It was an ordinary Sunday. We went to church and then out to lunch with some new friends trying out some new cultural foods. We shared some laughs and shared some stories. As the lunch was dying down, a few of us remained, including the mornings preacher. We both soon realized there were no further plans for our afternoons, so Aman, our new Kyrgyz friend casually asked if we would like to visit his relatives in a nearby village. And that’s how the adventure began.
Right before we left Osh, we were spontaneously asked if we would care to spend the night in the village also. Throwing in our toothbrushes, we happily agreed! Between hitchhiking and local minibuses, we made our way an hour and half outside of the city to these beautiful pasturelands on the border of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Right on the other side of the narrow river lies a whole new country, one who’s past has at times caused problems on these borders but for now is at peace.
Our past experiences showing up unexpected in remote villages has always been pleasant and full of many unexpected surprises. When you think remote mountain village, you typically picture simple homes of mud and corrugated metal. However as we enter the first home we are greeted by brightly painted walls, the most beautiful hand crafted curtains, and an Easter morning display of candy baskets lining the dining room table. They immediately had us wash our hands and offered us the seats furthest from the door, a sign of honor. We were then paraded with a buffet of local candies and delicacies along with American favorites such as Twix bars. A very hospitable welcome and a far cry from what we expected entering a small Kyrgyzstan village.
After our buffet, we went around the village visiting Aman’s relatives and their neighbors. Every ones initial greeting is “Come to tea!” We had to politely decline many times as it would have taken us days to drink tea at every home in this village.
Arriving at our hosts Reliable Soviet car, we drove a ways out of town to near the reservoir. Our passage was interrupted more than a few times to pick some berries, ride horses, and meet with some locals. Eventually we parked the car and had to hike along the edge of the border over the hill to the reservoir. As we were hiking we came across 3 teenage soldiers that walk up and down the border all day guarding Kyrgyzstan and watching the neighboring country making sure they are obeying. They escorted along the border, warning us not to look too intently or take photos of Uzbekistan as we might be considered spies. Arriving at the reservoir, we received an incredible vista of the surrounding green pasturelands broken up by the sprawling water and framed by the distant white peaked mountains. Sitting on these picturesque hills we found shepherds laying in the grass as their flock of over 800 sheep grazed in the surrounding pasture. With Aman as our translator, we payed in the grass with them, hearing stories of their country and sharing ours.
As we slowly let the afternoon pass in this most beautiful setting, I asked if I could try out the horse. So here I was riding a horse only the second time in my life, learning to steer it as a car and commanding the animal to deliver me over these rolling hills through the throngs of sheep. It was such an incredible feeling being carried by such a powerful, beautiful animal. A feeling I had never experienced before, yet it is the daily mode of transport for these Kyrgyz shepherds. They were so excited to share this daily experience with us and even insisted on trying the donkey as well. It was such a beautiful afternoon hearing about the lives of these hardworking shepherds as we lay in the bright green pasturelands.
We returned to the village as the sun was setting only to make a few more stops at the villagers homes. We soon learned that we were the first Americans this village had ever received. So again we were able to answer eager questions of people curious about our country. We even found a few people who had never heard of Donald Trump! We talked and drank tea until our eyes could no longer stay open. Sharing our day with these villagers and mountain shepherds will be a memorable and enriching experience for both of us as we learned so much from each other. I hope someday they will get to visit and experience the daily life of an American.