verbal: for example, someone hands you a piece of wood and points to where it goes. Using context clues helped me understand a lot of the more complex verbal instructions and I was able to practice my vocabulary for building, receiving, and giving and to observe colloquial norms for quick commands and requests.

For this blog post, I decided to write a step-by-step process of how to build a yurt, with pictures! This is not a thorough instruction manual on how to build a yurt, as some minor steps have been left out, so please do not use it to try to build your own yurt without help! Where I knew the original Kyrgyz name of the piece, I wrote the name in parenthesis.

Building a Yurt in Ten Simple Steps:

The ansmwer is 'Yes'!
Are you ready to build a yurt? As a portable dwelling, all of the pieces requires to build a yurt are relatively small and portable.

1. Put up the kerege walls (кереге), securing them with tension bands called ‘ormok.

The kerege are collapsible and unfold into a straight lattice-like wall. They must be carefully bent into a circular shape.

2. Attach the door frame, called the ‘tayak bosogo‘, (таяк босого) with ormok.

Ormok come in different widths and lengths depending on their purpose. Thin ormok are used to secure the doorframe to the kerege and the two kerege to each other.

3. Connect the tunduk (түндүк) to the walls by placing roofbeams called ook (ууктар) into slots in the tunduk and then tying the other end of the ook to the kerege. Note: this step requires at least five people: one to hold up the tunduk and four to secure four (one each) ook to the tunduk and kerege so that the tunduk will stay aloft while the other ook are secured. Note: appreciate the chamgarak (чамгарак), the cross-beams in the tunduk that give the entire structure support and are featured on the flag of Kyrgyzstan.

The ook are placed into square slots in the tunduk. Two ook are used to hold the tunduk in place while the ook are secured.
The ook are tied to the kerege. Also observe the thick ormok securing the kerege.
Skipping ahead a few steps, here is the chamgarak of the finished yurt: the six crossed beams in the center of the tunduk in the center of the yurt: the center of it all!

4. Wrap two woven reed mats called ‘chiaround the kerege and secure with ormok.

The two chi are wrapped around the kerege and secured with string.

5. Secure the ook with ormok.

The ormok are wrapped around each ook and around the entire structure.

6. Use one of the remaining ook to attach the felt door, called the ‘tunduk zhabuu’ (түндүк жабуу) to the structure, above the door frame.

The ook is used to wrap a string over the tunduk and then a person inside pulls the string down to pull up the felt door.

7. Wrap two felt blankets called tuurduk‘ (туурдук) around the kerege to create waterproof, insulating walls. Secure with ormok.

Note the tunduk zhabuu on the left and the red tassels of a decorative piece wrapped around the structure before the tuurduk are added.

8. Cover the ook with two large felt blankets called ‘uzuk’ (үзүк) to create the waterproof, insulating roof. Secure with ormok. Wrap a final ormok around the entire structure.

Each uzuk covers half of the roof. The ormok of the first uzuk are decorated.
The second uzuk is placed over the ook. The ormok are secured cross-wise. A final ormok is wrapped around the entire structure to secure the tuurduk. Incidentally, this is also the image of the final product. Tada!

9. Place felt shydrak mats on the ground to create the floor of the yurt, hang ayak kap pouches on the walls to serve as shelves and drawers, and place other necessities and comforts inside the yurt.

Observe the shydrak on the ground and the black-and-gold ayak kap hanging on the walls, as well as the other decorations and utilities. There is no furniture in a traditional yurt!

10. Enjoy life as the nomadic Kyrgyz did!

A close up of the weave of the ormok used to secure the structure. Also observe the red and green tassels placed on the kerege for decoration.

Note: when taking down the yurt: remove every other ook and use two of those ook to hold up the tunduk until all of the ook are removed, so that the tunduk does not become unstable and fall, damaging the tunduk and ook and potentially hurting someone!


The construction and decoration of the yurt is rich with symbolism and tradition. For example, each of the felt blankets and rugs is decorated with a pattern that represents a real-life item which in turn symbolizes an abstract concept. For instance, a common design represents rams’ horns, which symbolize wealth. Additionally, the yurt is divided by gender: males and females assemble different parts of the yurt and the interior of the yurt is divided into the women’s half (the right side) and the men’s half (the left side) with the middle acting as a common area for eating, drinking tea, and socializing.

Before Soviet times, during the warmer months, the nomadic Kyrgyz would disassemble, travel, and then reassemble their yurts many times. They would remain in one place for the cold winter months, and then disassemble their yurt and move again. During the Soviet era, many Kyrgyz moved to the cities and abandoned the nomadic way of life and the yurt along with it. In the modern day, however, yurt-building has been revived and many people purchase and live in yurts, some to vacation and some as a way of life, returning to the traditional way of life of the Kyrgyz people.

Kyrgyz Hospitality

After living in Kyrgyzstan for two weeks, I can’t yet say that I am an expert on Kyrgyz culture, but I can say a thing or two about their guest culture. The Kyrgyz, unlike their cold, antisocial Russian neighbors to the north, are more than happy to receive guests. In fact, receiving a guest is considered and honor. I learned this firsthand when I met my host family and through their everyday interactions with me. However, being treated nicely by your host family doesn’t say much — they’re supposed to feed you well and take care of you, right? But just today I experienced some real Kyrgyz hospitality: tea, food, conversation, and comfort from complete strangers.

The table set with appetizers when my host family’s grandparents came to visit.

