Written April 20, 2010.
I know this blog post is coming close on the heels of my previous one, but I had an incident tonight that is definitely worth sharing. It was my first experience with besh bermak, a traditional Kyrgyz dish you eat with your hands that literally translates “five fingers.” I’d heard about this dish from other trainees whose host families subjected them to it earlier than mine. I knew something was up when I came home (from my first actual teaching experience!) and my apa and her sister were bent over the kitchen table, elbow-deep in sheep intestines. I’ve had enough experience with butchering that the whole blood and guts thing doesn’t bother me, but the fact that there was a pile of intestines where I eat my breakfast every morning made me a little queasy. How many times have they prepared besh bermak in the place where I eat my breakfast?
We didn’t end up eating until about 10:30pm, after multiple extended family members had arrived. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to walk into a room for dinner and realize that your options are intestines stuffed with chopped intestines or the entirety of a sheep’s head. More likely you’ll be eating some of both. I can now proudly say that I’ve eaten sheep’s eye. At least, I think it was eye. My apa had to peel it for me, so I assumed that’s what it was. This was not on my list of things to do before I die, but I think I’ll go ahead and add it just to check it off. Fortunately, beyond the unidentifiable sheep innards there were also homemade noodles and baked potatoes involved, as well as a sort of cabbage and carrot salad so I could at least maintain the appearance of eating without constantly forcing down eyeball. On the upside, though, my apa introduced me as her кыз, or daughter. I also realized that I’m picking up on more conversation topics than I used to, and I could tell when the other family members were asking about me.
Naturally, there were a couple awkward moments: the family teased me about sitting “like a boy” - cross-legged rather than tucking both my legs to one side. Also, I was seated next to my ata’s (host dad’s) aunt, who kept trying to speak to me in Russian. This led to other family members calling out to me over her questions in an effort to translate what she was saying. I’m still not sure I understood or answered any of her questions correctly. I’m chalking this up as a good night overall, strange new food aside. My apa called me her daughter; I officially have family here.