Archive for August, 2014


Do you know what France is full of?  WHITE PEOPLE.  It was a bit jarring for jetlagged/sleep deprived McKenna to handle.



Finally, someone has put my life into sculpture form.


So I got to Paris mostly intact, and keep in mind that I have no French knowledge whatsoever in a city that is notoriously unfriendly to people without language skills.  I was not headed to a hostel but to the home of people I had met in Kyrgyzstan, except they were out of town and I had to go to the train station where they left a key in a locker for me.  I migrated from the plane through security where I had a whole spiel about attending the World Equestrian Games if only the border guard would please let me into the country that I didn’t get to use because the only question he asked was “where are you coming from?”  I found and paid for the train to the city center where I got out at the train station and managed to acquire the house key from the locker and take a taxi to their home.  It was a small apartment full of books and art from their yearly exotic vacations.  I took advantage of their scale in the bathroom to ascertain that I lost at least 10 pounds in Kyrgyzstan (which France will promptly fix).  Then I napped until they arrived.


They were absolutely the sweetest.  The next morning I had breakfast that Aurelian bought from a bakery down the street, and (hot damn!) now I know why people buy French bakery items.  He then gave me anti-inflammatory cream for my ankle and wrote out a personalized walking tour of Paris on the map I’d gotten from riding next to a British couple who were on their way out of the country, score.  I mentioned I have only had my phone for photos since I stupidly left the correct charger back in America, and he lent me his camera so I could take photos on my own memory card.  How perfect!!  I hopped on the metro (literally hopped, that only takes one good leg) and went to the nearest stop to Musée d’Orsay.  I got out into the light and began to look at my map to figure out which direction to head.  I was about 10 seconds from a decision when a gray-haired man stopped and asked what I was looking for.  He suggested a different museum next door that most people overlook and I asked if he lived in Paris.  His answer was “depends on the day.”  He quizzed me on where I thought he was originally from but gave me a hint that it was a tiny country that borders France.  My second answer, Monaco, earned me some respect points.  Out of nowhere he said, “your eyes are a beautiful pers, which I cannot translate to English.  Maybe I could tell you if we meet this afternoon?”  Sly dog!  I responded, “no thanks, I think I’ll google it.  Good day!”  And he laughed, said “good girl,” and we parted ways.  I wanted Daddy to pop out of nowhere and firmly ask the ≈65 year old man, “What are your intentions with my daughter?”


The museum was closed.  I walked to the Louvre where there was a 2 hour wait for the entrance.  The photo above is from the sculpture park in front of the museum.  I happily walked along the river Seine to the Musée Quay Branly (anthropology) which was also closed.



Eiffel Tower from the Pont des Invalides; Place des Vosges; selfie with the dome of the Hotel des Invalides


I chose a random side street and had lunch in a café.  I met a beagle whose back legs are paralyzed so he has wheels.  The little dog he met in the park so did not expect to be chased by a wheeled doggie.  I took the metro to the end stop of Aurelian’s walking tour and totally loved the Place des Vosges because it reminded me of New Orleans.  Two random/unrelated thoughts: I saw a car charging with a cord for the first time; there was a towel with a rooster head on it for €130.  I walked through an island of the Seine whose bridge is covered in love locks (one was a bike lock, does that mean it represents a bigger love?), had ice cream, and saw the Notre Dame.  During the 15 blocks (approximate, because this city has no organization of that nature) of walking my foot demanded that I make a stop on my way back to the apartment.  Once back, Aurelian translated “pers” as “blue-green” for me cementing my decision that it was not worth a second meeting with the Man from Monaco.  Carole was out late with work so he made a pistachio and olive cake (savory, not like dessert) and we watched a film together over dinner.  They have been together for 18 years and I pointed out that I was 5 years old for Scottie’s wedding around the same time which made them giggle.  Inter-generational friendships are the bomb.


More baked goods for breakfast!  I could get used to this.  I overslept until 11:00 (which was embarrassing, but clearly I still needed to recover from my pre-flight night) and Aurelian had written out the train times to Chantilly, a chateau with a huge stable built by Louis XV.  What a dear!  I arrived in time for a demonstration of how they train the horses that they use for performances but it was all in French.  At the end, the riderless horse that looked like a bull dog (Tubby) was meant to bow and decided it would be better to lay down instead which merited a squeak from his trainer.  This squeak increased when he rolled onto his side as well.  She asked him to do it right a second time and after a moment’s hesitation, Tubby complied.  It was a hilarious end to the exhibition of “our horses are so fancy and well-trained.”  Horses will be horses.



Tubby walking without a bridle; Tubby bowing, the right way.


I spent at least two hours in their “museum of the living horse” which traced horses through domestication, variation in saddlery, and a lot of other good stuff.  For comparison, I think I spent 20 minutes at the chateau.  I had no idea there were so many different forms of stirrups!  And I just realized only mom will find that sentence interesting…  But the lighting in the museum was crap so I won’t make any of you look at photos of stirrups.  There was also an explanation of Eadweard Muybridge photographic proof that galloping horses’ legs lift off the ground underneath it and not extended like a dog.  I was lucky enough to happen to be around when the farrier was there to trim the little horses’ feet which was a treat for me.  I stayed for around a half hour to watch and showed him the photo of the Kyrgyz farrier working.  It was worth it to see the shock on his face at witnessing the tools he was using.





I came back to Paris and the three of us went out for Indian food since they knew I’m a veggie.  I tried to pay, and they wouldn’t let me.  That sentence was for the rentals (parentsàparental unitsàrentals, for those unfamiliar with the term) so they know I at least tried.  Since it was a horse-related day, I think it was even better than the first.


The lace-keeper of my leather-shoes which are meant to last a full year broke on day two.  Aurelian took me to three different tailors asking if they could fix it, and since they weren’t up to the task he offered to sew it for me.  I went out for museums, Musée d’Orsay and Quay Branley, which were excellent even considering their general lack of horses.  When I arrived back at the apartment, I found that Aurelian had gone to a different part of Paris to pick up a charger for my camera that he bought second-hand from a rough part of town.  He joked that his greatest hope was that “Canon Powershot charger” was not an online code for “cocaine and heroine.”  It wasn’t, and I can now charge my camera, yippee!  Carole and I had a girl’s night of leftover ratatouille, and Aurelian fixed my shoe when he returned from his business dinner.  I said goodbye to Carole because I knew I would leave the next day while she was at work, and I reminded them that they are invited to MS.


Yes…  More breakfast from the bakery.  You should be so jealous.  Actually, I think we should all be jealous of Carole.  The night before, she had written out a walking tour of the area north of their apartment which, upon showing to Aurelian, he decided was inadequate and spent a half-hour rerouting me.  I walked to the Moulin Rouge and Sacre Cour in the same morning which I found ironic.  The cathedral seemed to be designed to siphon money out of Catholics’ pockets.  To light a votive candle it was two or ten euros, there were places to leave offerings everywhere, and the bookshop was crazy big.  I happily made a quick tour of the inside and left, guilt-free and none the poorer.  Aurelian and I had lunch, and I gave him €7 for the charger even though it only cost 5 because I figured I should pay for his metro ticket at least.  He said that’s not necessary.  I ran away to the other room leaving the money on the counter and he called to me, “I suppose I will have to go to Sacre Cur and make a €2 donation in your name, then.”  That was the absolute sneakiest and cleverest way to get me to take the money back.


