Sunday, October 16, 2005

On tea and languages

Kyrgyzstan is converting me into a tea-drinker. I've never been too fond of tea. For me the only acceptable form of tea used to be the 'Christmas' variety with spices like cinnamon and cloves and dried orange rind. This was to be consumed during long winter evenings while sitting on the couch wrapped in a warm blanket.

For all other times coffee is my drink of choice. In a place like Bishkek, where black coffee is synonymous with awful-tasting Nescafe (with the exception of a few places like Navigator that offer decent but outrageously expensive coffee that is freshly brewed), I had to make sure that my supply of ground coffee beans was frequently replenished by shipments from Almaty and other, more remote, places.

But after a few trips to Kyrgyz villages and towns, where I was bombarded with endless "чай ичингиз?" and "чай ичкиле" (both of which basically mean "drink tea!"), I am beginning to yield to tea drinking with its pervasiveness in the Kyrgyz culture.

I realize that you cannot assimilate a language without taking in the culture that comes with it. This may not always be a comfortable thing to do. And it makes me wonder whether I will emerge from this learning Kyrgyz endeavor a different person. Whether I will lose a part of my identity and acquire a new personality. Will Kyrgyzstan also cure me of my aversion to red meat?

So many things to reflect on! I better go make myself another cup of tea.


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