From ancient to modern times in a town in Kyrgystan
FALLS VILLAGE — Entrails, fermented mare’s milk and sheeps heads were on the menu (so to speak) at the Hunt Library Friday, Sept. 9, as Mary Atwood read from her memoir, “I Drank My Tea.”Mary and Tracy Atwood, plus their three teenage children, were with the Foreign Service in Kyrgystan from 1999-2003.Formal education was a concern. Daughter Catherine, in the seventh grade at the time, turned out to have a flair for languages, so much so that she spent her eighth- and ninth-grade years at a Russian language school.“She was fluent and comfortable, and functioned as the family interpreter,” Mary Atwood said, adding that it was a real treat when Catherine was able to sing — in Kyrgyz — to the Atwoods’ rural hosts during one of their visits to the remoter areas of this already remote, landlocked, mountainous Central Asian country.On such trips the Atwoods had to adapt to local customs, such as killing a sheep for a feast. Atwood showed photos of Kyrgyz women washing and braiding the entrails.Other customs that took some getting used to were the presentation of the slaughtered animal’s head to the eldest male; eating at 2 a.m.; drinking fermented mare’s milk (“It’s got quite a zing”), and cleaning your plate (or not).“In my culture you eat or drink it all, no matter what,” said Atwood. “But in their culture they immediately refill the bowl.“There’s no easy way out of it.”The Atwoods were in the capital city of Bishkek on Sept. 11, 2001.“Catherine answered the phone,” remembered Mary Atwood. “The message was, ‘Stay home, get your family members home, don’t go to the embassy.’“Reality shifted, things became much more tense. Nothing was normal that fall. Americans became edgy and started leaving.”Then, in late September 2001, Tracy Atwood called home, to general nervousness. Was this the call to evacuate?Not exactly. It seems there was a regular pickup basketball game at the embassy — including the ambassador.“No one remembered to bring a basketball.” “I Drank My Tea” is published by CreateSpace.