“All you Americans ask ‘why’ all the time.” Assem’s simple comment caught me by surprise.


And it taught me a lot.


I began to notice the many times I did indeed ask “why?” But, more than that, I began to notice the many times that my Kazakh friends didn’t.


“Why,” seemed not to be in their vocabulary. I first noticed this during an Eid celebration.


“What does this Eid commemorate?” one of our fellow Peace Corps volunteers had asked our hostess.


“I don’t know,” she’d replied without a blink. “All I know is we sacrifice a sheep.” And then she laughed that laugh that says, “Life is good.”


In the US, we learn about our holidays as children in school, in the church we attend, or in our home. But during the Soviet years, the Russian-led schools didn’t teach the customs of the Kazakh people, and Kazakh parents didn’t celebrate them in their homes, either.

So today, people in Kazakhstan practice customs, observe traditions, and celebrate holidays often without knowing why — or caring why. Our hostess wasn’t fazed that she didn’t know why she celebrated one of Islam’s biggest holidays. She was only glad that she now could.


What was behind my fixation on knowing? I so wanted to know.


What about you? How important is “why?” 


4 Responses

  1. Lori
    | Reply

    Oh yeah, I’m a “gotta know why” person. It’s interesting to look at it from a cultural perspective. Of course, one of my first reactions to reading this was, “Oh, I hope now they learn to ask why!” Umm, oh, yeah…wanting to impose my values on another cultural group. Ethnocentrism at its finest??

    Reading this also reminded me of working with very young children in childcare. From the very early age of 1 or 2, American children (or at least the ones I worked with) learn to ask why. They must be hearing it from us. Plus, we reward it by answering to the best of our ability, as shown in this children’s song: http://www.amazon.com/Why-Oh/dp/B0013D6OS0

    • Janet
      | Reply

      Hi Lori, and welcome. We do indeed value asking “why,” seeking, questioning. And, the question, I suppose, is ‘Why?” I always took it for granted it was the only way. I so appreciate your comment, “…wanting to impose my values on another culture …” It’s a challenge sometimes. Thanks for the link to the Anne Murray album. I’m reminded too of an old Annie Lennox song, “Why?” Hmmm. Perhaps when I rerun this one, I’ll add some audio clips.
      thanks again. I hope you’ll come back. I (try to) post each Wednesday morning.

  2. Diana Beebe
    | Reply

    The first thing I thought of is what do the little ones do to pester everyone else? LOL. It’s seems that is THE questions little ones ask when they are learning about the world. “Why is the sky blue?”

    We have a running joke about the question. It started because my little one asked it ALL the time. Then we saw a silly cartoon with a little girl who asks why to everything her mom tells her. After about four rounds, the mom is exasperated and the toddler is evilly oblivious and ends with “OK, lady, I love you. Bye-bye.”

    Thanks for giving me something interesting to think about, Janet!

    • Janet
      | Reply

      Oh my, yes. How I remember those incessant “why?” days, months, years. I wonder if other western countries go through that, or is it typically American.

      I don’t remember hearing Kazakh children going through that phase. Of course, I didn’t speak much Kazakh, but my hunch is there don’t. I hope some other cultures weigh in on this one. It’d be fascinating to hear from them.

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