Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Muslim Extremists

August 17

I experienced my first run-in with hard-core Muslim extremists yesterday but it wasn’t as frightening as I thought it would be.

On Saturday evening we attended the wedding of the son of the chairwoman of the board of the local credit union. Since then she’s been too busy with all the family commitments that go along with a three-day Kazak wedding to meet with us at the credit union so yesterday we were invited to her house for lunch.

Like many Kazak families they have a family compound and within the fence there’s a western style house, some outbuildings and a Gerr that’s used as a summer residence. In their case, because they’re a fairly affluent family, the Gerr was not only their summer residence but a place for guests to stay and was used for traditional family gatherings. It was in the Gerr that we were welcomed for lunch and introduced to extreme Muslim behaviour. In this case though, it wasn’t anything religious or political. It was extreme warmth, extreme hospitality and an extremely good time!

The Gerr was decorated with beautiful wall hangings, family mementos and thick felt rugs, and felt more like something out of Lawrence of Arabia than a middle-class Kazak family in Mongolia. We were introduced to all their children and had a fantastic time learning about their family and little more about Kazak culture and history. And as far as Muslim traditions go, apparently you’re able to pick and choose. I don’t know much about the Muslim religion but I can’t say I thought it would include the copious amounts of Vodka that we consumed during the many friendly toasts. And just to prove that we have much more in common than differences, everyone was on their best behaviour while the Chairwoman was at the table but in the middle of the afternoon she and the children had to leave for another family function leaving the men behind – and that’s when the Vodka really started to flow! That is until the 80 year old elderly Kazak uncle joined us. He’s a much more traditional Muslim and the Vodka quickly disappeared while he sang us a few traditional Kazak folk songs and shared with us through our interpreter his family history. But once he left, out came the Vodka again! All in all it was a five hour “lunch” and by the early evening I had an “extreme” headache so I guess the Muslim’s here are extremists after all.


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