Local Friends and Cultural Events

09.06.09

Sorry for not updating regularly; I’ve realized that although everything already feels pretty routine, a lot of things have actually happened that may be of interest to my far-away readers. 🙂 I have had the pleasure of really immersing myself in Issyk community life and witnessing a few great cultural events that I will tell you about now.

Constitution Day
August 29th was Kazakhstan’s Constitution Day holiday, so on Sunday we all went to the parade at the Cultural Center in Issyk. There was a big parade with many of the town’s cultural, professional and social organizations (medical student association, worker unions, many different cultural/national/religious groups, military groups, etc.). There were also a variety of performances on the outdoor stage, including traditional Kazakh singing, dombra playing, a Ukrainian choir, and a wide variety of dances (including the following one with girls and the balls…that seems to be a common dance theme between Estonia, China and Kazakhstan:P). We toured the Cultural Center too, where there was a display about the Kazakh “Golden Man,” a soldier covered in gold plated armor that is perhaps Kazakhstan’s most famous archaeological discovery, and which was actually found in Issyk. It was a really fun celebration that is better told in pictures than in words, so here you go:

The parade!

Peace Corps volunteers on Constitution Day

First Bell Holiday
The next celebration was September 1st, Kazakhstan’s “First Bell Holiday”: in other words, the first day of school. Before I say more, I should interject an explanation about my two local friends here in Issyk. My babushka used to be a biology professor and one of her students is now a mom who lives in our building the next entrance over. She and her son, Damir, come over regularly to “gosti.” He is 22 and currently at a university/conservatory in Almaty studying ballet! Through him I also met Yegor, a student at the “gymnasia” that we have training at every day. There are many schools in Issyk, but the gymnasia is a private high school with a special music program, so there are much fewer students there than in the other schools in the area (and the education is likely of higher quality). Yegor is the same age as my sister (seven years younger than me), but it’s amazing how mature he both looks and acts. They’re both really great guys and we spent a couple of nights trading pictures, stories and recordings/videos of our own school performances when they came to gosti with my granny. 🙂 They are both very artsy and talented and they have promised to take me to the ballet in Almaty later this month. I love having local friends who know everything!

Yegor, me, Damir

So back to the First Bell Holiday. There are 11 of us OCAP Organizational Development (OD) people in the gymnasia, and 4 teachers who are also affiliated with the gymnasia to actually sit in on their classes and do teaching during the course of Pre-Service Training. We were all told that we would get to go to this ceremony and introduce ourselves briefly on stage. We filed in to the auditorium and I looked around for Yegor, being that he is the only student in the whole school that I actually know. It wasn’t hard to find him – turns out he was emceeing the entire ceremony! I later joked with my babushka that of course the one person I knew was the most important person there. 😉

The ceremony was adorable. There were student songs and skits heavily featuring the 11th graders, who are the highest grade in the school. A dance troupe of female students performed several traditional Kazakh dances. Many speeches were given: by the school director, various teachers, alums of the school who were present, and even a couple of old war veterans who were given prime front seating when they entered (not sure what their relation was, but perhaps their grandsons/daughters were students there). Certificates of excellence were passed out for the honor roll students of the last school year. The most adorable part was definitely the performance by the 11th graders and the 1st grade class, in which the oldest class gives advice to the youngest and gives them presents (little school supply kits with markers), after both parties recite various poems of wisdom about school and learning. The little girls each had a bow (sometimes two!) the size of their heads. It was too cute to be true. Then finally, a little girl was lifted up onto someone’s shoulders and rang the first bell, signifying the start of the school year.

First graders! Adorable.

Traditional Kazakh national dance

Russian Orthodox Church
The next Sunday (Sept. 5th) I woke up early on my only day off (we have class on Saturdays too here) to go see Yegor perform at the weekly Russian Orthodox church service. The service is very amazing from a cultural (if not religious) perspective, and you may recall that I went the Sunday before as well with my granny. There are two a cappella choirs, which for an a cappella lover like me is wonderful. The “Lower Choir” is 4-5 girls on the floor of the church, and the “Upper Choir” is a quartet (bass, tenor, alto and soprano) on the balcony, out of sight. They take turns singing throughout the service, which lasts about two hours (from 8 – 10 a.m.). Yegor is the bass in the Upper Choir, and they are truly amazing. The tenor and soprano are a mother and son, and the alto is his music director at the gymnasia. I got to sit on the secret balcony and watch them rehearse and sing. Will try to post a video when I can (it’s hard here)!

[EDIT: Here is the video, at long last!!!]
The church is under construction at the moment but it is relatively small. There are many artistic renditions of Christ, Mary, the 12 Disciples, and various Biblical stories on the walls and ceiling. The priest looks relatively young, and throughout the service there is a combination of chanting, prayer and singing. At some point the crowd forms two rows and he walks down the middle dripping holy water on everyone’s heads from a large golden cross. The vast majority of attendees are women in long skirts and scarves tied around their heads (it is inappropriate for women to leave their heads uncovered in the church). I have been agnostic for most of my life now, but the service was a surprisingly refreshing and peaceful experience. There was no didactic use of scripture or verbal life instruction, which I remember being the cornerstone of American churches I attended when I was little. The lack of sermons is probably key, as it feels more universal to use music and personal peace and introspection as a channel to spirituality. The language barrier is probably even existent for locals here, as most of the music and the few words that are said by the priest are in Old Church Slavonic (about as close to modern Russian as old English is to us).
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2 Responses to Local Friends and Cultural Events

  1. Дамир says:

    Becca! It's very pleasant to see "familiar faces" at your's blog! But I wish to notice that a photo where the Kazakh dance – there is not traditional Kazakh dance – it's stylised dance.

  2. bathmate says:

    nice posting for this site…Bathmate

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