A Study in Being Absurdly Foreign

I was interviewed on the Tajik news twice this week. Which really, when you think about it, is probably the most anyone could ever hope for out of life.

Being on the news in Tajikistan is a little different than being on the news at home...

The first time was much more exciting (and infinitely more awkward), so lets start there. On Tuesday one of my professors took me to the Nowruz party at the National University. Yes, it was a little late: Nowruz was last week, but because of all the snow, their party got delayed. I was one of very few foreigners at the event, which featured everything from a camel to young men dressed as Achaemenid (ancient Persian) Kings to a rooster fight. Thousands of students gathered on the hills around the performance green, and were roughly divided by their academic departments. I sat with the Asian Languages students, most of whom were studying either Farsi or Hindi.

I miss some things about home. But the lack of camels there is pretty disappointing.

I was perfectly happy to relax on the grass and make friends, but hospitality intervened. Another professor insisted that her top student accompany me on a tour of the Nowruz party. This mostly involved stopping at every department and snapping pictures with the exhibition they had created. Along the way I met a reporter, who was amused by my traditional Tajik dress and ability to say things in Persian. He insisted that I wish all of Tajikistan and the world a Happy International Nowruz Day. In case you don’t watch Tajik state TV, Happy International Nowruz Day.

Two different people interviewed me, actually. I don't really recall why.

After that excitement, I wasn’t expecting ANOTHER chance to be on the Tajik news to pop up that very week. But waddayaknow?! Friday, Joey and I were walking down the street after teaching our English class. And the Tajik News was producing a segment where they ask people on the street random questions. They asked us what we did when we had a fever and wanted to feel better. It was a little confusing. But, good little foreigner that I am, I answered. I said I sleep a lot.

The other exciting news is that it is spring. Winter in Tajikistan is hard. Just freaking difficult. Spring, on the other hand, is lovely. I stayed out past 10pm for the first time in weeks. There are outdoor bars and cafes cropping up throughout the city again. The smell of fresh grilled shashlik (kabob) fills the streets. People walk around outside. I only have to wear one pair of pants, instead of three. My feet aren’t constantly wet from stepping in melting snow. Children don’t pelt snowballs at my silly foreign self. We’ve had electricity all week. In class, I sit on a chair, instead of on top of a space heater. Its really wonderful.

Springtime in Dushanbe! View from the new National Library.

On Saturday, we took advantage on the nice weather by hitting up a bazaar and marveling over the fruits. I’ve been thinking lately that I couldn’t live anywhere without a good bazaar. Not a wimpy farmer’s market. A proper bazaar, where giant slabs of concerning meat hang next to the freshest fruit, and people yell at you from every corner. Someone has to sell ready-to-eat corn for less than 25 cents. There should probably be some stray cats. After buying some nuts, and also investing in some spices, we trekked up to the World War II Monument. Really pleasant place, on top of a hill, with a great view of Dushanbe. Pretty mountains, rustic houses, smoke stacks emitting black ash.

The WWII monument. The writing says "No one and nothing is forgotten" in Tajiki and Russian

Here’s  poem by Bedil Dehlavi, a 15th-16th century Sufi poet from the Mughal Empire:

At time’s beginning that beauty
which polished creation’s mirror caressed every atom
with a hundred thousand suns.
But this glory was never witnessed.
When the human eye emerged,
only then was it known.

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Dushanbe: Land of Adventure and Mystery

Adventure One: Tajikistan v. Japan

Friday after class my friends and I headed to Tajikistan’s National Stadium to watch the Tajik National Soccer team take on Japan in what I believe was a qualifier for the qualifiers for the World Cup. As far as I’m aware, Tajikistan hadn’t scored a goal yet this year. Last time they played Japan the score was 8-0, Japan. As such, we weren’t too hopeful about their chances. Spoiler alert: Tajikistan lost. Also, they didn’t score a goal. Sadness.

