We talked about Kyrgyz history first. I had read that students here learn a lot more about Russia than about Central Asia, and that came through yesterday. They don't learn anything about any other Central Asian countries even though their history is closely tied with them, and they were vague on several parts of Kyrgyz history, especially between the arrival of the Kyrgyz and the Khokand Khanate. Things picked up a lot when we got to the Russians.
We also talked about Russian literature. They highly recommended Pushkin's Eugene Ovegin. They said that they can check a book out of the National Library for 3 som a day, or about 50 cents a week. Not too bad, but comparing a typical US salary of $30,000/yr to a Kyrgyz one of $600/year, that would work out to be about $25 a week in the US. Obviously the library is a luxury for most people. Villages have smaller libraries where you don't have to pay, but with smaller collections of older books.
Of course, libraries would be completely worthless in the US if you had to pay that much to borrow a book; you'd buy it instead.
We also talked about Manas and manaschi, the people who can recite from the Manas epic. They didn't know if Manas was a legend or not, or if he was the same man as the first leader of the Kyrgyz, Barsbek. They told me about Kurmanjan Datka, a famous Kyrgyz woman who lived in the 19th century. See here, here and here for a little information (search for her name). She is quite popular here- she is on the 50-som bill and even has her own stamp. Here is a bit more about her:
One of the famous historical-legendary daughters of the Kyrgyz people was the "tsaritsa Alaia" --Kurmanzhan-datka. She was the only woman ruler, tsaritsa, in the conditions of a Muslim kingdom completely ignoring the interests and rights of women. She won the respect of her contemporaries. Of her was written, "She is an energetic and wise woman."... Her character and strength of will was evident in her youth. Declining to marry the man whom her parents chose for her was a protest against the enslavement of women. But in 1832 she married Alimbek-datkhu who was the ruler of the Andizhan territory and who had considerable influence in the Kokand khanstvo. He was drawn to her intelligence and energy and they lived together for 29 years, during which time she was his helpmate in ruling. After his death, because of her personal qualities and authority, she was recognized as the ruler, and was given a title of honor by the Kokand khan and the Bukhara emir, and she was also recognized by the Russian tsar's government.
I asked them about bride kidnapping. One girl was very outspoken against it, but it sounds like it has happened quite often in her family- her great-grandmother and mother were both kidnapped, and at least two of her sisters-in-law. I should have asked her where she was from because her family clearly is not from Bishkek. Another girl wasn't nearly as opposed; even when I explained that I meant that the girl did not have much say in the matter and when her parents did not know it would happen.
One girl seemed to think I was also asking about arranged marriages (and again, there is a huge variety in types of arranged marriages) but bride kidnaping can't really be described that way. It's either eloping or a forced marriage. They said that if akidnappeds kidnapped, she could refuse or her parents could refuse and she could go home, although she would be "disgraced." It is a "bad sign" when a girl refuses. They said she could go to a different town where people didn't know her. It all followed what Russell Kleinbach's research found.
They always ask me about Hollywood and media people that I am clueless about. They always seem surprised that an American wouldn't care about that. Either they'll decide that I'm a really strange American or (hopefully) that Americans aren't all the same.