It has been 8 days since I arrived in Tashkent. I can't believe I'm leaving in 2 days.
There are many things I want to share with you, my friend. Have you noticed, though, how I can write about one detail at length? When I do that, I feel I need to skip other details to keep the post from turning into a novel. So, for now, Ima skip a whole lot of "other" details and get to this one: Kira's family.
Kira's family invited us to dinner for Sunday night. We arrived to their place just after 7pm. Kira's family lives in a second-floor apartment just off the stairs, to the right. Michael was first at the door when the door opened. The timing of the door opening was just a whisker shy of mystical... kind of creepy and kind of cool. At least that's how it looked to me, who was still coming up the stairs. Kira was standing behind Michael, but, instead of going in next, she motioned me to go in. As I cornered the doorway, I could see that Michael had already been taken into Kira's mom's arms and was being passed to Kira's dad. As I entered, I too was taken into Kira's mom's arms, and then passed to the arms of whoever was next. I could see that we were moving inward in a chaotic conveyor-belt hugging-line kind-of pattern. On the chaotic family conveyor belt was Kira's mom, dad, sister, brother, and Babushka (Russian for grandmother). They were all crowded at the doorway, with hugs and kisses and smiles and loving, laughing eyes at the waiting.
We were told to sit down in chairs placed around a very large square table, that had been set and prepared with many dishes of what looked like exotic foods one might expect to see at an important traditional family gathering. Michael, Kira, and I sat, while the rest of the family brought out more and more food and drinks. I noticed there was an extra chair and table setting and mumbled my observation. Michael mentioned it to Kira, who mentioned it to her family, to learn that her Uncle would be joining momentarily. We (Kira, Michael, and I) did not know that Babushka and Uncle would be there too. "They want to meet you," Kira's mom and dad said, conveying this through Kira. They all had been waiting to meet me - as much as I had been waiting to meeting them.
When Uncle arrived, and we were all seated, the food was flying. They didn't pass food and wait for everyone's plates to be filled, all polite-like. They reached across each other and across the table, and ate right out of serving dishes. It was messy and lively and real and very much a collective-cultural scene. I loved it.
The main dish, at the center of the table, was Plov - an Uzbek version of Spanish paella, made with lamb. There were multiple huge round loaves of bread that were ripped apart and kind-of thrown in front of everyone. There were multiple versions of the same side dishes dispersed around the table: my favorites being an eggplant-based salad and a tomato-and-cumber-based salad. There may have been more. My head was whirling. There were whole hot green chiles thrown about. There was tea, and wine, and water. And every time someone's glass was almost empty, it was refilled.
While we ate, the adults each stood up, one-by-one, and gave a long, rambling, heart-felt welcome, to me, in Russian.
Kira, who Michael made mention is "not a good interpreter... not because she can't, because she doesn't" helped interpret the speeches to me in English, and my responses to her family in Russian. Kira's 20-year-old brother, Sasha, also interpreted his families words to me in English. Kira was giggling because, she said, Sasha embellished. I noticed Kira's 12-year-old sister, Masha, quietly interpreting for their mom, who Sasha was sitting (almost cuddled up) next to. Uncle and Kira's dad seemed to be picking up interpretations from wherever they could. Babushka had her hand to her ear, like an old-fashioned hearing horn, trying to catch everything.
Babushka was first to stand up and speak. The family giggled a lot as Babushka expressed how she was happy to meet me while she was still alive. She spoke about knowing right away when she met Michael, from his warm eyes, that he was a good person. She said it was the same tonight, meeting me, and that she could see how Michael and his goodness came from me. She thanked me for traveling far to be here tonight. She said something about Michael and Kira, who would travel to America, and about how she wanted to be a grandmother. Kira and Michael do not want to have children. At this point in Babushka's speech, Kira and Michael started mumbling, and under the buzz of it all, I heard them discuss how, "she is a grandmother." Babushka spoke for a long time, looking directly into my eyes, waving toward Michael and Kira. For most of that long time, I didn't know what she was saying because it was in Russian, and there was no break for Kira to interpret. Even so, while she spoke, I felt her love and we were both teary.
Kira's dad also spoke. And Kira's uncle. And Kira's mom. They all looked at me while they spoke, and reiterated, in their own words, Babushka's sentiments. They all added their stories about instantly loving Michael, about welcoming him into their family, about how glad they were that Kira and Michael now have each other. They all spoke in Russian, and again, even while I didn't yet know what they were saying, I deeply felt their sincerity and love.
I said that I also wanted to speak. Kira, possibly exhausted, suggested I speak in short blurbs with breaks.
I told Kira's family that I did travel a distance, and that it was not easy, and that I came all this way because it was important to me to meet them. I shared my thoughts that, through the years, they saw Kira and Michael together, but I had only observed them together once - in May, for two weeks, when I visited them in Istanbul. And that, seeing how they fit together so well gave me hope. I looked directly at Kira's mom and told her that I instantly fell in love with Kira, and think of her now as my daughter, and hope it's ok that we share this mothering of our Kira, especially when she is living in America. Kira's mom wiped tears from her cheek and smiling, nodded. I imagine she felt some relief.
After we were done eating, a family photo was taken. I was waved to sit first, in the middle, next to Babushka...
Then gifts were shared...
We talked. All family members had lots of questions for me, mostly about America. The questions felt as though the family was reality checking if there was truth to Hollywood's America. It was challenging to answer general questions honestly. In the house I call home-base, my reality is uniquely mine, and it is set in the uniqueness that is Brattleboro, Vermont. Sometimes Michael nodded, like he agreed with my description. Sometimes he helped me out, giving his unique take on life in America.
Babushka wondered about the weather and terrain and agriculture... how things in America compared to Russia. I asked her about her upbringing, and about the intergenerational history of her family, who had, among with hundreds of thousands of other Koreans, fled to Russia (during the Japanese occupation of Korea), and then been exiled to Uzbekistan (as was ordered by Joseph Stalin, in 1937). She conveyed stories she remembered and we figured out that Kira and her siblings are the 3rd generation in their family who grew up in Tashkent. Babushka expressed pride that Russian Koreans had brought agricultural knowledge to this area. At one point, I pulled out my phone/camera/video, wanting to capture their language...
When it was close to 11pm, Uncle and Babushka left. Then it was time for Kira, Michael and I to leave.
You may recall that a gift I had brought was Vermont pancake mix and maple syrup. I told Kira's mom and dad that I wanted to cook breakfast for them. They thought it would be good, so they'd know how to use the pancake mix. At the door, we hugged and kissed and made plans for when we'd come back, when I would make breakfast for supper.
Ima skip right to two nights later: Tuesday night.
Kira, Michael and I had gone shopping before we arrived. I had planned a rather large breakfast-for-supper kind-of meal. When we arrived, Kira's mom had made and laid out a full meal: seaweed soup, fish, side dishes, the whole works. We ate, and then, after the dishes from the first meal were cleaned and put away, I was told the kitchen was ready for me to make... second dinner.
Masha and Kira were my suis chefs, and we cooked everything I'd planned to make: bacon, regular and gluten-free pancakes, and an 8-egg omelet (cooked with onions, red peppers, and cream cheese, and topped with tomatoes and parsley), with grilled green olives on the side. When we all sat (back) down, I wasn't sure we'd eat. "Worst case scenario," I had said, "we pack it up in the fridge, you reheat it in the morning, and voila, breakfast!"
Surprisingly, there were no leftovers. I should say, there was a small bit of omelet left over, more pancake mix (not used, in the bag), and of course, maple syrup.