The first of September is Knowledge Day: “Bilim” in Kyrgyz. It’s the first day of school, and children gather for a ceremony and then a token class. All the children wear black and white, usually a white blouse and pleated black skirt for the girls and a white button down shirt and black trousers for the boys. The older girls wear something that I can only compare to a French maid’s uniform.
Most of the younger boys wear baseball caps or the Kyrgyz equivalent, which is a similar shape but felted. We made an emergency trip to the department store the afternoon before, and came home outfitted for four children for roughly $70. I gather that this is half again what it would cost in the bazaar. The department store, TSUM, is quite different than what I expected, given the title ‘department store.’ It’s a big three story building with a number of shops selling phones and electronics, souvenirs, dry goods, and clothing. The top floor has bikes, including a really nice one for around $150. My eleven year old has been begging me for it since.
The ceremony started late (as with most things in Kyrgyzstan) and while we were waiting, the Kyrgyz kids got very interested in us and started crowding around asking questions. My kids showed them how to thumb wrestle, so we spent about a half hour doing that: There were probably forty kids thumb wrestling, and they kept coming up to us and wanting to do it with the real Americans. Since I’m having trouble with my photo upload, I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine that. But many brought flowers, as in the photo below.
The Bilim Ceremony was long, with all the kids standing in the sun, and the principal making a speech exhorting the students to work hard and succeed in life. It reminded me of more than a few graduations I’ve been to. One girl with a great big poufy hair bow filmed it with her iPad. It ended with a couple of the older students lip synching songs that sounded like Russian pop but were apparently odes to mothers. Then one of the older boys led a tiny girl around, holding a big bell, followed by an older girl and a tiny boy. Rahat, our interpreter, said that symbolized the First Bell. The kids all disappeared into the school, including my 9 year old daughter, who had gone to stand with her class. It was a little alarming trying to find her between three floors, two staircases, and dozens of classrooms, but we did.