When I came home tonight, my host aunt and brother were helping host papa unload grapes from his truck while host mama watched. The women were crying. My host mother was barely able to exchange greetings with me, and told me to go on into the house. Was is someone’s job? Something about the baby? A fight? So I went. I don’t know any better than what they tell me.
In a few minutes, Dimir knocked on my door and told me that a relative had died – someone I met – and that we would have tea in a few minutes.
I believe there was a car accident, and I think the person who died was a cousin. Dimir gave a fast rundown of her relation to my host mother’s family, but it’s hard to keep track of the very specific family names, and there are so many relatives in town - I know I met the woman, I just don’t know who exactly it was that died.
Dinara and a distant cousin, Diana, came over so Dinara could pick up clothes. Diana is a sweet girl – she’s in my class. She came to my room and tried to chat cheerfully, but she was a little trembly and a little sniffly. She told me something (in Kazakh) to the effect of “Dinara and I are going to [the relative’s house who died]. Tomorrow during class, we’ll be on vacation/resting/taking a weekend. We’ll all be wearing white. Okay?” And, of course, I don’t know how to express condolences. I looked it up in something Peace Corps gave us, but that literally translates to “Be careful!” Of course, they may really say that to each other. Their word for excuse me/I’m sorry comes from a word that means something along the lines of “pardon/forgive me,” which also doesn’t sound appropriate. I’d just like to check with a third party before I attempt anything.
While last night at tea, Dimir and I talked a solid half-hour, tonight was very quiet. Another teenaged cousin was there, and we mostly sat in silence, except for my potatoes which kept falling off my fork and making loud plopping noises on my plate. I took a second cup of tea and dipped alphabet letter cookies in it. The letter cookies are from an ambiguous alphabet and they are similar to cardboard. I watched a “C” expand like an earthworm, then an “H”/”N” become a blob of cookie matter. I ate the cookies. I drank the tea. The tea tasted like cardboard.
Already I’m aware that mourning in Kazakhstan is taken very seriously. I know a few people who haven’t participated in social events for a few days because of the anniversary of a relative’s. I don’t know what these next days will be like. I’ll ask our language trainer whether to make myself scarce or available.