He checked out the train times for my departure to Caen.  Apparently it took longer for me to pack than I expected which didn’t leave enough time for me to purchase a train ticket from the counter, which is necessary because my credit card doesn’t have the microchip necessary for the automated machines..  Have you noticed how I’ve chronicled the overly generous and helpful ways of Aurelian?  Well, he pulled money out of an ATM so he could buy my train ticket from the faster machine and could give me the right change back when I paid him in cash.  He saw me safely on the train and I reminded him of the thank-you note I left on his counter.  It’s completely inadequate but it was the best I could do.  I am so lucky to have made such kind friends.  The main part that confuses me is that, since we only met over dinner and breakfast in Kyrgyzstan, they didn’t have much of an indication before inviting me to stay with them that I’m awesome.  So I could have been a dud or a slob or a crazy, ignorant American, but they opened up their home to me nonetheless.  They really set the bar for generosity.  Maybe they will be the first people to take me up on my offer to visit MS and I can show them why we are called the Hospitality State.  They respectfully requested that I have weird hair the next time we meet again.  That can be arranged.


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When we last left off, I was bawling as I said goodbye to more and more family.  First Bek, then Atam (father), then Apa (mother), Kazahn (nickname for Siuta), and sister in ones and twos.  Since Gurzada got me on the bus to Bishkek (written БИϣKEK, so I easily might have missed it) I knew I was going to the right place.  I got in a shared taxi to Almaty with a nice Kazakh family (mother and teenage sons) and the border crossing only took an hour or two.  It was an exercise in patience but luckily I’d read beforehand that politely waiting your turn will get you nowhere so I was mentally prepared for the pushing in line.  I waited in a 30 minute queue in a narrow line with mesh wire on either sides, thinking how very much like cattle we seemed.  After another several hours driving to Almaty, I negotiated with the driver where to take me.  I’d stupidly forgotten (you will remember how many tears I mentioned in the last post, yes?) to write down the address of the hostel I had a reservation with so he took me to the first hotel he found.  Nobody working there spoke English but someone was called up from the downstairs restaurant to try to communicate with me.  She came up with “how will you spend your time?”  And I said, “eating and sleeping.”  She was trying to ask how long I would spend there, as the rates start at half a day and go up from there.  We eventually got it sorted, and a cute boy who also worked at the restaurant laughed mercilessly at her as she tried to come up with English syntax and vocabulary.


The WiFi didn’t work so I managed to ask the concierge to borrow her computer by repeatedly pointing at it, mimicking typing, and saying “mama/papa” until it was clear.  I sent a pitiful message about how I didn’t feel well and eventually crawled out of my room looking for food.  I was sent to the restaurant downstairs where the same cute boy from before was a server and I got a table to myself, alone in the huge restaurant.  I got the opportunity to use my “Point It” book of photos in order to communicate “no meat.”  I said pizza and he listed the options.  I pointed at pictures of meat and said “niet” then photos of anything else vegetarian and said “da” until he got the picture.  He found a photo of mushrooms and I said yes.  I was feeling really crummy and put my head down on the table.  He came and tapped me on the shoulder to show me he had used Google translate to ask, “you want nothing else?”  I said no thanks in Russian.  He came back later and said “your pizza in twenty minutes.”  I said thanks in Russian.  I put my head back down.  He turned on loud terrible techno Russian music and I pantomimed “turn it off, I have a headache.”  He came back with “to turn off music?” on his phone and I said yes in Russian.  The next time he came over with a plate and silverware and I pantomimed a box for the food to take with me.  He wandered away to type, “you go rest, I bring your food upstairs.”  Now you see why this long paragraph was worth it, don’t you?  It was an unbelievably sweet gesture.  I thanked him profusely and wandered up the three flights of stairs to stagger to my bed and wait for sustenance.  He brought the food and ran back down for change, which I let him keep since he’d been so kind.  That basically made his day and he flashed me a smile.  I ate maybe two pieces of pizza before passing out.


Kazakhstan is much better when you don’t feel bad.  The next day I went downstairs and asked reception to call me a taxi to take me to the new address of my hostel, which caused a kerfuffle.  They were very confused that I was switching from a $60 per night hotel to a HOSTEL, goodness gracious!  They called to make sure I had the right address (which I didn’t, it was wrong on the website) and they walked me outside to the taxi.  I think they were probably happy to be rid of the random girl who didn’t speak any useful languages.  After a thirty minute taxi ride, I arrived at the hostel.  I spent much of the afternoon getting reacquainted with the internet and uploading photos to photobucket.  I played with the KITTEN that lives in the hostel.  Actually, I hogged the kitten.  I pulled the ribbon out of my bag that had previously been used as a hair tie or practice learning the Kyrgyz knot, but now it worked for Endless Feline Entertainment.  I wore her out and she took a nap in my lap.

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I finally tore myself away from the kitty baby to make my way to the former parliament building where I ate lunch in front of a pretty fountain, then on to the National Museum of Kazakhstan.  There was a random statue of an apple in the street which I figured out is because “Almaty” (pronounced “Almata”) breaks down to father “ata” of apples “alma.”

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The parliament/fountain and a cool B.C. replica of Kazakh princely clothing


I came back and spent the rest of the afternoon in the common area online and wondered, “huh, what will I do for dinner?  I’ve gone and let the sun set and Michael won’t like it if I wander around looking for food at night.  But I have no food here.  Whatever am I to do?”  Then Judy appeared and said “Do you want me to make you am omelet?” out of absolutely nowhere, like an angel sent from above.  And as they say, it was the start to a beautiful friendship.  She didn’t know that she’d stumbled upon the best way to instantly befriend me, which is of course to feed me.  Judy is from Germany and her English is at least as good as mine, which spurred a competition to use words that we would have to teach each other, a game I am ashamed to admit I lost (2:1, “fomo/fear of missing out” and “nonrotic” versus “infix”).  We then went out to buy ice cream from the shop and made plans for French toast in the morning.  She likes to cook, I enjoy eating; it’s a perfect match.



JJudy accidentally poured the tea leaves over the strainer into her mug, so to strain it she transferred it to the only available drinking device which was a bowl.  From our French toast breakfast.


We did indeed have French toast, and then we wandered off with a French girl to the small mountain in the North called Kok Tobe (blue mountain) of the city.  Ann-Sophie speaks Russian so she negotiated a taxi ride to the entrance and Judy and we joked that everyone should have a beautiful blonde woman who speaks the local language to travel with since it opens so many doors.  It wasn’t really a joke, since I highly recommend it.  We walked the rest of the way to the top where we played and took photos, and I missed my Kyrgyz mountains which were so much better.  We went back to the hostel, made lunch together (our usual arrangement of her cooking and me cleaning) and then Judy and I bought ice cream to eat at the top of monkey bars.  (Now you see why we were instant friends.)



 Falcon (advertised as “mini zoo”) and view of the city from halfway up


I eventually left in search of a mall that may have a charger for my camera and did not realize it was 45 minutes walking away, with 20 minutes wandering around inside looking for the electronic shops (which didn’t have the charger), and another 45 minutes back.  I came back and, in blatant disregard for my 10:00 curfew (because of my early flight the next day), I went out for dinner with Judy, her boyfriend, and his colleague who were in town for business.  Three of us are vegetarians (wow!) and it took at least ten minutes to order food that we knew was vegetarian.  It took small amounts of Russian, hand gestures, and a lot of convincing that “no meat” really is what we meant. We ordered plov which I was skeptical about, having only ever had it with the meat picked out.  That’s exactly what happened, but we tried to enjoy the meal nonetheless.  On the walk home, I noticed my left foot wasn’t doing so hot, but that only became apparent once we had left taxi territory.  Having never had any problems of the feet in the past, it was a new experience full of, “oww, what is happening?!”  I hobbled home by walking on just the toes and trying not to put any extra stress on my ankle.   The only source of the pain that I can locate is the impromptu two hours of walking around the shoddy sidewalks of Almaty (but still better than Bishkek) in heavy socks and sandals.  Who knows.


