Encountered In: Bokonbaevo, Kyrgyzstan
If you happened to seek out the Bokonbaevo tourist information office in 2010, odds are that you ran into Timur, because he was it. The actual location of the office, despite still having its sign out front, had been thoughtfully refurbished as a cafe whose employees, quite frankly, were getting a little sick of all these tourists showing up expecting to be informed.
After picking us up at the local post office, Timur drove us to a guesthouse that unfortunately happened to be be-guested, leaving, to his knowledge, only one other option available to us in town: his house. For quite a steep price. With Steve’s bowels three days into the greatest upheaval in Kyrgyzstan since the Tulip Revolution, we were in no mood to simply bail on Bokonbaevo and head to the slightly more tourist-friendly Karakol, and in even less of a mood to resort to our standard practice of berating accommodation providers demanding our coinage and trying to figure things out on our own, wandering aimlessly for hours, sniping snide remarks at each other, and eventually getting stuck in a dank shithole for a night. Succinct-idiom-followers, we opted for the devil we sort of knew rather than the devil we didn’t (who would probably have been the same devil as the one we sort of knew).
So there we were! Timur Manor! A characteristically Kyrgyz chateau: compact, concrete, and chaotic, it had its garden full of unidentifiable tubers, a ramshackle shower set-up that was deemed “too complicated” for us to use, a very angry dog, and a poo pit stocked only with printer paper – telephone bills, to be exact – for all wiping purposes. Our sleeping arrangement was a couch, a floor, and lots of unwieldy blankets. Steve immediately set up shop on the floor, and apart from several bewildered, distressing trips to the outhouse was senseless for the next 18 hours. Devon, on the other hand, was deeply stimulated by his perception organs – mostly the olfactory ones – to venture outside…
Where this was going on:
In preparation for his sister’s upcoming wedding celebrations, Timur was using a homemade flame thrower to simultaneously shear and singe a headless sheep carcass. Each tender inch was painstakingly seared and re-seared, enveloping the surrounding area with the sweet, stirring scent of artfully cooked meat. The feast eventually created from this would serve as the centerpiece of the ceremony, a matter of deep symbolic pride and concepts of status. In a pre-nuptial ritual with somewhat lower stakes, his mom was doing some quilting… and, later, entrail sorting.
Throughout the evening, the sheep was roasted ever closer to perfection. Steve slept and grunted and didn’t want to hear about how awesome the flame thrower was; Devon ambled around the town and saw some weird stuff happen; we ate more trick bologna and bread for dinner, and tested out some awful local soda. All was right in the world.
But when we woke the next morning, we discovered that this had happened:
Discounting all modern culinary trends, the fact that Kyrgyzstan was central to ancient spice-trading routes and thus a prime location for interesting cuisine, and the even more facty fact that their cooked meat smelled delicious, the clan of Timur had perpetrated the ultimate betrayal of its charred beheaded sheep, by chopping it up and throwing it into a pot with its guts to boil into a bland, nauseating gumbo of horrid textures. In short, they did what any normal Kyrgyz person would do.
We’d seen this kind of insult before. No spices, no seasonings, no attempt to enhance the natural goodness of the meat – just water, grossness, and a heat source. Though he probably should have expected it, given the collection of guts, blood, and gristle in the yard, Devon was shaken to his core by this development, and decried in terms most foul the aesthetic treachery of Timur and his kin. He imagined his marketing of Western cooking to them, seething, “Did you smell how good that lamb meat smelled when you were essentially barbecuing it? That’s how it would taste! No gut juice, no brain paste, no boiled flesh. Here, let me make you lamb chops, or steak – just once! You don’t have to finish it if you don’t like it, you don’t ever have to eat it again, but just once I want you to try eating meat with some fucking flavor!”
But this aggressive broadening of Timur’s horizons was not to be. Instead, our host, bound by custom — of generosity and hospitality, of course — scooped us a bowlful or two of Gutsoup, conspicuously patted our tummies, then brought us to his kitchen where we ate our accommodation fee’s worth of boiled bread and jam. While swatting yellow-jackets and sipping tea, we learned of Timur’s dreams — to be just like us! (Americans that is, not smug, thankless dickholes.) “I know man in Chicago who say he will get me job as truck driver”, he told us giddily, “he only take one third of my paycheck for Visa fee!” Uh oh.
Since we’d been asked many times, and informed many times about the unforgivingly persnickety U.S. Visa process by random strangers in India, we rattled off the basics to Timur – mostly that his slave-trading friend was full of shit, and he needed to find a decent Visa lawyer to help him put through the paperwork in Bishkek. Our humanitarian efforts for the month concluded, we checked out the gifts Timur’s family was obligated to give to their new son/brother-in-law:
So, mostly very ornately decorated pillows and blankets, featuring traditional nomadic symbols whose meanings we immediately forgot (we had a lot going on, alright?). Also, a very nice bureau, and see that glistening stereo in the background? If he’s like every other Central Asian, Timur’s brother-in-law is probably currently blasting his favorite Eminem/Rihanna tune on it right now.
We left Timur on rare good terms, and with Steve’s email should he ever want to practice his English. Assuming this would be like most travel-borne relationships, and either terminate immediately or fizzle out eventually via electronic communication, boy were we ever surprised to receive the following missive, whilst in Hong Kong:
“hi guys, how are you? i hope you are good.. you remember me? i am that guy from bokonbaevo, issyk kul, kyrgyzstan, i think your trip is very interesting and good[…] good luck,,, keep contact with me,, i want to learn english,,,”
Which begat the following Idiom-a-Day English Lessons style correspondence…
Hey Timur! We’re in Hong Kong right now and we’re both doing well – no more stomach problems – knock on wood! Of course we remember you and your floor. How was your boiled sheep? Did your sister like her blankets?
you remember me , your memory is very impressive[…]
the sheep was very good and tasty. yes the blankets liked my sister..and she is going to come this weekend..i hope hong kong is very big and nice city…
And then of course, being inquisitive minds, we just had to pry…
We’re in Thailand right now. It’s quite hot and the air is sticky because we’re near the ocean. The food is very nice. It has a lot of spices and exciting flavors. Do you ever put spices or sauces on your sheep, or just boil it?
Unfortunately, the messages ceased there so we’ll never find out. What we did learn, a few months later, was this:
now i’m in new york city near coney island train station.and i study… my college is ASA institut of bussines and computer technologies, it is in manhattan, herald square…maybe you know it,
Steve didn’t know it, but a quick Googling showed that the ASA Institute was a University founded solidly upon the prestige-eschewing principles of fucking over its students and giving them worthless degrees. He informed Timur of this.
thank u Steve,,,,,,i know ASA is bad,,,but i paid for 4 month,,,i tryed to take transfer to another school,, but they did not give me it,,,so i should finish this college and after it i will change the school,,, i can not get back my money anyway,,,,because i did not know that it is bad,,,
now . am lookin for a job ……here it is very difficult to live…everything is so much expensive that i was shocked first time,,,now i am renting a room with kazahk guys,,
Well, aside from the living-with-Kazakh-dudes aspect, which must be unfathomably grim, by getting ripped off and remaining ripped off for the foreseeable future, getting gouged by landlords, transit systems, and the prices of our industrial food complex, and finally, by living beside the dilapidated dream-husk of Coney Island, it seems like Timur has got his teeth sunk deep into the great boiled sheep that is America.
Wanna see more carnage? Don’t be sheepish! See below!