“So to you, all the kids/ All across the land
There’s no need to argue/ Parents just don’t understand”
While these lines certainly hold true for those whose parents insist on buying them dorky clothes that provoke fits of laughter from one’s peers, the profundity of misunderstanding of children on the part of Central Asian parents truly knows no limits. Whether passively inculcating in their children a contempt for rational knowledge and domesticated animal life, a love for dogfighting, vodka, and aggressive haggling techniques, or even just by slapping them around a lot, most parents of the Steppe (Steppe-parents, if you will) are unlikely to impress Dr. Benjamin Spock in any way. Especially since he’s dead, but that’s besides the point.
For those interested in a condescending, ethnocentric detailing of the perils faced daily by Central Asian tykes, those few Central Asian tykes who after finally advancing beyond the “Greetings and Salutations” lesson in their English class have stumbled upon this site, or for those who fear the possibility of a nightmarish “Freaky Friday” scenario where they awake to find themselves in the body of a Central Asian tyke, we present this handy, laboriously-written survival guide to Central Asian Childhood.
PLAY TIME IN CENTRAL ASIA:
Most of the enjoyment-inducing infrastructure of Central Asia is currently in disrepair. This is especially the case in regards to circular, rotating, gravity-defying machines, as demonstrated in the towns of Zhanatac, Zhetisay, and Karakol.
For those wary of such risks, fear not, for there are still playgrounds! Reminiscent of assault courses designed for Green Berets, the playgrounds of Central Asia aren’t exactly what you’d define as ‘fun’, unless you’re a Red Army recruiter trying to determine who the USSR’s future killing machines are, and also a sadist. To be classified as a playground, a structure must fit the criteria of being A) Unimaginatively Shaped B) Rusty, and C) Tall Enough To Cause Death. Oftentimes a fourth criterion is applied: D) Very Frustrating and Designed Only To Create Muscle Mass. Examples of play structures exhibiting this include,
“The Perpetual Monkey Bar”
and “The Exercise Machine”
If your village doesn’t happen to have a playground, the nearest post-industrial wasteland will often suffice. Try exploring the haunting remnants of factories, train yards, hotels, hospitals, schools, resorts, and bureaucratic offices. Or you could always just play with bugs (See right).
An inescapable aspect of Central Asian childhood, by the age of nine your ceaseless scarfing of all things boiled, fried, ground, fermented, and oftentimes barely prepared at all will have rendered your arteries withered and close to bursting.
Your tastebuds will, due to the simplicity of local cuisine, never register anything resembling spice, unless you come across a particularly old batch of Kumyz, or fermented horse’s milk. Did we mention that Kumyz is the most esteemed beverage of virtually every culture in the region? That’s how dire the culinary tradition you have been born into is. Favored cooking techniques boil down to, frying, letting things sit out a while (like milk, bread-juice, and meat), and, well, boiling.
The few choice dining options delivering deliciousness to your impoverished palate will be the local bread, plov (a ricey meaty mush), grilled meats, dessert pastries (when they’re not fried), and the unholy ubiquity of watermelon. God is there a lot of watermelon around, and it’s amazing. And if you’re like us in the city of Osh, you’ll eat an entire one for dinner and deservedly get a ripping good case of the shits.
Unless your home is too remote, each day you will probably see someone like the man pictured below selling dried fish. Do not buy them. And especially do not bring them onto enclosed train cars, as many older women seem to think acceptable on the fourteen hour train rides between Taraz and Astana.
CENTRAL ASIAN SCHOOL:
Though lacking the same resources and concern for student well-being as Western schools, your state-run educational system still offers you a tremendous chance to better yourself and raise your status in your newly capitalized, meritocratic society. Or if you live in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, it will offer you, like your parents and grandparents before them, a good opportunity to learn how to never question authority.
While both sexes are required to wear uniforms, if you find yourself as a girl this means that from age 4 – 16 you’ll be clad in what can only be described as a sexy Sailor Moon-esque outfit. Dressing up in such a manner will be useful when you turn seventeen, and your societal obligation to Be A Hot Girl (see below) for the next twenty-five years becomes enforced.
The quality of the education you will receive is debatable, despite what the Thirty Year Plans of certain Kazakh presidents you may be ruled by may profess. Cheating and plagiarism are rife, even supported by administrations, and most institutions have retained the rote, memorization-based methodology of the Soviet system, which does little to provoke creativity or independent thought.
Your school may be lucky enough to have a Peace Corps volunteer come to teach you how to speak English, for free. English — a skill all the more vital these days, especially for finding a quality job in government, or even better, outside of your country — is generally taught by teachers who have never used it in conversation, using an ancient, uninspired textbook. But with the aid of a bright young American, you’ll soon be on the path to a natural English speaking style, advancing your vocabulary far beyond “How are you? How old are you?”, “Lady Gaga!” and “My name is?,” which as we all know also means, “What is your name?,” and along with “Fuck!” is a great thing to shout across the street at any disheveled, moustachioed Western tourists you may ever come across. Nay, with the Peace Corps by your side, you’re sure to go far.
The risk does exist, however, that your government will expel the Peace Corps, your country will suddenly explode, or the combination of harassment from the secret police and lots of sexual assaults on volunteers may jeopardize your free, high-quality teaching. In this case, you may need to find a job.
Unfortunately, you will soon find that since the fall of communism, marketplace realities and shortsighted resource-oriented interests have taken charge of local economies, and those fickle realities have dictated that there be pretty much no work for you to do. Therefore, your only option may be to beat the shit out of your peers for profit.
THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL:
But it’s not all doomin’ and gloomin’ and goatface consumin’ for Central Asian youngsters. Should you manage — despite the best efforts of rabid dogs, drunk drivers, botulism and salmonella, lethal playground equipment, secret police, city-obliterating earthquakes, and kicks to the head by your favorite horse — to survive to adulthood, you have much to look forward to.
… you can be sure that you’ll eventually turn into one of these:
And that will be that!
So Godspeed, young’uns of the Jailoo, and ride forth with Manas into your bright future!