گل شد؟ نه، گل نشد 😦

In any case, there was still plenty of fun to be had at the stadium. The first challenge was getting in. Because we got out of class after the game started, we got there after they finished selling tickets. The guards were also chasing people away from the entrance with horses, which was a little terrifying, as I’m not sure any of them actually knew how to ride a horse.

In any case, I pushed myself up to a guard and asked if there were any tickets left. Answer: “No.” But, this being Tajikistan, I wasn’t about to give up. I asked another guard, who informed me I could get tickets by pushing to the other side of the crowd. The guard there once again informed me that tickets were gone, but his co-worker noticed my funny accent, funny clothes, and the fact that I was a female trying to see a soccer game and said “no, no, they’re foreign, let them in.”  So my friends and I triumphantly walked into the stadium, where we were greeted by more guards, and went through a fairly similar experience… “No, you can’t go in,” No, you need a ticket,” “O, its fine, they’re foreign.”

The stadium

The stadium itself is maybe not exactly state of the art. From what I understand, the Japanese team was less than thrilled to be playing on Tajikistan’s field, because its not properly mowed, or something (bunch of whiners, if you ask me). The game was kinda depressing- Tajikistan lost 4-0, and by the end Tajiks were cheering every time Japan made a goal, I assume just to have something to cheer about. We did the wave for a while; the stands got really into it. Also, women don’t really watch soccer games live in Tajikistan. Not a big deal, just further cause for the “eh, weird foreigners” look.

At the end of the game a car was auctioned off. I believe it was from about 1992, had possibly served as a make-shift tank during the civil war, and probably had about 3 days left in it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to win it, because I didn’t have a ticket. Darn it.

Adventure Two: Zurkhaneh

A Zurkhaneh is a traditional Iranian gym type place where, according to the article I got from my professor, champions train. It is a pre-Islamic tradition, and the sports done there are called “Champion sports.” Basically, just really intense, really ancient-style weight training. The dudes were pretty intense: they wrestled, lifted things, ran around, and did some crazy workouts. As you can see fro the photo below, I am not particularly intense:

Lifting the heavy weight things at the Zurkhaneh

And, for comparison, here is a picture of the intense dudes lifting even heavier stuff:

Well, dang boys!

I have some pretty neat videos from the Zurkhaneh that I’ll try to upload next week… youtube is being slow.

Adventure Three: Korvon Bazaar

On Saturday, we caught mashrukas to the outskirts of Dushanbe to do some shopping at the massive and overwhelming Korvon Bazaar (Korvon means Caravan).  We had also been their the week before, but found it way too overwhelming, and decided we needed a full day to explore. On our way there, we stopped for Uighur food. Uighurs make the best food in Central Asia, in my (admittedly, very limited) experience. It has spice in it, which is always a treat.

Korvon is pretty difficult to describe. It goes on for miles. If you lose someone in there, you will probably never find them again. It is crowded and confusing and not exactly clean and pretty stereotypical of a Central Asian Bazaar. There is a constant buzz of sellers shouting:  “Eh, dedushka, be-ahid!” (Russian for girl, Tajiki for come here).

There is a lot of really, really bizarre crap for sale. Boxers with pictures of Euros on them. Hats with Tajikistan misspelled. Really terribly made Chinese goods that probably contain led. Pleather jackets, pleather pants, pleather shirts, pleather shoes. Amid this mess, you will occasionally find a gem, like very warm, giant Pamiri socks. (They’re keeping my toes cozy right now.) We spent about three hours there, wandering the tiny alleys, laughing about the confusing English printed on t-shirts and pushing past old ladies who think tiny alleys are great places to stop and drink some tea.

One last adventure: Mountains

Last monday, when we had off school, I went hiking with some friends. I’m sure everyone’s really tired of hearing about how much I like mountains, so instead, here’s a short video clip of the view at the top of the mountain we hiked.

Here’s a quote from Hafiz:
If seekers after rubies there were none,
Still to the dark mines where the gems had lain
Would pierce, as he was wont, the radiant sun
Setting the stones ablaze.

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