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Deaf, Dumb, and Dropped on a Family of Kazakhs

Orsbai: Eagle hunter, patriarch, and man with a big coat.

Despite two years in Kazakhstan, I don’t speak a whole lot of Kazakh. And Kazakhs living in Mongolia don’t speak Russian. At least this family doesn’t. They’re still sweet, and I was able to ask their names, ages, and whether they had wolves.

The only other phrases I could remember but abstained from using were, “I need 20 liters of benzene,” “Do you have any vodka?,” “How much does the vodka cost?,” and “I’m single.”

I didn’t think “I’m single; do you have any vodka?” was an appropriate self introduction.

It’s unfortunate too, because I had a million questions. How long has the grandfather/eagle hunter had his eagle? How did he learn? Do his kids eagle hunt? How much time do they spend in a yurt/ger and how much do they spend in the house? Which do they prefer? Who is that weird dude with the squeaky voice who keeps coming over? Exactly what part of the sheep is that? (That one’s probably best left unasked actually.) And, what the hell is wrong with your daughter?

But I did get that the grandfather and his wife live with their youngest son (a tradition) and his family—wife and four kids (two of whom were away at school until the weekend). Two other sons or a son and a daughter lived in the nearby house and another domicile in the current home but separate entrance, townhouse style.

Each time they put the baby, Jumabek, down for a nap, they’d put what looked like an empty fun pack of Doritos over his little penis in case he went weewee while sleeping. Orsbai, the patriarch eagle hunter got quite a kick out of that little penis. A couple times he held his grandson playfully and twittled the little member, showing me and laughing. Genitalia breaks all barriers.

During the day, the squeaky son Tuat (pronounce TOO-ought, not twat) would go out for the day with the herd of goats and sheep, about 12 hours out roaming. One afternoon I joined him for a stroll. We encouraged a group of horses to head back to town, then returned to support the return of half a dozen yaks to the paddock. Apparently they’re not allowed to fraternize. Lord only knows what kind of schemes they’d come up with.

Meanwhile, Satigul the mom and Khama the grandmother would prepare butter salt tea and clean up the house during the day. And try to keep tabs on Akhmora, the toddling little lunatic who likes to play with knives (and climb all over her papa, as pictured below).

Unfortunately, without language I felt a bit voyeuristic at times during my four-day visit. Just sitting, wandering, smiling, eating, drinking tea, reading, writing in my journal, and laughing at a little boy’s penis.

Akhmora and her proud papa
The squeaky herdsman.
Jumabek and his big sister or cousin. Or possibly just some girl who likes to hang out.
We have guests.
Grandma Khama and the cosmically high Akhmora.
Orsbai showing off his grandson Jumabek and not just his penis for a change.
Another sister/cousin. This one is always laughing, even when collecting dried dung for the fire.

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