Mission to Kyrgyzstan Part 4: We experience the nomadic ethic of respect for elders and travelers at World Nomad Games
CHOLPON-ATA, Kyrgyzstan — One of the unique opportunities for this year’s delegation to this Central Asian country was the 2nd World Nomad Games, a celebration of the contributions and culture of nomadic peoples the world over. This year, teams from 54 countries totaling about 1,000 athletes made the trek to Cholpon-Ata on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul, a 108-mile long inland sea.
The opening ceremonies celebrated these influences with live music, demonstrations of horsemanship and dancing in front of a standing room only crowd at a brand new hippodrome build specifically for the event.
In a speech that was translated on massive video screens, Kyrgyzstan’s president, Almazbek Atambayev, talked about the value that the nomadic peoples have brought to the world, such as the ethos of living in harmony with the natural world, a world that he acknowledged is threatened. He also pointed out that the culture of gracious hospitality to fellow travelers was a virtue that is worth celebrating, as well as the cultural norm of honoring elders. The eldest person at a gathering gets the seat of honor, and with our group retired Judge Tom Warren serves that role. The Nomad Games, he said, are designed to allow people to go back in time and get a sense of how the nomadic people lived and to celebrate this culture that honors elders in way that
A number of the teams at the games were quite small, such as Botswana with its lone competitor. The largest contingents were from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and China. Competitions are being held in 10 traditional nomadic disciplines.
The members of our Chelan County delegation to the games spent the first day of competition at the remote valley where there were yurt encampments for many of the teams where visitors could take pictures and experience a taste of the past of this country.
Randy Smith, the founder of this sister-region relationship between North Central Washington and the state of Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan, has developed deep connections here, including a young rising political visionary in the region named Mongoldorov Damir, who is the top official for one region in Issyk-Kul state. Damir treated us to a tea in our honor at a yurt set aside for important visitors, and the governor of Issyk-Kul state, Askhat Akibaev, visited us, while we feasted on horsemeat, horse sausage and rice. We were also treated to a musical performance.
Smith, Tom Warren and I, as the oldest members of the delegation, were given special coats from Kyrgyzstan as gifts. Smith, the Cashmere orchardist and Chelan County PUD commissioner, had arranged for Western saddles as gifts for our hosts, which were graciously received. As Westerners, we were definitely in the minority and that was a wonderful experience. Other than the Peace Corps volunteers and U.S. Aid for International Development representatives, there were only a handful of attendees from outside of Central Asia.
The hospitality and decency of the people we have interacted with as we have explored their country has been a real highlight. These people, who by and large have so little in terms of material wealth, have much to teach America about living with a strong sense of obligation to their communities, environmental stewardship embracing travelers from afar. They are rich in that regard.