In June of 2016, I left my country to embrace uncertainty. Seemingly by fate, I was thrown into a vibrant, colorful country in South Asia. As I learned, India is a country that has become an accelerator for ideas, launches, and new challenges. Following my time in India, I then found myself in a country where at every step you can find rice and fried chicken, where the visit of different cities begins again in local eateries, where everyone is given the opportunity to start something, or to plunge into the environment of creative people. Malaysia revealed itself to me to be a country of opportunities, a place where you can create something of your own, a place from which you can easily travel to other exotic countries, and most importantly, a place where you can meet nice people.
A week ago, I traveled back to my home country, Kazakhstan, for a vacation. Having been abroad for more than a year and a half, it was a little hard for me to readjust, and I had some difficulties seeing with fresh eyes what it’s like to live in Kazakhstan. I walked a bit in the center of Almaty, and I saw that the city has been changed for a better, having become friendlier for pedestrians. Despite this, however, it still seems that the mentality of the people in the foreground destroys everything.
After two days in Almaty, I traveled to my hometown, Aktau, where my family was already expecting guests. My time spent walking in the city had helped me to adapt back to my home country, so I dived right back in once I was with my family, and this is how a Kazakh family hosts an event.
It starts with a certain meat…
In Central Asia, we don’t keep it as a secret that we love to eat meat. And our favorite meat is not as ordinary as chicken, lamb, or cow. It’s actually horse meat. Yes, we eat horse meat, or in the Kazakh language, kazy. Until you’ve tried it, you simply cannot imagine the taste. It’s good when it’s hot or cold. Those who read this article, you can leave your comments below from where you are, and I will try to find Kazakhs in your city or in your country. If you meet them, chances are good that you’ll be able to try kazy.
Kelin (daughter-in-law), a superwoman.
Kelin refers to a daughter-in-law in the family, a person who does everything around the house: she cleans the house, cooks, gets up early in the morning to prepare tea for her husband’s parents, etc. At first, the kelin wears a headscarf on the head and she, as well as the whole family (parents and spouse), are invited for tea by relatives. She is a superwoman; it’s not just a matter of doing all the housework, but also the effort put into building a good relationship with her husband’s mom.
Don’t forget to invite your relatives, or guests for Kazakhs.
Kazakhs are generally considered a most hospitable people. We love to meet and see off guests, no matter what the occasion is. Yesterday and today, we greeted the guests, which means buying food at local bazaars. Since Aktau is a relatively small city, it can be crossed in just 45 minutes by car. There are more than 10 bazaars, each of them different, specializing in certain goods. For example, at bazaar A, you can buy fruits and vegetables at cheaper prices; at bazaar B. only fresh meat; at bazaar C, you will find sour-milk products; at bazaar D, alcohol, and so on.
When the guests arrive at a Kazakh family’s home, the youngest in the family will usually meet them with a pitcher in their hands. The youngster pours the water into the hands of the guests and directs them to the right room. This hand-washing ritual doesn’t happen only once; it needs to be done after the guests finish eating, too.
Typically, guests will gather at a person’s home, whether it’s a small apartment or a two-storey house. There is a proverb in Kazakh language: Konil bolsa bari siyad, which means “With joy, everyone can find his place.” We start by serving a meat dish. On a large plate, the kelin (daughter-in-law) serves to the guests the Kazakh traditional dish beshbarmak, or “five fingers”. This dish can be prepared with beef, mutton, or horse. Kazakhs eat it with only one hand, and this explains the origin of the dish’s name.
The head of the table, called tor in Kazakh, is usually the reserved seating place for noble or adult people. In the western part of Kazakhstan, when it comes to beshbarmak, men and women sit in different rooms. The topics of conversations in the men’s room are generally related to politics, work, current affairs, or even things that happened in the past. In the women’s room, conversely, topics tend to center around gossip, cosmetics, how to lose weight, or what’s been recently purchased on shopping trips.
And the conclusion of this article: Uyat bolady (It’s a shame)
Perhaps the most frequently used phrase by every Kazakh, especially by the older generation, is Uyat bolady. This phrase is such a near-universal word-motivation for the Kazakhs, it’s like a push to start doing something. We have to buy it, otherwise we’ll be ashamed; we must clean the house, otherwise, we’ll be ashamed; we have to go to visit our relatives, or we’ll be ashamed; we must give them something, or we’ll be ashamed. You get the idea. Just as some Asian cultures find motivation in kiasu, or the fear of missing out, the Kazakhs are motivated by a fear of being ashamed, which we call uyat bolady.
This article only covers a small part of what I experienced after returning home to visit after my time spent living abroad. Despite seeing things differently now, I still look at my parents with a smile on my face as they hospitably meet relatives; at my relatives, when they look at me and ask, “Oh, is that little Tomas?”, or “Oh, Tomas, when did you come back, are you still studying?” Sometimes coming home is an eye-opener, too… like the shock you experience at finding that now your little brothers and sisters are much taller than you! But still, you’re glad that you are with them.
In this New Year, I want to wish you and your family happiness and health, and to you and your loved ones, only the best of luck and positive experiences. As I’ve learned, it’s good to be with your family, at least for a little while.