Dinner and a bowl of kumis, or fermented mare’s milk, prompts another tale, this one about the melting of the snows. “I was born in the mountains,” says Salmorbek, his whiskers flaring around the words. From here in Kant, the Tian Shan range looms impossibly high, stretching all the way to China and 10,000 feet above the Rockies. Somewhere up there, in celebration of the equinox, points Salmorbek, through the kitchen window, men mount horses and compete in a sort of airborne wrestling match. Instead of a ball, they fight for a dead sheep. “I too rode a horse,” he adds with pride. “But I was better at riding a tank.”For Phoebe's current nonfiction and other genres, visit the journal's blog, which for a limited time is offering an entire issue as a free download. You can also follow Phoebe on Twitter and Facebook.
That night, locked among the carpets, I find “Reviving the Kyrgyz Horse” in the guidebook Kyrgyz Republic. “For centuries, the horse was vital to nomadic life,” reads the entry. I swallow hard at what comes next. The author quotes a French historian dismayed by a Soviet plan to civilize the Kyrgyz: “‘The shepherds were in tears,’ says Jacqueline Ripart. Some of the horses went into giant Soviet stud farms but most were killed for their meat.’”