We got back to the hostel and I pushed my bedtime back even further so Judy could show me the wonder of the actor Tom Hiddleston’s dance moves called “snake hips.”  I then proceeded to rock Judy’s world by showing her I have some of the same moves.  I think she is forever scarred by the unexpected display of American club moves.  THEN I started packing and went to sleep a little before midnight….  And woke up at 2:30 am for a 2:45 taxi pickup for a 3:10 airport delivery for a 5:30 flight.  Ugh.  And my ankle was even worse so I had to wrap it with athletic tape that I kept in my bag specifically to ward off the need of it.  I’ll spare you the details of my trip from Almaty to Istanbul to Paris.


Well, almost all of the details.  Since I woke up so early, I didn’t notice until it was too late that I had only been able to print the first of my two boarding passes the night before.  So upon arriving to Istanbul (and actually crying because it finally hit me that my Kyrgyz mountains were gone) I found a ticket counter and asked them to print my ticket.  Twenty minutes later I still had nothing and my plane was set to leave in a half hour.  The absolutely tiny yet impressively stern woman who had been making phone calls and glaring at her computer eventually hand-wrote a boarding card, walked with me through security (outpacing me easily despite the six or eight inches I had on her in height) and led me to the gate.  We waited until all of the other passengers had gotten on the shuttles to the plane, her checking the computer every few minutes, and I was eventually sent on the bus with instructions to the driver.  I still have NO idea what the problem was, but now I have this fancy personalized boarding pass.



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Finale, Goodbyes

This is a particularly sad post because of how many goodbyes there were.  I just had to tell it like it is.  Prepare yourself (ma)!


While the one that fell off the horse recovered, I woke up and went hiking to find petroglyphs with two of the three Swiss girls.  We didn’t find any, but we had a pleasant 3 hour walk to the next village and back.  I saw a mule for the first time in Kyrgyzstan and that reminded me that, isn’t it odd in a place chock full of horses and donkeys that there aren’t any mules?!  There must be a reason, but I didn’t have time to figure it out.


The menfolk finally finished cutting the hay that day.  Yay!  Later that night, I went with Bek and Nora to pick up forty kilos of sugar for jam-making.  Bek drove the car and I accidentally got shotgun (I was a bit mortified).  Someone had recently laid out piles of rocks to be spread out along the road ut they hadn’t yet so we ended up dodging giant mounds of rocks for most of the way there.  It was certainly an experience.  We went to two different shops to find that much sugar.  Nora wouldn’t let me carry the bag to the car and I for damn sure wasn’t going to let her do it so I settled on a compromise: I called Bek from the car.  Perfect solution, if I say so myself.  Bek then told me he was headed off to another village for a friend’s birthday party, and that his dad wouldn’t let him have the car.  There are no laws against riding a horse after having had a few drinks, so Bek riding Ishen instead of driving is probably for the better.  I kind of love this country.


The next day I mostly helped prepare food for the jam.  Nora unloaded dozens of kilos of fruit off a van that was selling fruit fresh from the Issyk Kul region and I helped unload some of it.  I, quite strangely, got a high five from a Kyrgyz man as I was walking to the van and no, I’m pretty sure I didn’t misunderstand a cultural cue; he really did want a high five.  Siuta and I thought it was funny and bizarre and I’ll never know what was going on in his head.  We later walked to two grocery store to get more food and Siuta yelled her first fully-formed English sentence, “No, McKenna!  I carry!” since, of course, we were arguing about who would carry the heavy bag.  I cut apricots and picked the stems off many sour cherries before dinner.  I was called from my room in order to watch Ishen get shoes.  It was a mildly brutal experience involving a hammer.  Ishen clearly didn’t like it but hadn’t gotten used to it like the others had, since it was only his second set.  They tied up each foot as they worked on it and I caught Jekshen cuddling Ishen to calm him down.  It was certainly a relevant experience for my project.  If ever Ishen hopped away or fidgeted too much everyone said “tak!” which translates to “easy!” and that was said a lot, frequently at a yell (which I think defeats the purpose just a bit).


Bek and I had a celebratory “last night together beer” which was everything a goodbye beer ought to be.  We talked about him visiting Mississippi someday and my eventual return to Kyrgyzstan.  I finally got the nerve to ask a two-part question I’ve been wondering for ages.  I said, “Bek, you know how everyone here says we should get married?  Why is that?”  “Welcome to Kyrgyzstan,” was his succinct reply.  Perfect.  I then said, “And whenever we ride horses and people ask if I’m your girlfriend, do you say yes?”  “Sometimes.”  Just as I suspected.  Never trust a 19 year old boy to be an accurate translator.


I was not looking forward to the next day as it was the first day of Bek’s 10 day horse trek to Issyk Kul.  There were meant to be two tourists coming at twelve for lunch and an eventual departure.  Noon came and went and it seemed like they would have to depart the next day.  We spent all morning assembling the goods into boxes and bags that would go on the pack horse: food, fuel, water, tents, etc.  I watched Bek fix a broken piece of tack and took a photograph of the saddle he was working on.  He said, “not that one!  Take a photo of the new one on Ishen, but not that one!”  Turns out he’s embarrassed by his saddle.  I will never ceased to be amazed here.


After lunch he sewed a huge backpack strap back together with a scary needle/crochet hook thingamabob.  We didn’t want to say goodbye and played and talked for as much of the afternoon as we could.  Eventually, the tourists showed up after 4.  Jekshen (pronounced like “objection!”) decided that, rather than start a day later after spending the whole day preparing, or plotting a new 9-day route instead of a 10-day, that Bek and his uncle (the other guide) would ride for four hours with the horses and make camp at a place that Jekshen could drive the tourists in the morning.  That was a complicated plan to get across to me, but I eventually understood.  We had tea with the new British fellows and the family ate in the kitchen.  I wanted to eat with them, but Nora told me to babysit.  I wouldn’t have minded (as they were pleasant guys) except that Bek was soon to leave. 


I eventually ran away to check that they weren’t leaving without me and reminded everyone that we had to take family photos.  We assembled at the yurt and it was truly a celebratory atmosphere.  Bek tiptoed around the yurt because he already had his heavy-duty boots on, and told us to say “koumiss” as we smiled for the camera.  I tickled Siuta to get her to smile.  Nora made me and Bek take a photo in the “traditional dress” she keeps around for tourists and they called me kilin for the last time.  I asked Siuta to get in the photo with us and when she refused, I picked her up and made her get in the photo with us.  Bek said, “our daughter,” and laughed his supremely tickled laugh that I will never forget (ahaHA!).  We walked to where the horses were waiting and play-fought the whole way, fully aware that it would be the last time for quite a while.  I said goodbye to my little brother, and when Siuta saw the tears I told her they were for Ishen.  Nobody was fooled.


I distracted myself by spending the evening with the Brits.  I told them when they saw Bek the next morning to pass on the message, “Mac says be careful, stupid goat.”  They then morphed this wonderfully adorable sentiment into “Mac says please will you marry me stupid goat?” and plotted their torture of Bek for the next week and a half.  On several occasions I accidentally called them disproportionate insults because I was so used to calling Bek anything without him understanding that apparently, over time, it had escalated to dramatic proportions.  They were polite (surprised?) enough not to point out my folly.


The next morning Jekshen drove me to the bus stop and waited for the bus to Kemin with me in order to tell the driver where to make sure I got off.  How sweet.  He then drove the tourists the rest of the way to their drop off point and we went our separate ways.  From Kemin I waited for an hour for a bus to Karakol which is on the furthest side of lake Issyk Kul, but the only one I saw didn’t stop.  All of the taxi drivers had asked me where was I going and did I need a taxi so by the time a bus to Cholpon-ata arrived, they shooed me onto the bus.  They said I could get a bus to Karakol from there but I decided anywhere on the lake was good enough for me and that was as good a stop as any. 


