Акырын, акырын. This is my Host Father’s favorite phrase, meaning “slowly, slowly”. It is his response to almost any question I ask. How was his day? Акырын, акырын. How is his health? Акырын, акырын. How is the family? You guessed it: Акырын, акырын. While it may be just the phrase he has chosen to use, his sentiment seems to be shared by the rest of his country, an unofficial Kyrgyz ethos, one wildly foreign to an American used to the exact opposite.
In Kyrgyzstan, life moves slowly. Tea is shared with friends and neighbors for hours upon hours, sheep and horses are brought to pasture evening after evening, cows are milked morning after morning, tractors are built and repaired day after day, and life moves forward, slowly but surely. Winter preparations are methodical and precise: autumn rituals of stockpiling hay, jarring and canning fruits and vegetables, and making enough winter salad to last until the inevitable yet far off spring bloom.
In Kyrgyzstan, homes are crafted and maintained by their inhabitants. There is always work to be done: turkeys that need to be herded, dirt that needs to be shoveled, wood that needs to be chopped, and fishing docks that need to be built. There was work to be done yesterday and there will be work to be done tomorrow; rush not. To the Westerner used to an instantaneous and fast-paced life it seems simple yet wholesomely profound and calls upon the use of muscles not previously flexed. Namely, this way of life requires patience.
Of all the skills I expected I would need when coming to Kyrgyzstan with the Peace Corps, patience was not one I wholly considered. It was the technical skills, the teaching practices, the cultural adaptation, the relentless optimism, and desire to make the world a better place that superseded such mundane characteristics like patience. These skills, however, would lay impotent without a strong foundation of patience. Never have I felt more useless than the first few weeks of living with a host family. It is quite the transition to go from the pedestal of compliments and reassurances of moral righteousness that accompanies Peace Corps acceptance to the humbling impotence that accompanies Peace Corps reality. No matter who you are, language is difficult, culture is nuanced, and isolation is legitimate.
I have been in country for a little over two months now, and am just beginning to understand the scale of the task I am charged with. However, the longer I am here, the more resolute I become. Learning happens slowly. Language takes time, as does teaching, learning cultural norms, herding sheep, drinking tea, and shoveling dirt. As I’ve learned from my short time Kyrgyzstan, the absence of patience is caused by the possession of arrogance; arrogance that language can be acquired in two months, that cultural mastery comes naturally, that fast work leads to less work, and that change happens overnight. It doesn’t. Rather, it comes, as my Host Father likes to say: Акырын, акырын.