Thursday, April 9, 2009

Nauriz 2009: Whipping, Rain, Goat Carcasses, and the Zoo

Sunday had been hyped up in my mind for weeks. Nauriz. The Kazakh New Year. Yurts, ploaf, Kokpar! What more could someone ask for. Well, good weather would be nice. Sunday decided to get off to a bad start when the temperature dropped back into the 50s and the sky let out a light drizzle. Despite the weather, we still made our way to the Gippodrome or whatever it was for the day’s festivities.

The first Naurizish thing I did upon arriving at the stadium was have the traditional Nauriz soup. I think only one person liked it (Jessie) and I may have the only one to feel so-so about it. It’s a strange combination of seven ingredients, although few people can name all seven when asked. Meat, salt, water, oil, milk, corn, and? The main ingredient actually seemed to be Kefir, which is why most people didn’t like it.

After enjoying some great hospitality where strangers gave us quite a bit of food for free, we started watching the horse games. My absolute absolute favorite had to be the Kiss the Girl game. Brad had originally told me about this only hours after I learned I was going to Kazakhstan last March. In it, a guy and a girl are each on their own horse. The guy has to try and kiss her and she gets to whip him. I thought that those events would be done simultaneously. Unfortunately, they ride down the racetrack one-way with the guy trying to kiss her, and then on the way back she gets to whip him. I think the game would be better the way I originally envisioned it. All the guys got in a good kiss, but only one of the women got in a good whipping. My original plan in coming to Kazakhstan was to eventually become a superstar at this game, but since I’m seven months in and have yet to ride on a horse (or kiss a local girl) I’m lowering my expectations of this.

It was about this time that the sky really opened up and the rain came down harder and harder. I was stubborn (meaning stupid) and did not have a coat or an umbrella. Fortunately, it took about two hours for the water to soak through my fleece so I was actually warm for a good bit of the day. The next event was horse wrestling, in which two men are on their own horses and try to throw the other off. It was fun to watch and we got to get really close to the action. I can’t imagine what muscles it takes to pull of that sport, but I imagine they are the ones I don’t even know I have.

Then Kokpar started. I’d seen it on TV before, but it was so much better in real life. I still don’t know too many strategies, but it was entertaining to watch. There were some breakaways, a few guys falling off a horse, and a really dirty goat carcass by the end of it. I was going for the white team, and I think they were even up at half. But the yellow team made a strong comeback and eventually took the prize. By the end of Kokpar, most of the volunteers had left. The rain had been too much for them. However, Ken and I had stuck it out. How often do you get to see Kokpar live? Weather was not going to deter us.

On the way out of the stadium, we ran into two volunteers that had gotten lost and were just arriving. They had mistakenly gone into the zoo looking for Kokpar. Being that it was about 2:00 and my bus wasn’t leaving until 6:30, I still wanted to make the most of the day. Ken and I decided to check out the zoo ourselves.

And what I experienced there deserves a rambling post of its own.

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