Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Chickenskin Couple

I feel like a Great White Western Whale sometimes. (I think I just cleverly conglomerated the names of a shark, a whale and a wall in Jerusalem). As an Australian of above-average height, unruly hair and fairly substantial mass, I tend to stand out around here. Kyrgyz women are uniformly slender and petite with good hair and the ability to daintily navigate uneven footpaths while wearing high heels. Me, I trip and scuff my Birkenstocks on the cracks and generally blunder my way around the city, acutely aware of my big limbs and bad posture. I have to crane my neck at unnatural angles on marshrutkas. Even at the school where I work, the chairs and desks are built for people smaller than I, so that my knees have a permanent technicolour array of bruises.

This awareness is heightened when I spend time with the families of the Korean students I teach. Last night, high school students, teachers, the graduating class of 2011 and their families, all gathered at a Korean restaurant to celebrate. Over half of our students are Korean, so it was an appropriate venue. The food was delicious, the speeches touching, the company superb. However, it did bring out the GWWW in me. First of all, as a GWWW, it is difficult to sit on the floor around a table gracefully. One is forever checking that one's jeans are not showing unbecoming bits of one; one is knocking the knees of one's neighbours every time one awkwardly changes position; and one is subject to cramp at inconvenient times. Secondly, as a GWWW who prides oneself on one's use of chopsticks (as GWWWs, in their self-satisfied way, often tend to do), one is put to shame by the effortless ability of one's neighbours to clean every grain of rice from their plates, even as one's own chopsticks are scrabbling round the plate for ten minutes after that last elusive mouthful. Finally, the GWWW is put to shame by her grubby Shrek-like feet, because she forgot that one takes off one's sandals at these things and had spent the entire day walking.

Anyway, I exaggerate for comic effect; it was really a lovely night. I was reminded anew of God's intricate and perfect plan, and the way that he lavishes his blessings on this school. Many people spoke, including some of the Korean parents. There were a couple of phrases in their speeches that were uniquely Korean, including a "chickenskin couple": this refers to a couple who are so attuned to each other and to God that they cause goosebumps, or 'chickenskin', in the people around them. I thought this was a beautiful phrase, and a distinctly Asian one. There was something so delicate in the way it was used. (Although it was translated initially as "chicken" which was perplexing for a time). The Korean couple being referred to are gorgeous people: despite having an eighteen year old son, the wife has dimples and the complexion of a child, while the husband has an irrepressibly cheeky look. They've served here for fifteen years, raising a family and working hard in the community. The wife gave an amazing testimony of thanks and praise to God for bringing her family to this harsh country, and indeed she and her husband and children are a vibrant testimony to grace. I cried a little as she spoke (I've been crying a lot these last few weeks, with so many goodbyes), and gave quiet thanks for this chickenskin couple and their beautiful children. Those two kids, by the way, are going to change the world, with their soft hearts and passion for suffering people. You heard it here first.

My friend Katya was dunked today, in a shallow blue wading pool. I took her and another friend, Tonya, out for lunch afterwards. We went to Bishkek's one and only Mexican restaurant (this city is full of surprises) and ate the Kyrgyz version of fajitas. She's graduating from local university next Saturday, and I'm going to that ceremony too. I'm glad to have fallen into friendship with these two girls - it just sort of happened. Both new believers, both hungry to learn and eager to teach me about culture and language. Initially, the idea was that I would do a study with them and be a mentor, but it turns out that I'm learning more from them, as is so often the case. (Even GWWWs, who often think they know more than the daintier fish in the sea, need to be humbled from time to time).

In the spirit of barnyard fowl analogies - you know how chickens can sometimes run around after being beheaded? That's kind of what I just did. There's a week of school left and I haven't got two brain cells to rub together - but somehow, through a freakish combination of sensory memory and ingrained habit, I just constructed a blog post out of reasonably coherent sentences. Of course, I may have just ruined their impact through a poorly chosen metaphor.

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