Kazakhs aren’t the only ones who like Nauryz, believe you me

19 марта 2011, 17:10

Nauryz, the rites-of-spring holiday that Kazakhs observe every March, can be a good deal for foreigners like me.

When I was living in Almaty, I would awaken at the start of Nauryz to see lots of Kazakhs tidying up the yard under my first-floor apartment window: sweeping the sidewalk, raking up leaves, lopping off dead tree branches.

“Those Kazakhs really know how to treat a foreigner,” I thought. “Doing all that yard work for me – and for free.”

Then I learned that another Nauryz tradition is setting up nomad tents, or yurt, at various places in town and inviting in friends and dignitaries to taste some yummy dishes.

I remembered during cherry blossom time in Japan how the Japanese would see me walk by while they were celebrating under the trees and call out: “Hey, Gaijin-san (Honorable Foreigner), please join us.”

I got some great food and lots of booze that way, so I thought I’d try it in Kazakhstan.

So one Nauryz I wandered into a yurt in Almaty acting like I was lost and – sure enough – the hospitable Kazakhs asked me in for food and drinks.

This year I learned about another Nauryz tradition I was unaware of: the Catch and Kiss. It’s a great deal for a guy!

A man on horseback gives a woman on horseback a head start and, if he catches her before she reaches the finish line, he gets a kiss.

“This is better than free food in a yurt!” I enthused to myself.

Then I learned what happens when the guy doesn’t catch the girl in time: She can horsewhip him all the way back to the starting line. Ai yai  yai!

“With Kazakhs’ longstanding skill as riders, chances are that many women are good equestrians,” I mused. “So I’d better not get involved in a fair race. I have to do something to reduce the odds of the girl winning.”

So I came up with a scheme.

The first part of the strategy is when the girl isn’t looking, I’ll exchange her mount for one I’ve chosen. I will find a nag on its last wobbly legs at a local meat market that is intent on transforming the steed into sausage.

Now older horses, as we all know, have unmistakable touches of gray on their snouts, in their manes, tails and other places – a dead giveaway that someone has slipped a ringer under the lady.

So I bought two tins of shoe polish – one black for a black horse and one brown for a bay. The plan is to apply the polish generously so the lady thinks she’s got a good mount. Some of the polish is likely to come off her costume but she’s unlikely to notice it before I’ve stealed the kiss, I figure.

I have no contingency plan for covering up the gray if the horse is a palomino (golden) or is spotted, but what are the odds of that?

The second part of my strategy is a contingency for the girl winning despite my slipping a ringer under her.

Since I’m no threat to John Wayne when it comes to riding a horse, there is a good chance she’ll win even if she’s on a horse only hours removed from the meat grinder. For that eventuality, I will need to do something with her whip.

I’ve looked at photos of Kazakh horsewhips. They are thick enough to leave big red whelps, and I’ve never liked pain.

So when the lady’s not looking, I’ll take her whip and file down the middle so it’s a little wider than a toothpick.

The idea is that one good whack on my legs will break the whip, allowing me to escape with just one bruise. If she breaks the whip while she’s urging her horse to the finish line, that’s even better.

With my foolproof strategy in mind, I’ll be heading to the Catch and Kiss with full confidence! In fact, the potential reward is already giving me an adrenalin rush.

Now you can see, my Kazakh friends, why I love this wonderful Nauryz holiday you celebrate every year.


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