To Guest n. 1, To visit friends and family; a common Kyrgyz tradition that typically consists of hours of eating, drinking and gossiping.
Upon arriving in this country I was very quickly introduced to the practice of guesting. During PST, trainers warned us of this lengthy custom and by living with host families I became very familiar with the guesting experience! Not that it is a bad tradition, but for volunteers guesting is particularly difficult seeing as the primary activity is speaking in Russian or Kyrgyz, we are often forced to muddle our way through toasts and there is always the never relenting host who will continue to fill your plate with more food, pour more vodka, and pressure you to eat more after hours of consuming food and drink!
Initially I would tense up at even the thought of guesting but now I really appreciate the custom. In my past life, I was always so busy with school, work, going to the gym, and hanging out at restaurants and coffee houses that I would never invite people over to my house for a meal. Only with my closest friends would I go to their house for dinner and it very rarely would that last longer than two hours! But over the months of being in Kyrgyzstan, guesting seems to be one of the Kyrgyz traditions that I have truly embraced.
In the last two weeks I have hosted volunteers from all over the country, all the staff from my NGO and have been doing quite a bit of guesting myself! Most recently I had my NGO over, since I moved into my apartment I have been meaning to invite my office over for dinner for multiple reasons. In addition to offering a gesture of friendship and transparency, I wanted to thank them for finding my apartment and having been so supportive of me, for a little cultural exchange (American cuisine in a Kyrgyz setting) and finally to put their hearts to rest by proving to them that I am surviving quite well on my own. There is an assumption that, as an American, I am so depended on technology that I will surely starve without my microwave dinners, I will live in filth without Swifters and vacuum machines and my clothes will never be cleaned as I am unable to function without a washing machine. To be honest, initially their fears were not unjustified; but I have learned a lot since I have been here!
Last Monday after work, four of my co-workers and my director’s daughter came to my apartment. I had decided on spaghetti for dinner, it’s quick, easy and was a hit with my host families when I would cook for them. In my opinion dessert is a crucial part of every meal so the night before I baked a large chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. Right as I finished dinner my co-workers arrived with juice, a bottle of vodka and diet coke- they have seen me chugging diet coke more than once- what can I say, it’s a rare and joyous occasion when I find diet coke and can justify spending money on that sweet, sweet beverage!
The dinner went well, we all made toasts. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal and took my leftovers home to share with their families. My director surprised me with a pair of earrings which the whole group had pitched in for! They had bought them for me last Christmas and had finally found an opportunity to give them to me. I was so flattered!
Nights like that one are one of the reasons that I truly love being a Peace Corps volunteer. Even though that evening was no school built or large community project, I was still filling my role as a volunteer by making friends and sharing cultures.
9 years ago