Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Sheep Eyes, Fermented Horses Milk and Ancient Muslim Minarets

Saturday October 2nd, was our first “culture day” and PC assembled all 66 of us at Burana Tower (about ½ hour drive southeast of Ivanovka). An eleventh century minaret, the 60 foot high Burana Tower is flanked on three sides by partially excavated mausoleums. About 5 miles to the south, snow covered mountain peaks poke the sky defining the valley’s southern boundary. With nothing but farmland for as far as the eye can see, it’s hard to imagine that nearly 1,000 years ago Burana Tower was a major stop on the old Silk Road and a city center of some 200,000 people.

As you know, our group of 66 has been divvied up and parsed out to about 7 or 8 eight villages around the city of Tokmok. My village, Ivanovka, contains the most volunteers (Raymond, David, Roselle Victoria, Kat, Tammi, Willie and his wife Alexis). I’m the oldest of the group and catch a lot of flak for being 30, looking 20 and acting 10. It’s a wonderful group of people and we take excellent care of one another as our bodies and bowels adjust to what our PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) refers to as “new intestinal flora”. Here’s a direct quote from our PCMO, “Dat iz right folkz, you have new flowerz blooming in zyour bottomz.”---ah, smells like roses.

Speaking of roses, Friday, October 1st was teacher’s day. On teachers day, students bring their favorite teacher flowers (usually roses as they are the most prolific flower in Ivanovka). I am proud to share that my Momma received 150 roses, more than any other teacher in the school. Her students also borrowed a 35mm camera and walked around the school grounds taking photos of each other, developed the film, assembled an album, and presented it to my mother. She was very touched and I told her I was very proud.

Ok, let’s return to culture day. After touring the ancient grounds of Burana, we assembled about 40 feet south of the base of the tower to witness the slaughter of a sheep. After the throat slitting and blood letting, the entire head is removed and then boiled. A Kyrgyz babushka (grandmother) befriended me and I assisted her with cooking Plov—a Kyrgyz traditional dish consisting of a mixture of fried onions, carrots, rice, salt and oil. We cooked over a semi-open fire (what resembled half of a 50 gallon drum, the bottom part of which a hole was cut to add logs while on top a giant wok shaped pan was placed). This wind-weathered, leather faced babushka chuckled continuously as I attempted to stir the mountain of onions and carrots that popped and fizzled in the boiling oil. One volunteer told me he was sure it would be the best Plov he’d ever had. Thank you.

The weather was beautiful and as we awaited our meal, blankets were thrown down over the dirt and straw and baskets of fresh apples, pears, walnuts and pomegranates were placed in the center of each. We snacked on fresh bread and fruit and tasted Kumyss (fermented mare’s milk).

I Spy a Sheep Eye
After awhile a procession of men carried the sheep head to the central blanket whereupon it was laid, facing the crowd of curious and squeamish volunteers. We watched in awe as the eyeballs were extracted (not effortlessly) from the sockets of this now alien looking boiled skull of flesh. Our cultural leader (a Kyrgyz national named Akylbek [pronounced Ah kool bek] who incidentally studied at the University of Minnesota) was handed one of the eyes and began explaining that it was a great honor to be offered the sheep’s eyes and it meant your host wanted to see you again. Now, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to encourage Akylbek to eat the eye—since he had just been handed one, “Akylbek, we would all like to see you again, so please…the eye is yours.” No sooner had my witty lips closed around “yours” than the words of another instructor began goading from the rear of the crowd, “Larry! Larry! If you want to see Akylbek again, you must eat eye too!.”

Jerry Springer would have been proud of the crowd that day—cheers and jeers from the frenzied masses grew deafening as Akylbek sliced the eyeball in two and handed me half. Kyrgyz children jostled one another to catch a glimpse of the great American Appreciator of Sheep-Eyes. As you know, I’ve never been called sheepish (sorry about that, I couldn’t help myself) and faced the crowd like Schwarzenegger’s Conan, proudly displaying the half-eye in hand. Akylbek and I looked at one another, and with a subtle nod, we slung’em back like pros. After a few chews, I determined that Sheep eyes taste like grizzled fat and swallowed. Not too bad, though next time you’ll find me at the back of the crowd, mute and mindful that silence means never having to say Eye’m sorry.

Culture day concluded with horse races, amazing musicians, puppeteers and violent Kyrgyz versions of dodgeball, duck duck goose, tug-of-war and Red Rover—all of which I participated in with true competitive glory…and humiliating defeat(s). When all was said and done, I think 66 volunteers had a great day.

After obtaining permission from the director of our PST (pre-service training), on Sunday (Oct. 3), I lead a group of volunteers from Ivanovka to Bishkek. It actually turned out to be a great day trip: we didn’t get lost, we paid local prices for transportation, shopped, wondered through the massive Dordoy Bazaar, drank a few beers and finally, at the request of the group, and found a decent restaurant for food.

That's all for now. I'll try and write again soon!


  • Tweed ~ Yum Yum! Sounds like your having a delish time. Where is the photographic evidence of your culinary experiences? ~ Digney

    By Blogger Digney, At 11:04 PM  

  • Pictures from the K-11 culture day can be found by linking through to Charles Harkness' blog and using the side bar to access his picture page. At the very bottom of the page are pictures of the sheep slaughtering process and cooking.

    By Blogger Megan Harkness-Madole, At 1:50 PM  

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