Kyrgyz Portraits: Man’s Day

MansDay2014Today is a Kyrgyz Holiday called Man’s Day. Which is almost exactly what it sounds like: a celebration of men, being manly, with manly things. It stems, apparently, from a Soviet army holiday, initially celebrating the founding of the Red Army that evolved into День Защитников Отечествa, literally “Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland.

In my office, we celebrated with massive plates of plov, new, shiny, crocodile leather wallets for our male colleagues, a litany of dirty jokes, and the men trying to convince me that young women table-dancing was a long and storied tradition of celebrating Man’s Day in Kyrgyzstan. (They were not very convincing, no table dancing ensued.) Usually gifts include old-fashioned straight razors, cologne, aftershave, or bottles of vodka – celebrating the men in your life by toasting to their overall greatness and showering them with manly gifts.

In Russian, instead of saying Happy Holiday, as one would in English, you literally say, “Я ваc поздравляю с праздником,” or “I congratulate you on your holiday.” So, while celebrating this holiday, you are literally congratulating men on being born men into a man’s world. To me, it seems like a funny little toast to absurdity – so, congrats, Man.

For Man’s Day, I am sharing a picture of two of my favorite Kyrgyz men: Rahat-Baike and Nurlan-Baike*, both program specialists at one of my offices. Rahat, on the left, likes to show me the new analysis models he has learned on Excel and pictures of his three young daughters. He likes to say, “if you are happy, I am happy, but when will the men of Kyrgyzstan be happy?” (Alluding to my eventual Kyrgyz marriage, which he is dead-set on celebrating soon.) Nurlan, an infectious disease analyst for the Swiss Red Cross, likes asking questions about politics, about American life, and peeking around corners to wink or wave at me. Here they are on Man’s Day, in the process of telling an unrepeatable bawdy joke about a lonely housewife and a pine tree.

С Днём защитника отечества, мужчины! Some music to listen to on your Man’s Day, courtesy of James Brown.

*Baike, Kyrgyz for “Older Brother” is a title of respect for men older than you.

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