Three and a half hours and a drunk Russian with a thing for me later, I made it off the bus and wandered for five minutes before asking where to find a guest house.  Guess where I asked?  At a guest house.  I was exhausted and tired of being pestered by the drunk man and had just run away from the stop to get away from him, and I really used up a cache of luck with that one.  I relaxed for an hour then went to the lake.  I stopped at a grocery for some snacks since I’d been on a bus for lunch and spent three hours at the lake.  I read in the shade for an hour and a half and “swam” for the same amount of time.  Issyk Kul literally translates to “hot lake” because it never freezes, but that meant there were layers of hot and cold water from top to bottom.  Whichever inch of my body was closest to the surface was frigid and the rest was fine.  I spent thirty minutes inching my way further out when a man came and spoke Russian to me.  I apologized that I don’t speak Russian and he said, “oh, English!”  What are the odds that the one person who came to speak to me was also the one person that spoke English at the beach?  He was from Cholpon-ata and mentioned that he played cok buru (the dead goat game) in his youth as casually as if he was saying, “yeah, I used to play football.”  He thought I couldn’t swim since I was standing for so long staring at my bag on the shore and offered to teach me.  We swam out together and he was surprised that I actually know how to swim.  Even living on a giant lake, he only learned how to swim when he was 10.


I had been planning on spending a full day at the lake, but being away from my Kyrgyz family when I had so little time left in the country in order to spend time alone at a vacation spot seemed like a stupid endeavor.  The next morning I had breakfast at the guest house where a Chechen woman showed me every photo on her phone of her family.  Then I wandered around looking for the bus to Kemin where, yet again, a taxi driver helped me find my way.  I repeated the process in reverse and took a shared taxi from Kemin to Chon Kemin.  I was really proud when I was able to point to where he should drop me.  I showed up at the house and everything was back to normal again, except I knew I was leaving the next day.


I saw seven pair of shoes at the door and asked Nora where all the tourists were.  She said three were riding and Gurzada (her daughter) was with Alisher (the toddler) which made no sense.  We washed cucumbers as the uncommon crew that we were: Nora, the owner of a profitable tourist business; Siuta, the borrowed niece; and the American Goat.  Eventually Nora said the tourists were nearly back and we went to help them off the horses.  I saw Gurzada ride a horse!  Now the lady count is up to four!  She had been out with her three Dutch tourists (who just have lots of shoes, it turns out) and they picked up her son on the way back.  We had a companionable last day finishing washing the cucumbers.  Gurzada translated that Nora wishes I could stay for one or two years, which is incredibly flattering and made our goodbyes that much harder.  Alisher was stung by a wasp (all I could think was “better you than me, kid”) and slept much of the afternoon and was grumpily woken up for dinner.  He begged loudly that he be driven back to where he would sleep by car rather than ride a horse.  Again, I love this country, where the options are “car” or “horse.”


I had to say goodbye to Jekshen that night because he was leaving at 6:30 in the morning to drive more supplies to the trekkers, and at dinner Gurzada translated his goodbye to me.  We all had a few silent tears running down our faces.  I’ve never felt so attached to someone I was unable to communicate with.  But it never took words to indicate that seeing me put a smile on his face, the laughs we shared that crossed language boundaries, or how grateful he was that I stepped in and happily became a member of the family.  Back at the house, I got my surprise: I’d written a thoughtful thank you/goodbye letter and sent it to Adinay in Bishkek to translate into Kyrgyz and laboriously copied the Cyrillic.  Nora read it out to Jekshen, Siuta, and Gurzada (who had proofread it) and we all cried, this time with even more emotion.  My favorite line that I wrote was “I was barely even homesick because it felt like I was home.”  Jekshen gave me a huge bear-hug and there was not a dry eye for 10 minutes.  I eventually had to go finish packing and they had to drive Alisher home.  I was left alone with a box of family photos and I looked at every single one.  There was a wedding photo with at least 50 family members in it; photos of Nora and Jekshen when they were younger; Bek dressed up as the Lone Ranger; Nora racing in the “kiss the girl” game; and so many family gatherings in the yurt.  It was a nice way to mentally say goodbye to the wonderful place and people I had come to love.


The next morning I hitched a ride with the tourists going up to the main road and had a very quick goodbye with Nora and Siuta.  I can still picture their faces exactly as they waved at me from outside the van and called to me to come back soon.  Siuta hugged herself with one hand and waved with the other, wearing the same shirt I’d seen on her aunt in a photo from 10 years before.  I think they are afraid I will never come back, but while I probably won’t ever stay for one or two years, I will definitely return one day.  Just as we arrived at the main road, Gurzada saw that the bus to Bishkek was stopping and we ran to get on it.  I got one last hug and she wished me a safe journey as we both cried.  I didn’t stop until after Kemin (30 minutes away) as I grieved for the loss of that part of my life I can never recreate.


Whatever my final thoughts about this place, I don’t know if anywhere else I can sit on a bench as the sun goes down and listen to a horse rhythmically munch grass with as much regularity as I have here.  Even at home I have never sat on a horse blanket next to a horse as he grazes while tied to my friend’s foot.  I haven’t heard teenagers complain, “man, dad won’t let me have the car!  Guess I’ll have to take the horse,” or toddlers cry to be driven home rather than ride.  I’ve definitely never seen someone ride a horse while carrying a scythe.  As I was in Issyk Kul I speculated that the longer I stay in this country, the more of it gets in my soul, which is a crazy thought.  On the one hand, it means I got out while I still could, but on the other, I could feel that larger and larger parts of my heart were going to stay in that place with each passing day.  I think that will happen to some extent in each place that I stay for this length of time during my year.  But while I can never have those specific moments back, I can make new memories in the future when I return, and I will always think fondly of Kyrgyzstan.


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Avarica was a bad boy today.  He went out with three Swiss girls and decided to scoot further away from another horse while grazing which meant his tourist fell off.  She hurt her back, her arm, and was dizzy later that evening but feeling a bit better the next day.  Bek brought the horses down and Jekshen drove up to pick them up and drive them back to the house.  He was adorably concerned.


Ryan (who is the American in Bishkek that set up my travels) had mentioned that his parents were visiting for the first time in the two years that they have been in Kyrgyzstan.  Turns out, they landed at our doorstep!  The whole family (ma, pa, wife, niece) showed up before the Swiss got back.  We had a lovely lunch eating in the yurt and the Southern accents were welcomed.  I had a chance to share stories about Kyrgyz/English difficulties (eat/dog, bitchfork, “give it to me”) and it turns out they work even better in person.  Beth and I also co-created a poem when discussing the myriad Dutch travelers that come through Kyrgyzstan:


Roses are red

Violets are blue

The Dutch are everywhere

The Dutch are huge


Yep that about sums that up.  They went out for a ride and I was very confused to see that Bek was not riding Adrenaline!  He rode Avarica, which I later surmised is because he’d acted up on the last ride (but I didn’t know that yet).  We loaded the tourists up on the horses and off they went.  When they came back, most everyone had trouble walking.  And THAT is why we take our newbies out for only an hour at home.


At this point I’d basically forced Bek into taking me with him when he took the horses to the mountains (jailoo, summer pastures) for the night.  He’d always slipped off after dinner to do this, or left way after sundown, or just plain didn’t invite me.  But somehow I managed to be convincing and I was allowed to come.  I went to put on my shoes and grab my medicine (epipen and inhaler) that I take everywhere.  I turned my room upside down looking for them.  Twice.  I then told Bek I couldn’t find it and he asked me to please check my room.  I checked again.  I deduced that it must have fallen out of my bag on the ride down from the mountains cutting hay the day before.  Or gotten left behind.  The more I thought about it the more I remembered the feeling that I had before I left the day before.  Bek ran back up the hill to get my backpack for me and it felt strange, like by letting him take care of that action, something was wrong.  I figured that must mean I hadn’t put my medicine in the bag.  He suggested he would go get the medicine and then take the horses the rest of the way into the mountains without me since I didn’t have my bee protection.  There was no way I was going to let him take back his offer of taking me with him (even if it was bullied out of him in the first place).  I had not encountered any bees on the ride up to the hay fields (just lying in wait for me there).  At this point it is necessary to mention that I have cultivated a “careless American” image because I would leave my phone all over the place.  The feelings of disappointment at my carelessness were seeping off Nora and Bek in waves.  It was a glum ride up to the hay fields and I was too wrapped up in my own gloomy thoughts (where did I leave it, how did it get there, is it still there, how do I get a new one if I can’t find it, will it be expensive, how long will I spend in Bishkek) to notice that I was ponying a horse behind me for the first time.  It would have been neat if I had noticed.  Bek and I eventually got to the tree that had held my bag the day before and he hopped off to check it out and….


