By Laura Sheahen, Catholic Relief Services Communications Officer (CRS is a Caritas member and been mandated by Caritas to lead on the Kyrgyzstan crisis)
They’re sitting in the ashes of their homes, but they’re still inviting people to dinner.
“Would you like to stay? We have watermelon…” a man says hesitantly. He and his young son have just shown me the burned-down, bullet-riddled main rooms of their house.
The violence that engulfed his neighborhood in Jalalabad, a town in southern Kyrgyzstan, has stopped for now. He and his family are living in a section of the house that wasn’t as damaged. A few steps away, fifteen people are using two small rooms and a bedstead outside to sleep in. Thousands of families in this city and Osh are doing the same—squeezing into rooms only slightly singed, or sleeping on the floor in the homes of relatives and friends.
In the past, I’ve experienced incredible hospitality in nearby Russia: the massive spreads of appetizers and the heaping platters of plov, a delicious rice dish. Here in Kyrgyzstan, I’m awestruck that these families are still trying to make their guests feel at home even when they have no home. As Caritas teams ask about their needs, the survivors weep and tell their stories—but also make sure we have a place to sit.
The survivors are the ones who need hospitality now. To help host families who have taken in as many people as they can hold—or more—Caritas plans to send bedding supplies to the cities. In the short term, it will mean families have a place to lay their heads. In coming months, Caritas hopes to work with communities to build transitional shelters.
At one host family’s house, a grandmother who fled her own place shows me the room where she and her grandchildren are staying. Like everyone else, she’s in a state of shock, but her innate graciousness shines through. “Come back when it’s peaceful. Come for dinner,” she urges. “I’ll make you plov.”
Caritas member CRS has been mandated to lead an Emergency Response team to Kyrgyzstan.