The importance of tea…
Outside of Kyrgyz people themselves, Peace Corps volunteers are probably the only people who know how life is in Kyrgyz villages. The amount of tourists from modern countries who come here are few and far between while the amount of people who come to Kyrgyzstan to live are even fewer. After all, revolutions don’t really make for good tourism…
Based on this when a volunteer comes to a Kyrgyz village that volunteer not only becomes a representative of America but a somewhat expert about life in all first world countries. It’s kind of a bizarre role, a role that’s not asked for but simply thrust onto the volunteer. However it is up to the volunteer to decide what to do with that role. If the volunteer assumes a closed attitude and does not communicate with the locals the role is serves no purpose and in some cases can be harmful. However if the volunteer takes on an open attitude that volunteer has the power to teach about the foreign world to people who are hungry for knowledge of it. Peace Corps has continuously drilled into our heads that our happiness, our job here, our progress as a volunteer depends on our integration with our local communities. And in order to have that integration more than anything what is necessary is communication.
Now why is communication so important?
1) For our plain sanity – As I said there are no foreigners here, there are few people here who we share commonalities with so it is difficult to form friendships. Based on that if we don’t form friendships with the locals the only option we have is to start chatting with the trees.
2) Protection – While the Embassy and Foreign Service is protected by body guards, walls, and weapons we have two choices when it comes to finding protection. Our first choice is to crouch and hide under a tree praying that we are not found. Our second choice is to establish relationships with our community an
d in those relationships find protection.
3) Progress – To progress as a volunteer we need to have the trust and support of our communities. Without that support our roles are extremely limited. To have this trust and support we need open communication.
Therefore to be a successful volunteer one of the most important things is open communication with your community. However how can we actually build up this communication? There are no cafes to meet at, there are no specific topics of discussion to talk about, there is no family or previous contacts here. How can I meet people?
That answer my friends lies in the tea.
My secret into community integration lies in the infinite cups of tea sipped and the following conversation which flowed along with it. Endless cups of tea and simple conversation has helped me enormously adapting into Kyrgyz life. Regardless of which meal we are eating tea will be the crux of that meal.
Through tea friendships have been formed. Through tea I have found protections. Through tea the hidden side of this society is slowly exposing itself. No matter what type of conversation it is if it is important it will be served with a cup of tea, or seven…
Tea has served as my stepping stone into integrating with Kyrgyz society. Through tea I learn culture. Through tea I learn customs. Without tea integration would be a hard, hard task. Tea really is an essential resource to my work here