It was there.


I collapsed against Ishen’s neck in my relief.  We both exclaimed happily in English (me more colorfully since I always know Bek has no idea what I’m saying).  Bek asked for a play by play of how it got left there and I said I must have set the medicine down next to the backpack while I put on sunscreen.  He said, incredulous, “you forgot your medicine, but remembered your sunscreen?!”  Bek then told me he would be in charge of my epipen for the remainder of the journey.  I took great offense at being treated like a child and I then pointed out his minor role in the events.  I must be getting more persuasive because I was allowed to keep track of them myself.  We trucked on up to the mountain pastures.


It sounds so easy…..  But it was actually about two more hours of riding.  To get from the hay fields to the regular road we galloped through the foothills of the mountains.  I’ll be damned if I was going to say “Bek, this little ole lady can’t keep up, can you slow your roll?”  I was originally sitting on my jacket which was quite slippery.  I fixed that and then my cap almost blew off.  I fixed my hair into a ponytail and put the cap back.  At this point Bek had gotten quite far away and I had to let Ishen have his head as we raced to catch up.  I might have held on to the saddle to maintain my seat…  It didn’t feel particularly safe, and I wondered if we would be riding like this for two hours.  Just as I had that thought, we came down to a valley and saw Bek.  He had a terrified look on his face and said “why did you go over that rock?!”  I still have no idea what that meant, but it all worked out.  (Ma, start breathing again.)


We rode higher and higher.  Occasionally the rope would pull taught as Gogoosh got too far behind Ishen and I would squeak at the sudden halt.  Bek stopped in order to talk and I made the mistake of letting Gogoosh get in front of us when he was still tied behind us.  He snapped part of his halter and Bek had to get down and fix the halter and push Gogoosh back behind us.  Later, we were crossing a river and Bek got down to get some water.  Ishen wandered a few steps to the right of the pass down into the water and when it came time to cross, it required a large hop down the rocks.  I squealed.  Bek turned around with yet another, “why on earth did I bring this chick?” looks on his face. 


The next time we crossed a river, Bek stopped for water again.  Did I mention he’s a bit miffed that I don’t drink the stream water?  Well as he got back on Adrenaline, Avarica chose to be a bad horse again.  He tried to kick Ishen because we were invading his bubble, and instead of kicking the horse he got the bottom of my foot.  At that point I can’t get away with saying “squeaked” or “squealed” because “screamed” is probably more accurate.  I felt the shock waves travel from the bottom of my boot up to my knee.  I told Bek what happened and that I thought my leg was ok and further up the trail I got down to test it.  The first time I fell off a horse I was fine; the first time I am kicked by a horse I’m a-ok.  I’ll just have to be more careful for the second time because I’ve used up that luck.


Once we were no longer worried about rivers or poorly-behaved horses, Bek flipped around in his saddle and rode backwards just to brag about his Kyrgyz abilities.  I reeeeeeeally wanted to try but I decided not to push my luck.  Finally reaching the pastures, there was a huge pen of goats and sheep and some puppies!  I had fun playing with the puppies, but their personal space boundaries weren’t great.  Bek really wanted to catch a goat but it clearly freaked them out whenever he tried.  He mentioned “there are 600 in there” and I said “huh, I woulda guessed 60” and he laughed his ass off.  Like being unable to estimate the number of sheep in a pen is the funniest thing ever.  Gah, Kyrgyzstan.


While we were there, we dropped off supplies for the man who stays with the sheep.  Apparently his nephew usually does it, but he’s filling in for a month.  Then it took at least two hours to ride back to Chon Kemin.  I kept asking what do we do when it gets dark and Bek said you can see.  I figured this means he has super hero-level night vision.  I was wrong.  The moon was so bright that we actually had shadows!  It was difficult to teach the word “shadow” even with such a great example following us. He kept teaching me the names of plants I was accidentally pointing at.  Since we were both riding Ishen back down (with the second saddle tied up on the side; heaven forbid we leave it there) I tickled him and learned the word in Kyrgyz: cuhtuhguh (but all of the syllables are said from the back of your throat). 


Back at home around 10:30, Bek held up his hands in offering to catch me on my descent from the horse, much the way he’d scooped Dara off the day before.  Thinking, “he must know what he’s doing, why not?” I slid down into his arms and we nearly fell into the sand pile behind him.  Not graceful; not like a ballerina; like a drunken dismount.  Laughter commenced.  Lesson learned.

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The One with the Lewd Suggestions that Lose Nothing in Translation

For whatever reason, I was invited back to the fields.  Did Bek forget that last time I was incredibly slow in my work and eventually raked hay that was still just grass?  He told me to bring my tablet again.  This is one of those “fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me,” things, because I again brought it but, again, had no use for it.  When I woke up I got ready (which included putting on sun cream) and saw that the tourists weren’t at breakfast yet.  I bounced past seven young men sitting outside the dining area but was quite surprised to see them.  I went inside and Nora said politely “can you wait to eat until the boys do?” right as they all came in.  Bek saw me and said, “Mac?  Did today you put on sun cream?”  Doh, it was all over my face.  I would have been mildly embarrassed if I hadn’t flounced past them earlier and known that they were all staring at me as I poured their tea.  I got out of there and hid in the kitchens with Siuta until they were done.  I then went in to grab bread and tea and that is when Nora found out that I was going off to the mountains and she hadn’t fed me yet!  She actually tried to keep me from going because I hadn’t had breakfast, but I managed to go anyway (without managing to convince anyone that I would be fine, by the way).


We rode off to the fields and I finally managed to snag the “backseat” of Ishen.  I don’t know why Bek relented; perhaps I finally won a battle of stubborn.  As soon as I was up we started to ride off and I realized just how very different the movement of a horse feels when you are further back!  I had told him again and again “I ride bareback at home, I can handle riding without the saddle, I got this, blah blah blah.”  But it honestly was a distinct feeling and it took getting used to.  We started to go out the gate but were called back by Nora and I squealed and nearly slid down at the unexpected about face.  Keep it together McKenna, you’re losing horse street cred here!  (Country cred?)  We listened to Nora and then were actually able to leave.  I squeaked many times going up the mountain.  At one point early on Bek said, “Keep your hands HERE!” and put them on his waist.  But it felt more legit to try to ride without holding on, and I eventually got the hang of it.  The backpack threw off my balance as well.  And the bill of my ball cap would bump into the back of his camo wide-brim hat so I had to switch mine around.  Going up the steep hills were, obviously, much harder to maintain balance and keep from sliding ungracefully off the back end of the horse.  There is a particularly steep section that the time before merited a few squeaks from Bek, and now I know why!  In order to stay on Bek suggested I hook my fee under his knees between his legs and the stirrups.  It felt utterly bizarre but it was effective.  I made it.


