Kyrgyz homestay

I found a couple of posts that I began after coming home from Central Asia this summer that never got finished or posted. They can’t get away with hiding all that easily. I’ll be finishing those and posting them here.

Birds wandering the backyard of our Kyrgyz homestay

We really need so little to live on.

I first started thinking about this at a homestay in the beautiful (if not so beautifully named) Kyrgyz town of Arslanbob. The family – at least three generations, including a constantly-moving collection of boys – slept in two rooms downstairs. One of them was the same room we’d crowded in for dinner, over twenty of us sitting on cushions around a low table heaped with bread, watermelon, sour cherry compote, sweets, and tea, not to mention the actual meal served. The other was the room by the front door. I’m sure that when they don’t have guests, some members of the family climb the steep ladder-like stairs to sleep in the twin-sized beds upstairs, but I imagine the kids and some of the younger adults sleep downstairs anyway, or perhaps the older generation too once the ladder becomes too difficult to negotiate.

In the morning, when I carefully came down the narrow ladder-like staircase, a few people were still sleeping in the main room; a shy boy of about six peeked around the half-open door from the other room and quickly hid, shutting the door again.

By the front door, I picked up my shoes from the little rack, stepped outside, and slipped them on again. Across a small patio, down a few steps, and around to the left I found two doors: one for the toilet (which flushes with water from a hose hanging from the ceiling, the water flow controlled by a small lever) and the other for a small room with a sink and a shower. A compact water heater outside takes about an hour to heat enough water for a warm shower. A flush toilet is really nice to have. So is a hot shower, even with timid water pressure. But I’ve had perfectly nice days that involved neither. I was perfectly content to travel with nothing more than what I could carry in my backpack. And beyond those basics, what do we really need?

The mountains around Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan.

Then I thought some more. It’s one thing to walk outside to the toilet in the lush, warm rains of summer. The garden bloomed with roses, and chickens darted around with manic aimlessness. But what about in winter? What’s it like to run outside in slippers and pajamas when there’s two feet of snow on the ground? Do they put a space heater in the bathroom to try to make the air temperature bearable for showering? How much was I idealizing their life?

I know it’s easy to idealize country life when you’re not doing the work. But to live in a town with enough rain to make the summer green, with a backdrop of craggy mountains still streaked with snow, with a bustling market and friendly people – it seemed to strike the perfect balance. They had what they needed: shelter, clothing, an abundance of food. They had semi-indoor plumbing; they had water from a stream running near the house. They didn’t each have their own closet filled with clothing, or a kids’ room filled with toys. They didn’t have privacy, but they had a close-knit family where anyone – sibling, parent, grandparent – might be holding the round-faced baby at any given moment. Even knowing that its drawbacks, I envied their simplicity.

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