Integrating Through Ordo

By Elise Williams
Aug. 25, 2017
Playing Ordo

When Turat first emailed us about playing ordo, I was on the phone with my younger sister. “You know what? I think I’m going to sign up for this.” She asked what I was talking about. “Turat just emailed us about playing ordo in the national games in June. I think it could be fun.” She responded, “I have two questions. First, what is ordo? And second, really, they’re going to let you, the most uncoordinated person in the world, play a sport?” I did my best to explain that the closest equivalent we have in America would be bocce ball but she was still too focused on the idea that someone would willingly allow me to play a sport. We went back and forth a bit more and finally got off the phone. I of course immediately went and signed up for the games, because after all Peace Corps is all about trying something new, and I’m glad I did.

About a week later, I was outside my school and a group of my seventh form students had set up to play ordo. I walked over and asked if they would teach me how to play. They were absolutely scandalized. “But girls can’t play ordo. It’s a boy’s game!” With that said, I chose to watch. I mean, after all, how hard can it be? During MST, I found my answer.

When we gathered for our first practice I grew slightly concerned. It started off great. Our coach went slow and explained well enough for me to understand the overall concept. Then we got to start throwing the tompoi (a bone from a cow’s knee). It was outrageously difficult. On top of this, a small crowd had gathered around the area we had practiced and were either watching or had joined in.

Two weeks later, with only a couple of practices under our belts, we were on the marshrutka to the games. Despite this, my worries subsided and I was really excited. We went in and gave it our all, even if our all didn’t add up to all that much. I think the other players were impressed with the respect we showed the game. Even though we were really bad (we lost every single game, though we were surprisingly evenly matched with Kazakh team), we made up for it by being engaged, trying to follow the rules to the best of our ability, and asking questions. During the opening ceremonies, I had felt like we had only been brought here to entertain the locals, but throughout the games I had stopped feeling like an oddity for entertainment and instead became an equal competitor and potential friend.

The rest of the games, we were given pointers about how to play better and cheered on when we made successful plays. Through our respect and professionalism, I think the other teams were proud to have a team of Americans present and earnestly trying to learn this Central Asian national sport. In the end, we created lifelong friendships and had a great time doing it. And, who knew, girls can play ordo too!