Saturday Market

Ruth Purchases Peaches
at Saturday Market
Bloomington, Ind., USA
June 28, 2010

After a general orientation, I sat down in a classroom with the teachers of all three levels of Uyghur: Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced. We students were asked to introduce ourselves. I was brief. "I'm David. I just came here from Seattle... " Even before I finished speaking the woman seated in front of me spun around. Once I'd said my bit she looked straight at me with a big smile, and asked:

"Were you in Elementary Uyghur at the University of Washington in the summer of 2003? The session with Hamit Zakir as the instructor? Astrid was one of the other students... ?"

Though I hadn't recognized her when sitting down, I immediately knew who this had to be.


Olga was the top student in our class that summer long ago. In retrospect I'm surprised that when contemplating who else in the world would enroll in an intensive summer language session in Advanced Uyghur that I hadn't first thought of Olga.

Sample Gates,
Indiana University
I may have gone on to spend several years living in Xinjiang right upon finishing that class but whatever she's been doing in the seven years since we last saw each other has kept her far out ahead. Evidently, she gets a fair amount of work as an Uzbek translator. Given that the difference between Uyghur and Uzbek can't be much greater than that between British and American English, it's daunting having her alongside me in class.

Our class meets for four hours every morning. The instructor finishes each session by assigning homework. He often qualifies that we needn't worry as it's "not that much, should take maybe an hour or two". Maybe the homework isn't that much for Olga. But keeping up with this course is really making me work: it takes far longer for me to prepare for each class than it does to attend it.

My head is already feeling saturated with vocabulary acquisition, text translation, video-clip transcription, and essay composition. Grades, homework, exams: it's all the structure that was lacking at Xinjiang University but with condensed content. I may already be feeling slammed, but I think this session is going to fly by quickly--and my language abilities will benefit greatly for it.

Whether justifiable, I blame my hours of academic stress on Olga--the sole other student taking Advanced Uyghur. Her presence has upped the bar considerably.

Our teacher, Kurban Niyaz, is excellent. When I walked into our first session this Monday I wasn't sure what to expect. He looked young. Might he just be some random graduate student from Xinjiang? Sometimes university language courses are taught by people who grew up speaking the language--but are pursuing studies in a completely different field.

I lost any concern within minutes. Kurban not only has a solid background in linguistics but has studied languages such as Arabic and Farsi that have historically influenced Uyghur. Best of all he's personable. He can be a bit goofy--using sound-effects or exaggerated hand movements to illustrate a definition. But he stays on-topic and returns our homework on-time.

Tough as it will be for me, I think this will be a good session.

Bloomington Saturday Market
Though I haven't had time for much else, my life in Bloomington hasn't been spent exclusively hitting the books. I spent both Friday and Saturday with a new friend, Ruth E.. Ruth E. is sister to Rachel E., whom I first got to know in Urumqi--but her hometown is here: Bloomington. Ruth E. has been welcoming: taking me around, introducing me to the city where I'll be spending my summer.

The last time we got together was over a visit to "Saturday Market". Once a week, a parking lot in Bloomington's small downtown transforms into rows of stalls selling mostly local produce. The day we went most of the vendors were from traditional rural communities.

We paused for awhile at a stall piled with baskets of peaches. Ruth was familiar with the vendor from previous visits to Saturday Market. The three of us chatted for a long time. When I enquired about his background he clarified that he was Mennonite, rather than Amish. I wasn't sure what the difference was, so asked him to explain. He said that there were many nuances even within each of the two:

"We have 20 classifications for us Mennonites. The Amish have 30."

"Really? You have that many different religious orders?"

"No... it's not that."

"Is it more distinctions between what modern inventions they'll use?," I asked.

"Yep. Some folks are fine driving cars. Some aren't. Some use the Internet. Others won't touch electricity. Things like that."

Rabbits run Rampant
Across Campus
Ruth bought a sackful of peaches. From another stall I bought a block of garlic-and-dill cheese. I picked up a pamphlet lying on the table next to the cheese:

Sunset Acres

Natural Raw Milk Cheese

Amos and Hannah Esh
603 South 350 West
Rockville, Indiana 47872
(765) 569-5677

Leave a message.

I felt charmed seeing the old-fashioned names. Piquing my curiosity even more was contemplating if these people, whichever level of Amish or Mennonite, were permitted to listen to a recorded message yet not actually speak on the telephone.

Indiana is looking to be intriguing.