First month in Kazakhstan: a Uighur Wedding Analogy

Before I left I was expecting to land in a different world. I mean: Kazakhstan! It seemed so far away, so foreign. But it seems that a recurring feeling that I have been having since I’ve been here is like a grandiose sense of expecting the unexpected but then being hit with something just weird. I am not in a different world, just in a different country. It just feels like almost normal, everything is almost normal, except that I am in Kazakhstan.

I am still in the process of adapting, so I do not think that my radar has been tuned quite right to accommodate where I am. It is strangely familiar but as soon as I fall into a comfort than I am booted right out of it. It is easy to forget where I am, why I am here, and how to properly interject my being into this place. It seems that Almaty is a place that I am going to have to force to like me, but it is a challenge I am willing and able to take on!

I got pretty lucky with my host family assignments, and my host mom is very active and lets me tag along with her. So, recently (yesterday) I attended a Uighur wedding! I still have to process all of it, but some first impressions of the wedding I think can be reflected on to my entire experience here, sort of.

So, after getting lost a few times and spending six hours on the road for what should have been a three and a half hour trip, first thing that happens is we run run run because we were late to the ceremony. Here begins my path of secretly just copying what everyone else was doing. So I pull on my head scarf and go through the motions of the prayer and the ceremony with everyone else, almost like a dance, everyone bundled up as tightly together as possible. Then, as quickly as it began, it was over, and about half of the women pulled off their scarves, so I did what they did, and the men left the room and all of a sudden giant slabs of wood with food on them were brought in the room and set on the ground, and the women gathered around and sat on the floor and immediately started eating. It seemed at this point much more lax, not-with-standing my perpetual confusion/curiosity of what is going on around me, but I did my best to feel as comfortable as possible. Until, as people do, I had to go to the bathroom. So as I left I just followed where it seemed like everyone else was going to the bathroom, walked inside a house and stood outside a door to what seemed like was going to be a really nice bathroom, to notice everyone staring at me. Oops. Firstly, I had forgotten to take my shoes off, secondly I was white and clearly foreign, but more importantly, I WAS A WOMAN. Just as I let my guard down, I walked into the men’s house and asked where the bathroom was! Granted, the color of my skin and my accent are a pretty dead giveaway that it was an honest mistake, but it didn’t keep them all from laughing at me and telling me to leave and go the bathroom around the corner.

This is kind of what I feel like life so far has been in Almaty. Granted, it does not really have a religious tone to it, but just small things where just as I begin to think, everything is totally normal, something out of nowhere swoops in to remind me that I don’t know what I am doing here. However, I definitely am not complaining, I think this whole experience so far has been awesome. I relay this story with a sense of intrigue and comedic tone. It’s fun! It’s interesting! It’s definitely humbling! I hope it keeps happening, not only because it is very funny to find myself in those situations, but because I’d like to think, hopefully, that I am only going to get better and reacting and responding to it, and I can’t wait to see what all of this will feel like then. Not to mention, when my language ability finally gets to a point where I feel like this does not feel so foreign anymore, but that’s a whole other story and feeling.

By: Margaret Budik

Program: Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program

Term: Fall 2017


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