Kyrgyz Familyz – Cemya and more


Quick Note: Russian words in parenthesis throughout to help me practice vocab… I am not calling my brother a brat or my friends drugs…


I have been living in Krasnaya Retchka now for two weeks and I have to say I truly lucked out. My family (semya) consists of Mama Zulfia, brother (brat) Vasil, and his wife, my sister-in-law (snaha) Nargiza. I am sure I am butchering the spelling of their names in English but this is how I have been pronouncing them and they have yet to correct me so I’m sticking to the phonetic spelling. Granted they did let me make a fool of myself for about a week before clarifying that my sister-in-law’s name was not, in fact “Snaha” (which is the Russian word for sister-in-law) and my brother’s name was in fact not “Sin” (the Russian word for son) but rather that was just how my host mother had described my new family. She clearly overestimated, and still does at times, my Russian deciphering capabilities.

My host brother is 27 and works as a dentist in Bishkek. He drives his Subaru Legacy (complete with spoiler and sweet panther decals) about an hour to the city every day. In an attempt to communicate that I also drove a Subaru in America I have somehow convinced him that I race cars… His wife (my snaha) stays home but is studying to become a dentist as well. She is extremely patient with me and (if I manage to stay awake late enough, past 9 in PST time) lets me read her anatomy notes to practice sounding out the Russian alphabet.

Nargiza (snaha) is a wonderful baker; she makes the best bread I have ever had. It is fluffy and soft and buttery and chewy and there is always yogurt and cherry jam to dip it in. My mother is also a wonderful cook and, despite that everything here is made with at least a half gallon of oil, cooks the most delicious dumpling-like creations that are filled with everything from pumpkin and onion to potato and meat (all grown, and maybe slaughtered, in our very own backyard farm).

All of these things make it very difficult to stop eating before the point where I feel the need to unbutton my pants, however this seems to be socially acceptable in Kyrgyzstan since mealtime entertainment seems to mostly be laughing at the silly (and apparently incorrect) sentences I try to throw together in my Russian/mime language, and all of the women at the table telling me to eat! eat! (kuscheit! kuscheit!) To I have found the only response is to comply. Saying “I’m full” or “no thank you, I have already eaten enough” elicits a response, which I can only describe as terrifying. It consists of many loud Kyrgyz (and Turkish) women making furious eating motions with their hands and miming something that involves making circles around their waists and hips, which I can only assume means they think I need to plump up (presumably to find a good man, or not get cold in winter).

My mother is a very sweet woman who also has incredible patience with my terrible communication. She drills me on the days of the week and various food/household items at every meal. Zulfia Eje (Eje = older sister and is the respectful way to address an older, wiser woman) is from Turkey but has lived in Kyrgyzstan for a long time (I asked how many years but I haven’t quite gotten the number and counting thing down yet so I wont guess). Her sister also lives in the vicinity and comes to visit a lot with her daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law. These sometimes unexpected and almost daily visits are made not only by family members but also by random neighbors, cows, and street children (these are unsupervised terrors who roam the streets presumably because they live close by, and throw rocks at things like dogs, chickens and anything that might make a loud noise).

These visits are called “guesting,” a very Kyrgyz event that traditionally involves at least 10 pots of tea (chai) and lasts well into the hours of “I’m so tired I can’t speak any more Russian and might fall asleep right here on this table.” On the plus side I frequently learn the most Russian at these events and can often bribe a child with a pencil or small toy to play cards with me or run around the backyard and tell me the words for things that I point at.



Photo time! (let’s see if they upload)

This is my mother making (and teaching me to make) dumplings that are kind of similar to pirogues à filled with potato (kartoshka) and spices



And this is me trying to not cut the dumpling dough too small or mash it too thin



This is my Snaha’s bread (halib) baking process:

First, a recipie that could feed an army, then dough balls that expand to four times the size they began.



Then you give the American girl a wooden block with some nails in it and tell her to smash all the air out of the middle of the bread… (instructions done completely in through miming)


Then it looks like this (kind of pretty)


Nargiza always saves it and makes it beautiful


I’m sure there is a name for this particular type of bread but my Russian wasn’t coming across clearly when I asked, “what is this bread named?” I’ll find out later and get back to you.


Mama Zulfia’s sister (cestra) and neighbor (contemplating my Kyrgyz bread making skills, or lack thereof)


Zulfia Eje in the outdoor kitchen


Laundry day, Kyrgyz style


Our backyard farm. We grow tomatoes, strawberries, green onions (which apparently can serve as the vegetable in ANY dish!) cucumbers, cherries and potatoes (mostly potatoes)



My ducks (chicken, turkey, chicken) they are in a rowImage

Our street, I walk into the sun on the way to school, and into the sun on the way home…


My little neice Aileen (she stole all the pencils, but I forgive her because she sings the Frozen song so well)


My host brother, brother in law and neighbor. They dug a large hole for our new outhouse… directly in front of our current outhouse…


Learning the proper way to peel an onion


The chicken coop, the old outhouse/new hole in the ground is directly behind the chickens’ adobe hut


Our dog (sabaka) Tobig. He is very cute and looks like a midget border collie but I only pet him with my feet because he always has ticks, dirt and spiders crusted into his coat…


What happens when Aileen takes my ipad to take photos (they were mostly of everyone’s butts since that seems to be her eye line).


Also Tevas and socks are super hip in Kyrgyzstan FYI I am actually being very fashion forward and could only be surpassed by someone with a fanny pack or a dog rock

The strawberries and onions (luk) my family grows


Our house and field of potatoes




Our wonderful LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator… aka Russian teacher) Usen. Fun facts about Usen:

1-    he is a twin and together their names (Asen and Usen) mean rainbow

2-    he owns some very cool, very shiny pants

3-    I’ve been told he was a professional disco dancer in the 70’s, a fact which I choose to believe whole heartedly (based on fun fact #2)

More about language and culture classes and my friends (droog & padrooga) who bear through Russian with me later.





6 thoughts on “Kyrgyz Familyz – Cemya and more


  2. I’m soooooo proud of you! You sound like you are already doing wonderful work getting to know and appreciate your “family” and their way of life. I hope you are keeping a detailed diary so that I can read all about your adventure when you get back to the US. I know you will be a wonderful asset to your “family” and others as they get to experience what American’s can be like and I know also that you will learn much and experience much that will enrich your life for years to come. We are so proud of you, Martha, and if we can work it our so that it is convenient for you, I’m convincing your Dad that we really should visit Kyrgystan while you are there. Love and hugs, Jane

  3. Dear Anna. It is so good to receive your blog and information about your family for these next three months. Needless t say, they are as fortunate and blessed to have you to attend to and to be sure that you are acclimated to the country.

    Your blog posts are important as are the photos. Please keep them coming! You are an important writer for us – both to keep us informed about you and your well-being. When you get around to it and the connection, send a note. Remember that we are as close as yiour emails and stand ready with any supplies you may need.

    WOW! We are so excited for you.

    Love and hugs,

    Grandpapa Ralph Kelly Mobile:

    Co-Author with Jane Magruder Watkins Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination 2nd Edition


    • I live with a host family that is lucky enough to have running water and indoor plumbing, however I have been told that it is pretty common for this to only be a summer luxury and one that doesn’t work quite as well when the pipes freeze in the winter. Additionally, both running water and electricity are prone to abrupt and prolonged outages (in short, the explanation for the choppiness of my posts)

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