Places Where Flowers Bloom: Sheep Eyes, Bride-napping, and Fasting

July 2014

We took our dusty shoes off at the open door and pulled back the fly net. The small, two-room home into which we stepped was built for one reason only: practicality. All expenses spared. The first room of the house contained a sink, some counter space above which several cabinets had been mounted, and a large chest freezer. In one corner sat a wood burning stove that, we learned, was especially useful in the winter during power outages.

“Please, sit, sit!” June said, motioning toward the small door leading into the second room.

We did as we had been doing for nearly two months. We entered the second room of the house which served as June’s family’s living room, formal dining room, and bedroom, and we took our seats on long mattress-like cushions called tushucks. They had been laid out for us on the floor farthest from the door around a table which stood a mere foot off the ground. To my right, up against the wall, a metal chest and a large Ikea-like piece of closet furniture housed the five member family’s only earthly possessions. To my left in the corner of the room sat a TV loudly blaring news in Russian. Programming in the local language—the one we were (and still are) desperately trying to wrap our tongues around—didn’t start until 8:00.

After a few minutes, June brought out a large bowl filled to the brim with the pride and joy of local cuisine: a fatty, very well-seasoned sauce containing small bits of sheep stomach, sheep intestine, and what we guessed to be various other unidentifiable sheep organs served over fettuccine-like noodles. She was very excited to have us try one of their favorites. So we gritted out teeth and ate it. Most of it. A short while later she brought out the sheep’s entire head—which having been boiled for so many hours had begun to look a little worse for ware—and she honored us with a real delicacy: the eyes.

Though it wasn’t her custom, that night she sat with us and talked. We picked up bits and pieces here and there. She told us of how she married her husband. Like many young girls in this culture, she had been bride-napped and forced to marry him. Over fifteen years and three children later (the youngest of whom has Downs Syndrome), she still hadn’t left the man despite his heavy drinking and wasteful spending habits. Some things truly are unimaginable.

And it was June who told us of the beginning of a month-long fast that many people both in this country and all over the world keep. No food or water from sunup to sundown. And during hot and dry days of over 15 hours of sunlight, that is quite a feat.

“If you don’t eat, you make God happy, and then he’ll bless you,” she said.

If only she could taste and see and know that God is good, that he’s not much like the picture she’s formed of him in her mind.

Before too long, we were putting our shoes back on and saying our goodbyes. We stepped out into the cool evening air and headed back to our apartment.

This post is part of a series we’re calling Places Where Flowers Bloom in which we recount tales from our first days in Central Asia. Read more posts from this series here:

  1. Meeting the Landlady
  2. A Long Month
  3. Getting Evicted
  4. Where We Finally Landed


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