In case you missed the last blog post, the government of Kyrgyzstan gave me a press pass for the Second World Nomad Games, a sort of Nomad Olympics for countries near and far from Central Asia. I’ve never done anything on a press pass before. The primary benefit of it is simple: access, access, access. (They did pay for my food and lodging; I will go into the details next time.)
Let’s start with what the government wants you to know about circumcision:
In more practical terms, having a press pass allowed me on the side of the field for all kok boru matches, kok boru being the national sport of Kyrgyzstan and the feature event of the games. Wikipedia starts by saying it is the national sport of Afghanistan and shows its more common name, buzkashi, but Kyrgyzstan thrashed Afghanistan in the semi-finals and should seem to garner more respect, but maybe if the game was played in Afghanistan with Afghan horses, the result would be different.
I call it headless goat/sheep carcass polo, as the object is to take said animal and toss it into a pit. Here is a breakaway kok boru goal (in case you can’t see the video below):
A good chunk of the sport is simply trying to pick up a 33kg (72lb) goat carcass off the ground while on horseback, and rarely do you have an open shot at picking the goat up. The other team is trying to prevent you from doing it, and it’s easy to imagine—because it’s hard to see what is going on in the scrum—that as you are bending down, a horse is coming right at your head. In the final that happened to a Kazakh and he was taken on a stretcher to the hospital.
When you do have a handle on the goat, the other team is trying to wrestle it away from you. Check out this mess:
Each match required a freshly slaughtered goat or sheep, so a pen was kept out back. The head and hooves were cut off, and I guess much of the body is drained of blood because I never noticed it. They used a goat in the semi-final but a sheep in the final for some reason.
I arrived early for Team USA’s match against Kazakhstan and we were all surprised to find that they switched the starting time to two hours later, so I had a chance to hang out with them and see their reactions watching Russia vs. China. (In “Russia vs. China” don’t expect to find anyone named Boris or Wang. They are all ethnic cousins of the Kyrgyz—read: no white Russians or Han Chinese. Besides, they couldn’t find any Chinese who could hold a goat and text at the same time—rimshot!) They were an affable, seemingly ego-less bunch, thrilled to be there.
This is called mas-wrestling, a newly-exposed sport to me. (That wasn’t a circumcision joke.) The premise is simple: try and pull the stick away from the other person. A short video:
My practical information suggestion is to try and get a press pass. If they give one to me, they might give one to anyone. Many events have a website where there they explain how media can get accredited.
In such a case, try to have more than a phone camera. Often I had officials look at my phone, look at me, look at my phone…if I had a legitimate camera, I could get away with more. In their eyes a smartphone is hardly better than a disposable camera. I thought of bringing a shell of a nice camera just to throw them off my scent.
The next World Nomad Games blog post will be a barnburner. Even with my crappy non-camera I have some killer pix.
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