Bek got to the trailer and was loaded up with stuff (on Ishen) to take somewhere.  It was comical how much stuff he had in his hands and tied to his horse so I offered to carry stuff as well but I didn’t think it was possible to get on the back of the horse without dislodging his burden.  So I was given one bag and some plastic table cloths.  Embarrassed with how little he trusted me with, I asked to swap the table cloths for something in his hands.  He took the table cloths and walked away on the horse.  Gah, why does no one believe I can do anything?!  Turns out he was right…  We walked further up the mountain and every steep step was an argument with myself about how much further I could let him get ahead of me versus how much exertion my asthmatic body could take at that altitude.  I made it to the top and Bek took Ishen to see a man about a dog.  We left all of the stuff in the cool shade of the trees and headed back down to make ourselves useful.


My first task was to spend an hour with Jekshen raking hay down the hill.  I could tell that the boys working on scything were spending their breaks watching the crazy American girl do Men’s Work.  I concentrated very hard on Not Falling Down the Mountain.  Not because it would have been terribly painful (which it wouldn’t) but because it would have been utterly embarrassing.  I succeeded on that count.  I was then employed to take moxim up the hill to the boys.  Four times over the day.  Perhaps that is why I was invited?  No, I think Bek would have done that if I hadn’t been there and he just wanted to show off his American Goat, I mean, Girl.  For about 20 minutes I leaned against a hay stack while Bek worked to cut hay in a dip that the tractor couldn’t mow because of the uneven terrain.  Then I was sent up the hill to start the picnic.


I found the least uneven spot (on the side of the mountain…) and got to work laying out all of the food.  Bek showed up a bit later and I peeled the cucumbers for him to slice.  He looked around for the tomatoes, called his mother, and let me know that the tomatoes were sitting in the kitchen at home.  Teehee, I know Nora is just a bit put out with herself for that one.  It’s not a meal without sliced tomatoes, breakfast lunch and dinner!  Just as we finished, the boys came up for lunch and the work started.  For a solid half hour of lunch Bek and I filled tea glasses from the thermoses.  Someone would pass it down the hill to us and I would hold it while Bek poured it, then we would pass it back up the hill and have maybe a bite of food before the next one was ready for a refill.  The whole lunch conversation was in Kyrgyz (obviously) and every so often they would giggle.  At least a few times they were laughing at how busy we were pouring tea.  I told Bek that this was my breakfast and lunch and I think he translated it to the boys.  As lunch was winding down I finally worked up the nerve to ask about Jekshen’s scar that starts at his lip and goes up towards his nose.  Bek asked and turns out Jekshen was bitten by a neighbor’s dog when he was 4 or 5 years old.  He had some large scars on his left leg to show me as well.  I exhibited the appropriately sympathetic and horrified looks before turning to Bek and saying, “you didn’t know how your dad got that scar on his face…?”  Weird!


Since the tractor’s trailer had six young men in it for the trip up the mountains, I thought that maybe Bek would have ridden with them if it hadn’t been for me wanting to tag along.  I asked him at lunch why he didn’t ride with the tractor and he said, in a voice that indicated he thought I was absolutely bonkers, “and leave my horse at home…?  Scoff.”


Then started a two hour post-lunch break.  Everyone spread out in one’s, two’s and three’s to enjoy the cool air.  Bek came to borrow my iPod and shared it with his friend.  I read a lot of my book.  One boy worked on sharpening the scythes and adjusting the bolts that attached the blade to the handle for most of that time but everyone else dozed, chatted, giggled.  Eventually we disbanded and Bek and I were sent off to get water for the crew.  Bek gathered all of the saddle blankets that we had been lounging on and made a pile on top of Ishen that was nearly a foot high.  He then said, “get on!”  He pulled one off so that it wasn’t quite so ridiculous and I had to get on in front of all of the boys.  Bek said that he would grab my calf and hoist me up and I said, “no stupid, stick out your knee.  I’m not getting on a horse that way.”  I rode Ishen down the mountain while he just had a halter and it was a bit precarious.  I was afraid I would slide off his neck and I nearly lost the pack of foodstuff that was behind me.  Once I got down to the tractor and we unloaded the packs and put on the saddle, I asked why we had such a long break.  Bek replied that “we” were fixing the equipment.  Uh, huh.  Sure.  Group effort.  I saw it all…


We rode back down part of the mountain to get to a beauuuuuuuuutiful stream where “we” filled up the bottles that had had moxim before.  (Another group effort.)  We stayed for about a twenty minute nap because of how peaceful and wonderful it was.  When it was time to go, Ishen didn’t want to leave either.  As we had just started back, Bek got a phone call from one of the boys that said, basically, we have been gone too long and what exactly have we been up to, heh heh heh.  I have no idea what he said in response, and perhaps it’s best I never know.  Encouraged to make a faster getaway, Bek hit Ishen with a bit of a “yah!” sound.  I wacked him and said not to whip a horse that hard around me again.  He proclaimed his innocence and said he would never hit his horses like that because he loves them.  I was flabbergasted by this multisyllabic profession of love for his horses, and I believed him that the shout was for play and not in an earnest slap.  A bit further up the mountain I heard what sounded exactly like a flat tire and my brain almost broke trying to compute what on earth would have caused that sound when I was, in fact, riding a horse.  We turned around and Bek hopped down to collect the bottle of water that had fallen.  We delivered more water when we got back and the boys happily took a water break.  Bek had said before, “do you want some water?  Oh right, I forgot you don’t DRINK this water….”  I think I have offended him but I’d rather do that than upset the Lord of the Traveler’s Intestines, to whom I make daily penance. 


Bek is always singing something, in Russian, Kyrgyz, or English.  Frequently it is “because I’m happy,” but neither of us know much more of the song after that so we just end up saying “because I’m happy” a lot.  Or changing it to “because I’m ___” to fit the mood, like, “because I’m tired!!!”  As Bek and I were standing on the side of a steep hill together, he looks at me and out of nowhere says, “give it to me!”  Which promptly caused me to bust out laughing and beg him not to say that to anyone who speaks English, even if he was just singing part of a song.


I got to help raking hay again for another few hours with Bek before we all quit at around 8:00.  That makes an 11 hour day out in the fields, in case you were curious (with maybe a two hour lunch break and hour long each way commute, but who’s counting).  I rode on the back of the horse again for the ride down.  Guess what I discovered from riding behind Bek?  He is the most ticklish man I have ever met.  Yes, even compared to Chris Johnson.  Chris at least has built up a small amount of immunity because of how used he is to me tickling him.  Bek is incredibly ticklish but with no one around to tickle him.  So I tickled him and he squirmed and laughed and accidentally wacked Ishen in the head with the camchi (whip) and we went flying for a few steps.  It was all good, and I was slightly more careful about tickling a Kyrgyz man on horseback.  Perhaps this is a unique situation in their cultural history…..  Food for thought.

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This was probably my favorite day of my Watson adventures, but I’m afraid much of it is YHTBT (Ya Had Ta Be There).  If that is the case, make sure never to tell me.

Bek has his 4 geldings and he borrowed 2 horses from neighbors to take the 4 tourists, their guide, and him out.  These are the same people from the dinner of matchmaking me and Bek.  The tourists had asked me the night before if I could go, but I did the math and said there weren’t enough horses.  They thought I was hilarious company and clearly wanted me around and asked me again in the morning to which I gave the same response.  So then the guide, Dara, said “maybe we share a horse.”  And we did!  They were all nearly ready for their ride and I had about five minutes to throw on clothes and grab some stuff.  I didn’t have time to put on sunscreen but I had delayed them long enough.  I still don’t know if Dara actually asked anyone if I could come, but the end result was that we had to steal Adrenaline from Bek and he had to ride a neighbor’s horse instead.  Once again, I was given the saddle and the Kyrgyz person sat behind me on the horse’s rump.  I mentioned that maybe on the ride back down the mountain we could switch spots but that idea was promptly shot down.  I see how it is.

