My Turn: Finding a familiar Taos-feel in the Kyrgyz Republic

By Donna Marie of Tres Orejas
currently living in Kyrgyzstan
Posted 1/3/19

I want to express my gratitude for a two-year subscription to The Taos News while I am away in the Kyrgyz Republic in central Asia. It's nice to keep up with familiar faces and places by reading the …

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My Turn: Finding a familiar Taos-feel in the Kyrgyz Republic

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I want to express my gratitude for a two-year subscription to The Taos News while I am away in the Kyrgyz Republic in central Asia. It's nice to keep up with familiar faces and places by reading the news online. My home is Tres Orejas, Taos County. I have many dear friends west of the gorge and a few old friends in town, Ranchos and Talpa. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching English to secondary school students from the 5th to 11th grades for the next two years. I live in a village on the west side of the Tien Shen mountains.

Mountains surround the entire country like great hugging arms. You see them any which way you turn, not unlike Northern New Mexico. Peaks glimmer white in the distance. Foothills about 7,000 -10,000 feet surround my village and taller peaks rise beyond us to 22,000 feet. Winter is mild in the south but in this beautiful country's north, temperatures and snowfall are similar to recent Taos weather. I have yet to experience Kyrgyz spring and summer but look forward to visiting high pastures with friends and my Kyrgyz family, to harvest hay and honey among herds of horses and sheep.

I am the only American in my region, the first most villagers ever met. I have been received with an enthusiasm, graciousness and generosity that reminds me of New Mexico's Eight Northern Pueblo Tiwa and Tewa people who generously open their doors to strangers and guests and feed us. The hospitality culture here is up front and center. The Kyrgyz make something similar to frybread, more like a tiny sopapilla, which is often served at meals, so I have to watch how many of those I pop into my mouth! I've been eating lots of mutton and drinking more tea in the past few months than I have in my whole life!

Friends are strong and dear to me on the Mesa (you know you!). All my friends have lived a lifetime of activism of one sort or another, inspiring me and countless others, whether by choosing an alternative lifestyle (I'm sort of over that phrase ... how about choosing to live better?), walking softly on Mother Earth or by honoring their innate gifts of art, poetry or music, and sharing them with us all. My friends and neighbors make contributions to our dear, fragile, beautiful, awful world everyday and have done so for decades. They may never know just who and how many folk they have positively and indelibly influenced just by being who they are with the necessary ingredient of hospitality, which makes the sharing of their courageous feistiness, dedication to their causes, untold gifts and inspiration possible.

I lived in Talpa 40 years ago and kept coming back when I could to visit friends and the land. I had raised a wee brood who now live all over the map. After the last fledgling fledged, I found myself hunkered down in my proverbial "empty nest." It was then I returned to the mesa to build my home. I call it my "House of Belonging" after the David Whyte poem of the same name.

After a short stint at the Carson post office, I decided to complete that unfinished degree that had been hounding me for nearly 30 years. I enrolled in a self-designed Integrated Studies program at Northern New Mexico College in Española (shout out to NNMC Eagles!) and completed my degree in May 2018.

During the last year of my studies I thought "What's next, Donna?" Curiously enough, I was moved into action by whoever owns the Subaru usually parked at the Lund and Hinde intersection in Taos. When turning left towards Taos Co-Op, I could read the bumper sticker just at eye-level: "Stop Global Whining," it says. This spoke to me.

I watched a documentary film called "Searching for Nepal" by returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Phil Deustchle. Phil wanted to pay a visit to his host family and see what had become of his students after his 1977 Peace Corps service. What blew my mind about Phil's story was the part where, after days of trekking, he couldn't find the village. There should have been a footpath going up a hillside across the river but he couldn't see it. A chat with locals helped him realize the footpath was still there but hidden by a forest, once acres of seedlings Phil and his science class had planted some 40 years earlier in an effort to remediate groundwater problems. That really turned me on, resonating with the idea of becoming an ally - not an imposer - to assist in implementation of long-term sustainable goals of people who live in their own land.

Peace Corps Volunteers only go where we are invited, the main ideas being service where one is asked to serve, and cultural exchange. Finally, I read about older volunteers. They call us "50+ers." I had no idea Peace Corps had a place for us. But when I read about the volunteer who celebrated her 80th birthday as a PCV in Indonesia, and another who began serving at age 70 and who only recently finished his service at age 85, something inside me said "Yes."

I wanted to go to Kyrgyzstan for a few simple reasons: Its mountainous beauty reminds me of Northern New Mexico with the "steppe" look of southern Colorado near the gorge rift; to learn about Kyrgyz ancient indigenous people, language and culture; and the fact the Kyrgyz Republic was top of the list for needing volunteers. Most volunteers are just out of college, some begin their service in their mid-to-late 20s or early 30s. About 6 percent of us worldwide are 50+. I am currently the oldest volunteer in my cohort.

I have been in the Kyrgyz Republic since late August. The language is a challenge and the work is, too. But teaching happy, enthusiastic children is more than gratifying, Kyrgyz people are more than remarkable, culturally rich and gracious. And the land, well, it's oddly close to home, the way the mountains comfort and hold us all, the peaks always breathtaking.

My dear family, friends and neighbors in Taos County know when we stomp our feet on the land, we connect one with the other just the other side of this beautiful blue-green-brown home we call Earth. It is with this letter I send my stomping gratitude and great wishes for health and contentment. And may long draughts of happiness fill your steaming winter mugs and keep your hearts pouring out warmth, especially towards one another.

A typical Kyrgyz wish (likely poorly translated) goes something like this: We thank our ancestors for the many gifts we enjoy today. May we have good health, happiness and prosperity. May our children be healthy, may we enjoy a long life, and may all our relatives have good health and prosperity all through the year.

Happy New Year to all and to you and yours!

Donna Marie currently lives in Kyrgyzstan.

Disclaimer: I do not speak for the Peace Corps, David Whyte or Phil Deutschle in any official way. The Peace Corps website is easy to find and anyone can check it out.

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