Привет из Бишкеке! (Greetings from Bishkek!)
My name is Rachel, and I am a content moderator at Sporcle. For the next three and half months I’ll be finishing my degree in Russian Studies by studying advanced Russian (and basic Kyrgyz) in the wonderful city of Bishkek. Since I know how much Sporcle loves Kyrgyzstan, I’ll be sharing my experiences in a series of blog posts.
First Impressions of Kyrgyzstan
Within hours of arriving, I was struck by how the people here are kind and caring. While smiling on the street and small talk is still not common (a holdover from Soviet times), Kyrygz are incredibly helpful when you have a question or need directions (a common experience– since many streets have multiple names.)
Kyrgyzstan is a relationship-centered culture, and the door to my host family’s house is constantly open to an endless stream of family members, neighbors and friends. I have given up trying to mentally keep tabs on who is who, and just assume everyone is family somehow – since even I’m introduced as the ‘American daughter’ of my Kyrgyz host ‘mother’.
Cookies, Intellectual Discourse and the World Nomad Games
Hospitality is an art here, and the Kyrgyz are experts. There is a never-ending supply of tea, cookies and other yummy food that make me feel at home (or, if not at home exactly, at least very well fed). Conversation is very important, and Kyrgyz are generally very interested in the world at large and love to discuss and debate current events.
Just recently, Kyrygz hosted the World Nomad Games, which featured such sports as falconry and Kok Boru (a sport similar to polo, but involving a goat). Football is also popular (note: soccer) and many bars are dedicated to clubs here. The faces of Pele, Ronaldo and Messi adorn many, many posters along the streets. The cinema is also big, and the largest budgeted Kyrgyz movie of all-time is currently playing in theaters.
A Bit o’ Kyrgyzstan History
As you probably know, Kyrgyzstan is located in Central Asia. Once part of the Silk Road, Kyrgyzstan has a history that is both unique and complex. Living in the former lands of the Huns, Turks and Mongols, Kyrgyz were traditionally nomadic peoples. They came under Soviet rule during the 20th century, and became fully independent in 1991. Since then, Kyrgyzstan has become the most democratic of all Central Asian countries, running four successful elections. Today it has strong political ties to Turkey and Russia, as well as a strong economic relationship with China.
People of Kyrgyzstan
The population of Kyrgyzstan is composed of primarily ethnic Kyrgyz, with a sizable community of Russians, Uzbeks, Dungans, Germans and other minority groups. Kyrgyz and Russian are the national languages, and it is not uncommon for a Kyrygz to be trilingual (to include either English, Turkish, Chinese or another ethnic language). Not only do they speak multiple languages, often these languages are from completely different language families. They make it look so easy.
The vast majority of the country is Muslim, which many communities adopted sometime between the 11th and 16th centuries. While Islam is dominant here, remnants of older pagan traditions still remain, such as ancestor worship. There is also a small community of Orthodox Christians here.
Stay tuned to the next update, which features my encounter with Kymiz, a local delicacy that consists of horse milk that’s been fermented in a sheep’s stomach. Truly unique.