The Dutch tourists were a mother/son and mother/daughter pairs who were strangers that found themselves traveling together.  They spoke in Dutch and the young girl kept saying “links, links!” because her horse would wander off to the left instead of staying with the group.  I knew the general direction of “mountains are that way” so Dara and I led with Bec rounding up the girl in the back.  Dara pointed out the weeds all along the road are in fact weed.  I knew that it grows here but apparently I’ve walked past it every day and not noticed at all.  Bek kept making jokes that she was interested in the plant because she is from Issyk Kul (which apparently has a reputation).  I taught Dara the word “thistle.”  We enjoyed each other’s company and the comfort of a good horse.

After crossing a river we stopped for a sun cream break.  I was finally able to stop worrying about whether or not my arms were baking.  I was next to the Dutch fella who dropped his reins onto Avarica’s neck.  I felt very Kyrgyz because I was able to lean way down and grab them for him, but I (perhaps unnecessarily) warned him “don’t do that again, I might not always be here!”  Is that what parenting is like?  Bek came to beg for some sun cream as usual.  We rode on up the mountains.

Dara and I continued to giggle our way up the mountain but not much else happened until we stopped for lunch.  We crossed a river again and stopped under small trees on the other side.  Bek picked Dara off the horse and set her down on the ground and she commented that she felt like a ballerina.  Only the 12 year old is as small as her so Bek and I got the tourists off the horses using more standard means, took the bits out of the horse’s mouths, tied up their reins so they wouldn’t be in the way, and hobbled them to enjoy their lunch.  Dara got the picnic set up which meant Bek got to sit back and relax.  We all said, “why aren’t you helping?” and he said, “because there are women.”  There might have been some growling and threats made in reply.  He sensed this was the wrong answer for this group and surreptitiously began to cut some cucumbers and pour tea, masculinity intact.  We feasted on sandwiches (with cheese!!) and speculated about the rainclouds.  We never actually got rained on, but we certainly got wet.  Thus begins the saga of the Crazy Dutch Woman.  (You know who you are, and hello to you! J)

When Bek was not helping with the women’s work, CDW joked that we would take the Tupperware container of cucumbers, fill it with water, and splash him in retribution for his sexism.  Whether or not he heard her or understood, he started helping.  I thought the matter was settled.  Oh, not in the slightest.  Bek walked off to check on the horses and nap closer to them.  I declined to join him, which was a good idea.  CDW said she needed my intel of where he was sleeping so she could dump water on him as a practical joke.  We filled three tea cups with water and I led her to his location.  She said, “whatever happens, he will never forget me, heh heh.”  We sneaked.  We were quiet except for the swooshing of her pants legs.  I watched from a safe distance and her son came to join me.  We crouched; she stole carefully towards him.  She got right next to him and then….!

He saw her.  They spoke.  Apparently she was asking him to put his phone away.  She woke him up by saying sweetly, “please move your phone,” then dumping two cups of water on him.  He lept up and shrieked “WHY?!?!?!” at the absolute top of his voice.  I think I might have applauded.  The teenager and I ran back to the camp squealing our laughter.  CDW returned as well.  We explained to the rest of the group that the deed was done, then I saw an ambush coming and darted into the woods much like a squirrel.  Bek ran through screaming “aaaaaaaaaauuuuggghhhhhh!” and threw his bottle of water on CDW and her son (who claimed his virtuousness all the while).  I came out from hiding, thinking, “phew that was close!”  But Bek was, unbeknownst to me, off for a refill at the river and I was indeed soaked after that.  For nothing more than clapping at his misfortune!  And showing CDW where he was sleeping…  And helping to fill the cups with water…  Ok so I wasn’t entirely innocent, but I wasn’t the mastermind, here, only a minion with a minor role to play.  I hung my shirt up to dry on a rock and borrowed a jacket.  We laughed at the quality prank and thought it was over.

We rode through woods and it was not nearly so hot, but that only lasted for 20 minutes or so.  While we were riding underneath trees Bek started a game of Stick (which we used to play with kids at horse camp) except instead of leaving the stick in the crook of a tree, you had to turn around and throw it to the person behind you.  I caught it from Bek twice and it didn’t get any further with Dara throwing it behind us, so once I did that it made it another two people back.  Once we were out of the trees, Bek grabbed a flower that disintegrates on contact and rode over to throw it at me.  Not knowing if the pollen would wreak havoc on my lungs, I screeched “asthma, asthma!” which, in retrospect, was utterly unwarranted, prissy, and bizarre.  Everyone laughed, and I survived the pollen onslaught.  We were soon at the peak of our ride and I barely noticed the downward descent.  That might have been because I was distracted by Kyrgyz horse games.  No, I don’t mean that we stumbled upon a remote village’s practice or anything, I mean we were somehow swept up in them ourselves.  Dara saw a small, piddley little house and joked with Bek, “this is where you will live when you and McKenna are married.”  This was so insulting that he promptly rode on over to our horse and yanked her off like the proverbial goat in Ulak Tartysh (dead goat polo).  She squeaked her displeasure as she was carefully settled in front of him in the already small saddle, and was eventually returned to my horse.  It was shocking and hilarious.  She thus earned the nickname “little goat” for the rest of the trip.  The goats they use for the game are meant to be 30-40 kg (66-88 lb) and Dara weighs 40-45 kg (88-99 lb) so she honestly wasn’t that far off from a large Ulak Tartysh goat.  I began to throw berries at Bek whenever I was riding behind him and he used his gloves to grab the tops of thistles and throw them at us.  If they hit, they stuck to your clothes and were difficult to remove.  He let me borrow one glove and I still couldn’t stand the prickling of it to pick one.  At some point Bek called me “two goats” since I am much larger than Dara and threatened that I was next.  Thus for the last hour and a half of our journey, I was wary of his approach and would run off on Adrenaline whenever necessary.  The nicknames morphed to “American goat” and “Issyk Kul goat.”  This then became “Asthma goat,” (not to make fun of my lungs but because of my shrieked “asthma, asthma!” before) “Vegetarian goat,” and somehow Bek became a donkey.  We teased each other the rest of the way home.

The fun and games mostly had to end when we noticed that the girl’s horse refused to walk very fast, and Dara/Adrenaline/McKenna were dispatched to act as her gas pedal.  Her horse deferred to Adrenaline’s alpha ways and it was actually pretty fun to herd them.  Eventually we rode through a village and saw where they get the clay to make bricks from.  Children shouted “hello!” to us as they often do here.  We ended up on the main rode back to our village.  I had to go get the Dutch woman (not CDW, the other one) because Ishen had wandered off into a field of grass and it was my task to round her up.  We brought her back into the fold, and Bek lunged for Dara again.  I wasn’t expecting it and he rode off with my girl!  I thought maybe they would ride like since we were not far from home but she squealed, “Mac, help me!”  This definitely triggered my white knight instincts and I ran up to save her.  But this required Bek actually letting her go.  She would say, “this is really uncomfortable!” because the saddles are so small here and I’d say, “Bek, let her go!”  He finally consented to giving up his prize but we nearly dropped her in the transfer.  I was very grumpy with Bek for what I considered taking a good joke too far.  I schemed…..

