Una de las ventajas de tener que viajar por trabajo es que, a menudo sin esperarlo, descubres lugares recónditos y costumbres culturales que desconocías absolutamente. Por eso, cuando alguien, desganadamente, te dice: “¿Y qué vas a hacer tú, allí?”, enseguida empiezo a imaginarme la cantidad de cosas inesperadas que podrían suceder.

Central Asia is, as its name suggests, a region located in the heart of the Asian continent, made up of five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, although sometimes there are those who add a region of Mongolia, a Chinese province and Afghanistan.

Although we may think being part of the same region gives these countries common characteristics, we would be surprised at how different they can be. Despite the fact all of them became Soviet socialist republics within the former USSR, their characteristics are very diverse. First of all, they all speak different languages, corresponding to different language families. Kazakh is spoken in Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan, which are very different, but close to Russian. They are Slavic languages, therefore. In contrast, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan speak Uzbek and Turkmen, both languages ​​from a Turkish origin. In Tajikistan they speak Tajik, which comes from Persian, like Iranian.

However one of the things that all these countries have in common is that they were nomads, and in fact, in many areas they still are. A large part of the members of these societies are engaged in cattle ranching -cattle and sheep- and, remarkably, in the breeding of horses, of which they are outstanding riders. Historically they have practiced transhumance, since they had to move with the cattle to find new pastures, especially in the cold seasons, which in Central Asia can be very hard.

En una de las reuniones de un proyecto en que participaba, tuve la oportunidad de ir a Kirguistán. La reunión fue en la capital,  Biskek . Este es un pequeño país, situado entre valles, y por tanto, muy montañoso. Durante el fin de semana aproveché para ir a uno de los lugares más recomendados: Issyk-Kul (El lago caliente). Rodeado de montañas con nieves perpetuas, el lago no se hiela nunca, de ahí su nombre. Allí me encontré con una de estas sorpresas de que os hablaba al principio. Además de la belleza del entorno, muy recomendable, en aquel lugar, cerca de la población de Cholpon-Ata se estaban celebrando los “Juegos Nómadas” (World Nomad Games).

Foto de grupo
Source: Author

Just as when the world celebrates the Olympic Games, a meeting place mediated by sport, in Central Asia the nomadic peoples meet to practice and compete in those sports practices that are their own: balancing and fighting on horseback, human towers, archery, falconry, wrestling (alysh and kourash), among others more specific and typical of those lands, such as shagai, mancala and kok-boru or buzkashi.

Hombre encima de una cuerda
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La sensación es la de encontrarte en medio de un gran evento internacional… siglos atrás. La tecnología es simplemente, inexistente. Todo funciona exactamente igual que uno se imagina que debía funcionar hace cientos de años. Pero, a la vez, todo corresponde también exactamente a un evento de hoy en día: mercados donde se vende el merchandising propio de la zona, instalaciones provisionales (las típicas yurtas  nómadas, que aquí se llaman “boz üi”) donde los atletas y deportistas se cambian y descansan, como si fuera una villa olímpica, y espacios para comer y beber, todo organizado en un exquisito caos.

Casa típica de Asia Central
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Central Asian countries have also awakened to the call for the modernization of higher education and are looking for the best way to adapt their culture and customs in the knowledge society. It will be important to keep an eye on its evolution in the coming years, given that its potential for improvement and its capabilities are very high.