Immediately after arriving at my homestay, my Kyrgyz host mom had me sit at the table and gave me a warm bowl of food. After insisting that I have a second serving and refilling my tea cup at least three times, she finally let me go to sleep. The first new Russian phrases that I learned while in Kyrgyzstan are: “кушаешь” (“kushayesh,” although they spoke so quickly that it sounds like “kushesh”) and “будешь чай” (“budesh chai”), which mean “eat” and “have tea”, respectively. These were the words with which my host family smothered me in hospitality, delicious Kyrgyz cuisine, bread, and relaxing tea. If I even walked into the room where they were eating or having a snack, they would immediately ask me, ” Kушаешь?” and offer me some bread or fruit before I could respond in either the affirmative or negative. Often, even if I said “Нет, спасибо” (“Nyet, spasibo” – “No, thank you”) they were undeterred: a minute or two later I would again hear:Чай будешь?” And it wasn’t just my host mother who treated me so hospitably: even my two host sisters, who are 17 and 13 years old, treated me like an honored guest. One second the 13-year-old would be making fun of her little brother or playing on her phone, and the next she would bring me some freshly washed apples and apricots, without my asking for them. The older sister, who doesn’t talk much, comes across as rather motherly when she asks me whether I’ve eaten yet and insists on serving me tea.

The teapot in which the tea brews. In another teapot is hot water. The brewed tea and hot water are combined in your teacup.

On the day of my arrival, they also cooked me a special meal of besh barmok, the national dish of Kyrgyzstan, which is always served to honored guests to celebrate them. Besh barmok, which means “five fingers” in Kyrgyz, is a dish consisting of stewed horse meat and freshly made wide, flat pasta and is garnished with onions and dill. The name of the dish refers to the method of eating the dish: with one’s hands, although my host family graciously let me partake of it with a spook and fork. I watched my host aunt make the pasta. First she rolled out a lump of dough into a large, flat circle about two feet in diameter and only a few millimeters thick. Then she folded it up and cut it into long, wide strips about two inches by eight inches. The pasta was cooked in the broth from the horse meat, which was very fatty. The dish was delicious, though somewhat salty. The horse meat tasted so much like beef that it wasn’t until they told me later that I learned that it was horse meat. They served it on a large platter with the meat placed in the middle, on top of a bed of pasta. They also placed a bowl of bread, and bowls stacked high with carefully arranged fruits on the table before me. I’ve learned that, in Kyrgyz cuisine, the presentation is just as intrinsic to the dish as it’s ingredients and method of preparation. My host sister’s aunt served me the besh barmok, pushing more and more food onto my plate until I thought that I would explode if I ate anymore. And then came fruit and cake…. Thankfully, they let me save the cake in the refrigerator until the next day. This cake, they informed me, was also a traditional Kyrgyz cake, called ‘kapriz.’ Kapriz is a moist, multilayered cake consisting of layers containing walnuts, raisins, and poppy seeds and is covered in creamy frosting.

Yurts — portable dwellings that the nomadic Kyrgyz used to live in before Soviet times, and in which I experienced true Kyrgyz hospitality for the first time.

But, of course, it wouldn’t mean much just to say that my host family treated me well. I am their honored guest, and, on top of that, they are being paid to feed and house me. My real experience with Kyrgyz hospitality was when complete strangers invited me to eat and drink with them. Through the program that I am in, we took a day trip to Ala Archa Gorge, a beautiful national park about an hour south of the capital city of Bishkek, where I am living. By the entrance to the various trails up the mountains, there stood two yurts, traditional Kyrgyz nomadic dwellings. Two of my friends and I were standing outside the yurts, admiring them, when a woman noticed us and invited us in. Eager to see the inside of a yurt as well as the outside, we accepted. Upon entering, we removed our shoes so as not to track mud on the beautiful carpets in the yurt. We were expecting to just walk around and then leave, but the people inside insisted on our sitting at their table. The table, which was only about a foot off the ground, was surrounded by cushions on which we sat ourselves down. My friend, who was not properly dressed for the unexpectedly cold weather, was given a blanket and all of us were given tea, even when we declined. A Kyrgyz man there that spoke Russian conversed with us as if we were his close friends. He asked us where we were from and told us about himself, his family, and why they were picnicking in the yurt at Ala Archa gorge. Just like my host family, they invited us to eat and drink as much as we wanted, even pushing the dishes closer to us to encourage us to eat. However, we ate only a little, not wanting to take advantage of their hospitality. And even when we tried to refuse the food, they insisted that we at least drink more tea, “Because it’s so cold outside!”

Inside the yurt that we visited at Ala Archa.

I had read about Kyrgyz hospitality and guest culture before coming to Kyrgyzstan, but was still surprised by it when I arrived. I expected my host family to treat me well, but was almost overwhelmed by their insistence that I eat and have tea almost continually. And I certainly did not expect random Kyrgyz people on an expensive vacation at one of the most popular vacation sites in Kyrgyzstan to notice us, invite us in, feed us, and tell us about their family.

I asked my host sister, who is 17, about Kyrgyz hospitality, and, although I am not quite sure that she understood my questions, thanks to my accent and limited vocabulary, she was able to give me some information. She told me that the Kyrgyz are hospitable to both people that they know and to complete strangers. It is common for a Kyrgyz family to invite over their neighbors for food and tea. She also informed me that people were more hospitable and kind in the past then they are now, and more hospitable in the countryside than in the city.

The Kyrgyz people, being Central Asian and more closely related to Turkic and Mongolian people, have a very different culture than the Russian people. Although I am studying the Russian language, I am more than thrilled to be living in Kyrgyzstan and learning about Kyrgyz culture and customs.

Necessary unrelated photo of Ala Archa, just to share it’s beauty!