We all arrived home in one piece.  I tied up Adrenaline and one other horse to the fence and knew that Bek would be occupied for another few minutes, so I ran to the kitchen and said, “Nora!  Bucket?!”  She was really confused and I pantomimed throwing water as I said “Bekbelot.”  That got Suita’s attention, and we managed to find a bucket for me.  I sprinted to the spring and filled it up at the well.  CDW, always down for a crazy prank, followed with her own bucket.  Dara, CDW and I waited behind the gate.  Suita was the decoy and she told me when he was coming around the corner.  I splashed nearly the whole bucket on Bek, barely had a chance to survey my work, and ran for the hills (not literally, I was running perpendicular to the mountains).  I stopped at the stoop to my door and began to take off my boots.  I think at this point he had dropped everything he was carrying and received his second bucket of water.  Then I saw he was coming for me.  I had just the day before seen someone go out the back gate so I headed for that and found out that I don’t know how to work the latch.  This was incredibly disappointing since I am a recent college graduate (as Britney told me, “McKenna, sometimes it’s just a piece of paper”) and I hid behind a building for a minute.  (I think I am vindicated because it was secret knowledge: I later found out it just takes a spectacularly firm push.)  I heard Dara scream as I wondered how long it would take him to find me.  I figured my time would come eventually so I surrendered myself.  Bek carried me effortlessly 10 yards to the stream and proceeded to wrestle me to the ground and pour water on me with the hose.  I thought I could shorten the shower session by giving him some unexpected resistance, but all three moves I made ended in him being thrown further on top of me and pinning me.  He was indeed surprised, but it did nothing for me.  So he took off my hat to wet my hair as he yelled, “Do you want a shower?!  You want a shower?!” at least a bit frantically.  And that was the end of that.  CDW pointed out that she was only splashed because she is a tourist whereas Dara and I got wrestled and soaked for our part.  Such is life.  What a good day.

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In which I coax out semi-secret info with the clever use of beer

The next day I woke around 8:30 and expected they would all be off in the fields already, but they were pushing the tractor out of the gate.  I hung around to help carry moxim to the tractor and send them off with well wishes.  Come to find out at breakfast, I am not the first girl to go out in the fields.  Gorzada (Bek’s older sister by 2 years and Alisher’s mother) went one day and came back with blisters all over her hands.  Nora looked at my raw but blister-less hands with approval but giggled good-naturedly at my pain when I said my shoulders were sore.  We all had a good chuckle about that.  I don’t think anyone understood why a girl wanted to do a man’s work for a day.  Nora and Siuta had apparently woken up at 5:00 am in order to get all of the food ready for their picnic lunch, and to start cooking for the myriad tourists who would descend like locusts: they swarm; they eat; they leave.  First there were three Kyrgyz people that came for tea, a ride, and then lunch.  Then there were six people that came for a ride and lunch.  Then there were four tourists with a driver (the same one that took me to Kizil-Oi!) and a translator plus two Swiss girls that showed up out of nowhere.  That’s a total of 17 people to feed tea, lunch and/or dinner.  Nora was running around like a mad woman because the six tourists insisted on eating lunch in the yurt (which is way less convenient since it’s further from the kitchen) and I was actually stressed out trying to help.  I’d carry plates of food out to the yurt and fill up their tea.  I’d run back to the street to check on the French tourists that were getting on the horses.  I sliced apricots and took out the pits, picked the stems off black currants, and smashed the pits open with Siuta to get the edible seed inside (which was a lot of fun as we watched the pits zing away if we hit them at the wrong angle with the stones; I took one to the neck and Siuta screamed).


I taught Bek the word “cousin” once again in reference to Siuta but now he intentionally mispronounces it to “kazan” which in Kyrgyz means a cooking pot.  He thinks it’s hilarious and she frumps around, unhappy with the new nickname.  He also pegged her with a small apple that was growing and she yelped so loudly that I furiously yelled at him in English to pick on somebody his own size.  She appreciated the sentiment even if neither of them understood what I was saying.  Now that we have spent time using rocks (“tash” in Kyrgyz) to smash apricot pits open together, Siuta and I have a playful relationship based on teasing and very short English sentences.  She is only a few inches shorter than me and our hands are, remarkably, the same size.  She struts around when we are walking the same way so as to appear taller, pokes me when I’m not looking, and says “I am woman; you are man” which is the most insulting phrase she can come up with in English and really just makes me giggle.  She’s said it so often the past few days that I looked at her as she stood behind her aunt and saw she was dancing to herself and mouthing the words in an obvious sing-song manner.  It is all in good fun, but that means I have built up a healthy desire to find a way to get back at her.  I recently saw her walking into my part of the house from outside where I knew it was darker, and she had her head down.  I stood still behind the lacy curtains in the doorway until she was right in front of me and lunged forth crying, “BOOOOOO!”  McKenna 1, Kazan 0.  Later that day she called me “super kilin” and when I asked Bek to explain he said, “super.  Like, super.  Do you know Super Man?”  I just got schooled on super heroes by a Kyrgyz Justin Bieber (a nickname which first prompted an irritated “I am NOT Justin Bieber!  I am Kyrgyz!”) and called “super wife” by a 13 year old girl.  So it has come to this!


I think it took three hours to pick off all of the stems of the several kilos of black currants.  Luckily the translator, Darajan, traveling with the two Dutch families decided to sit down and help me for two hours while her charges were off horse riding.  She and I got along very well.  She said she enjoys funny people like me and she wanted me to teach her new English words.  I think we settled on “stem” and “stone” for today (which I said is the England English word for pit; she enjoyed the sentence “I hit the stones with the stones” immensely).  I asked her to teach me how to say “little brother” so that I can call Bek that.  It sounds kind of like “eeny” but I can never get the accent right and there is a super soft sneaky “m” at the end.  As soon as he arrived back from the ride he bumped into my shoulder playfully and I was able to say, “see what I mean?!” to Dara.  She thought it was so funny that she also started calling me kilin.


At dinner, Nora said in Kyrgyz and Dara translated that she wants Bek to marry me.  I pulled out a photo of Chris with pink hair and said that’s the kind of guy I like, but perhaps I’d consider it if Bek was willing to dye his hair pink.  Mercifully he was not present at this dinner.  His uncle and father were also there and they agreed on the match.  The driver also chipped in and said to dump Chris and marry Bek.  I hid my blushing face in my jacket and that caused everyone to laugh uproariously.  I think everyone called me kilin that night but Dara is maybe 90-100 pounds (she later said “40-45 kilos so that’s what I’m going on) and I can’t jab her in the ribs with my elbow the same way I can Bek.  When dinner was over I walked out of the dining room door and glanced to my right to find Jekshen at least five feet in the air.  Knowing jumpy ole McKenna (and “jumpy” is one of Bek’s vocab words for obvious reasons), you will not be surprised, dear reader, to hear that this elicited a shriek and a few stumbling steps away from the madness in the air.  Luckily it wasn’t so funny a sight that Jekshen was in any danger of falling off the ladder.  All is well with the world.


Bek has been saying for ages that we should drink a bottle of beer together so we did split some that night.  I was able to ask questions about horses since we were sitting around with no other obvious task or conversation easily at hand.  For one, I have been burning to know how many horses they have.  If you have a large amount of livestock, it is impolite in Kyrgyz culture to say how many.  People know how much horses/cattle/sheep cost and if you know how many someone has it’s basically like bragging about how much money they make.  This is similar to the idea that houses are meant to be humble on the outside and polished on the inside.  So since day one, I have been asking about their horses, and Bek has been cagey.  When we were in the field they day before, I elicited an accurate yet unspecific “more than 10.”  The night of beer though, I got a specific answer!  I was so proud until a few days later, Nora told some tourists the right number and I was flabbergasted.  I wonder if Bek knows….


Anyway, regardless of how secret the information is, he said that his 10 mares had 5 babies (culun in Kyrgyz) but two of them died.  I said “in America, we would cry about that.”  And he said “really?  Really.  Really?”  It was a situation that he could not compute.  His mares don’t have names and he thinks the two that lost the babies (within the first two weeks or so) were young mothers.  So it’s just a fact of life for him and not an emotional toll.  He said “every year my animals die.”  So I asked if he would cry if Adrenaline died (his personal horse) and he said “oh no!  I will not talk about this.”  It was too painful of an idea to discuss and possibly bad luck since he shot it down so quickly.  It was exactly the kind of conversation I imagined having when I planned this whole Watson thing.  Except I had no idea what he would be saying.  We looked up at the stars and I was excited to see my friend the Big Dipper (aka the only constellation I know) staring back at me, still in the same place even though I’ve traveled so far.

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