I intend to recall and share more details of HOW I learned to make yurts and why we make them as we do. Much of my influence comes from studying with other yurt makers. And one of the most influential of these was a Kyrgyz family based in a yurt making village near to lake Issyk Kul, close to the Tian Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan.
I visited Kyrgyzstan with fellow yurt maker Paul King, England's most experienced yurt maker and my first teacher and below is the first part of my recollections which I hope will be of some interest.
One of the things that impressed me straight off the bat was the family ethos. Absolutely everyone was involved in the work. Each person had a role in the production of the various parts of the yurt. There were spinners, rope makers. weavers, screen makers, carpet makers, felt makers, wall makers, roof makers, crown makers, paint makers, wood benders, wool cleaners, and so on. For those new to the yurt, there are a lot of activities, skills and people that go into making one.
The family I stayed with was huge, and there was always yurt making activity going on, so I could wander around and soak up the traditional methods almost by osmosis. Nevertheless I got stuck in as we all did - although I didn’t bust a gut, these people were very laid back and even though I was used to the Andalusian way of life, these people were very relaxed and really enjoyed themselves. Despite the language barriers (Russian and Kyrgyz) we all laughed heartily and often, usually over the mistakes I had just made!
An example of this rather cool approach to living and working, was, at regular intervals, the call to “tea". Apparently Kyrgyz people love their tea, just like the english. (either that or they imported hundred of tea bags just for our visit). In addition to a love of tea, they have a love for tea with jam and sweet thngs! In those days I was a sugar fiend, and as the tea breaks were frequent throughout the day, I was high on sugar for most of my stay! Needless to say my over indulgence caught up with me some time later, but that is another story, for another day.
I remember as we approached the village in a beaten up old coach, tired and thirsty we passed a kind of rudimentary roundabout with two huge red yurt frames smack in the middle. There was a sign dangling from one of them, which I supposed at the time was Yurts For Sale
, or yurt village this way.
Yurt making was in the blood of these people. They lived and breathed it. And they were happy on it. I was too. I had a happy time with them. Which reminds me of the after dinner tradition of toasting their guests with many glasses of rough vodka, a throw back to the time of the Russian occupation in the soviet era. I did my best to avoid this and when no one was looking disposed of my vodka in the nearest suitable receptacle I could find, however after a few toasts the house plants close to my seat were suffering dreadfully. Not wanting to create worse Karma I drank the rest of my vodka toasts and would sleep deeply until day break.
Each morning I tried to wake as early as I could to rush down to the toilets (outside mud buildings, wooden planks with large hole over a deep and honking liquid filled pit - more to come on these) and showers as the queue grew exponentially as the morning wore on. Breakfast, of course, was bread and jam with lashings of hot sugar laden tea - a diabetics nightmare! After breakfast we would begin the work, perhaps some weaving or rope making. The ropes were all spun from the local yarns, and these too were spun by hand and made from the fleece of the many sheep that they farmed.
Spinning using a stick and lead weight was pretty difficult. The pretty daughters of the house laughed so much when I tried. It was a fun experience and the presence of he girls made it bearable.
At lunch we would have some kind of soup which con sited of remnants of vegetable and others animal parts floating in a tasty and warm broth. On the whole these soups we tasty and I enjoyed them. Following soup would be tea, sweet stuff and jam. I felt perfectly in sync with the meals, and I often found myself lingering in the dining yurt drinking more tea, eating more jam and biscuits.
The jam was simply extraordinary. Made from the fruits of their garden months earlier it was more than tasty, simply the best jam I have ever had. The jam of Kyrgyzstan and the yurt are two incredible offerings that these people have given the world and during my stay I made a firm plan that I would return and share the the experience with others wanting to learn about this culture.
End of Part One