So I only talked about one of my nights out, but that’s not all I did. I also went guesting. Guesting, as it sounds, is simply going to visit other people as a guest. I call it guesting because in Russian we call it “гocти” (gocti), but you put the verb “to go” in front of it (well, that’s what I say, and if it’s grammatically incorrect, it won’t be the first time I’ve screwed up the Russian language and sure as hell won’t be the last).
I love going guesting. The first time I went, we (my friend and I) visited my friend’s pre-service training Russian teacher. Her teacher is both a really nice woman and completely in love with my friend. I think that if my friend were up for adoption, her teacher would absolutely take her in. Anyway, guesting in Kyrgyzstan is a really big deal. In this culture age and then gender are the characteristic that really define how important and respected a person is in the community. John (hypothetical Kyrgyz man) may be a complete lush, but if he’s an old lush, so people will treat him with respect even when he’s blitzed out of his mind. This is because while it’s shameful for anyone to be that drunk, it’s worse to disrespect your elders who, because they’re older than you, automatically know more than you do about everything. In the most traditional villages, I think that what an old man says is law. And when there are lots of people in a room, where you sit, when you’re served and what you’re served is all age dependent (if a man and a woman are of the same age, the man is always first…if there are two men of equal age, I don’t know, maybe a battle to the death occurs).
Even higher than old folks are guests. The guest always sits in the most comfortable place, eats the best food, and is doted on in any way possible. This is only the case when the guest is only there for one meal, if the guest is going to be there for a while he or she is only treated as a guest for the first meal. And if he or she’s a regular visitor, then the guest treatment no longer occurs. What can I say, the regular guest becomes kind of like family in this sense. But I digress.
Guesting is also awesome because of the quality and quantity of food served. People go out of their way to buy and make your favorite foods, regardless of cost, in huge quantities just because you’re going to be there for a meal. When we went guesting at Rahat’s (teacher) house, she had cashews (400s/kilo), pistachios (450s/kilo), raisins (90s/kilo), tons of cookies, assorted candies, and delicious plov. You may think those prices are cheap, but consider the fact that I make about 6000s per month because I’m supposed to live at the level of most Kyrgyz people, and you realize that buying those expensive nuts and raisins is a big purchase. Basically, I say in her house for about four hours, three of which I spent constantly eating or nibbling and talking. Talking was the easy part.
The second time I went guesting was to my former host mother’s house (where I lived during pre-service training). I had spoken with my host brother, Said, and said I was coming. But when he told her, she didn’t believe him. What can I say, I kinda understand why she felt that way, he is a bit of a hooligan. But regardless, when I arrived she had fresh homemade bread (soooo delicious), butter, homemade raspberry, strawberry and apple preserves, and was making pilmeni. Pilmeni are tortellini, stuffed with ground beef mixed with onion and garlic (sometimes). This was one of my favorite meals during my time with her, and she said that next time I drop by she’ll make me plov (a delicious dish that combines oil, finely diced carrots, rice, and lamb). I can’t wait to go back.
As you may have imagined, each time I went guesting I returned home so full that no dinner was required; and in the case of my former host mother, breakfast was also skipped to prepare for the great feast that lay ahead of me. It’s kinda funny, I talked to my current host grandmother about the past week I had off, and she said she thought I was starving myself all week. Then I explained to her that no, I was eating in Bishkek with friends a lot and going guesting. Apparently someone saw me and thought I had lost weight (during just that week), I disagree with that assessment (although I have lost weight since coming to this country, though I don’t know how much). I ate more that week than I can recall eating since leaving my former host family, although it’s not like I eat much less now (just less meat because my host granny loves duck and gross looking fish while I do not).