Nowruz Mubarak!

This week was Nowruz. Really quick, for those who don’t know- Nowruz is the Persian New Year. It marks the beginning of spring and the first day of the Iranian Calender. Its a lot of fun, and if you’ve never celebrated it, I recommend a trip to the former Persian Empire(s) next March 21st. Or just any major city where there are diaspora communities. That works too.

Obligatory picture of Chris, Joey and me, the three undergraduates studying abroad in Tajikistan right now.

Nowruz week started out with a snow storm on Monday. A really giant snow storm. And then there was no electricity. And classes got cancelled because the heavy snow was knocking over trees, which were in turn crushing cars and things. It kinda stunk.

But, not to worry!! That was on Monday and Tuesday. The last days of the old year. The new year is bright and sunny. Its year 1391 by the way.

Year 1391 has been pretty beautiful so far. And exciting too! On Thursday we had a Nowruz party. I mentioned last week that my professors were over-enthusastic about this party, and so I ended up performing. A lot. I was the “Malika Nowruz” which means “Nowruz Princess.” We performed a skit in which I had to welcome Nowruz and congratulate everyone on having made it to spring. Also, I had to hold some greens. I wasn’t allowed to wear my own Kurta. I had to wear a bright yellow Kurta that sort of made me resemble a duck.

Me, as the "Malika Nowruz" arriving at the party with some greens.

Now, maybe you think “Amanda, that sounds super awkward!” O, just wait! After that, I had to give a speech in Persian describing the “Haft Sin and Haft Shin.” Those are the traditional symbols of spring set out on a table at Nowruz. The Haft Sin is in all Persian speaking countries, the Half Shin is mostly in Tajikistan. I could tell you more, but I’m sick of talking about them. A little later, Joey and I greatly embarrassed ourselves by singing a Dari song about Spring. We didn’t actually know the words very well, and mostly just stood there, swaying a little bit. I’m sure it was great fun to watch.

Doesn't even begin to capture the awkwardness...

The rest of the party, when I wasn’t performing, was pretty chill. It was catered by an Iranian restaurant, and so we had “Sabzi Polo ba Mahi,” which is rice and greens with grilled fish. Deliciousness. Some neighborhood women gathered in the courtyard to make Sumanak (Sumalak in Tajiki), which is a traditional New Year’s wheat paste.

I stirred the Sumanak/Sumalak for a few minutes. It takes a full day to make. So I didn't stir the whole time.

Other excitement included a tug-of-war and some arm wrestling contests. The party was hosted together with Tajik students who had returned from study abroad in the U.S. in the past couple of years. Most of our professors attended, as did a number of foreigners from the Dushanbe community.

Joey and me with our Dari professor.

By 7:30 or so, most of the professors and foreigners left, and it was just us Persian language students and the returned Tajik study abroad students. The music changed pretty abruptly from traditional Central Asian fare to Kanye West and Jay-Z and Co. I’m pretty sure I saw someone Dougie. After such a traditional celebration, it was little strange to slip into U.S. pop culture. Especially because behind us, the neighborhood women were continuing the stir the sumanak, and small Tajik children were stranding on the roof, staring at us. Still, I suppose it was a nice reminder of home. Also, an unfortunate reminder of the fact that, no matter what culture I’m in, I still can’t dance.

One more awkward Nowruz skit picture

The other exciting bit of news is that Karzai, Ahmadinejad and Zardari are all in town to celebrate Nowruz. My host baby thinks Zardari looks like Baba (Grandfather) and I think I caught Rahmon (Tajikistan’s president) falling asleep during Karzai’s speech on TV. Also, the influx of foreign dignitaries means the main street has been reserved for their cars all week, and I kept getting frisked by the police as I tried to walk to a cafe on Sunday morning.

In honor of the fact that books of Hafez’s poetry are often found on Haft Sin tables, here is a verse by Hafez:

“Though the wine is joyous, and the wind, flowers sorts
Harp music and scent of wine, the officer reports.
If you face an adversary and a jug of wine
Choose the wine because, fate cheats and extorts.”

تا دوشنبه آینده


Surviving the Tajik Winter: Tales from the (Cold) Front

So apparently its cold everywhere in Eurasia is right now. But Tajikistan wins because the cold is compounded by the frequent electrical outages, and the fact that the city planners of Dushanbe decided to pave entrences to many buildings with a marble-like material. Marble gets really slippery when it snows, guys! Generally, I see about 10 people fall down per day. Sometimes I fall down too.

But apparently February is the hard month. And if we make it through February then everything is flowers and springtime and Nowruz. So this blog post is about how I’m making it through February. Its not that hard, if you’re creative enough…

Don't I look cold?

Step One: Embrace It

Its really cold out. Its going to stay really cold out. Tajikistan is 93% mountains. Obvious answer: Go sledding! On Sunday my friends and I bought inter-tubes from a sports shop, and headed out to the hills (we stopped along the way at our favorite Uighur restaurant). We passed the cemetery that is located on the edge of town, and walked up into the hills. I’ll let the following video speak for me:

Clearly, if I stop shivering for a second and look around, Tajikistan is pretty gorgeous in the winter.  In some spots, the snow was up to my knees! And it felt like if you just kept walking, you just keep reaching more and more mountains, until you were in the Pamirs.

(Note: Yes, the sleds have New York Yankees and Ohio State logos on them. No, I don’t know why.)

Chris and Joey check out the view

Step Two: Find Some Culture

Its pretty easy to stay inside and read or watch TV. But there are actually decent cultural entertainment opportunities around. Saturday night we went to see a documentary at a (very warm) hotel theatre. It was called “The Desert of Forbidden Art.” I high recommend it. It is voiced by Ben Kingsley, so it is not one of those obscure Central Asian things I occasionally recommend. Its about a museum in Karakalpakstan (in Uzbekistan) where anti-Soviet art was protected, especially during Stalin’s era.

I realized I hadn’t been to see a film in a theatre since August.

In general, we’ve been making much more of an effort to go to these sorts of things this semester. Last week we went to a Russian play, and we’re hoping to do something similar next week.

Step Three: Dars, Dars, Dars

Thank goodness classes have started. Classes here are pretty awesome. For my history class, we are reading a 9th/12th century of Bukhara (written in Arabic in the 10th century, updated and translated in the 12th). Its the same one we started reading in my English language history class last semester, except now I have to write compositions about it in Persian. It is very exciting. I told my Farsi professor that I wanted to focus on improving my reading and writing this semester, so I have already had many compositions assigned. I come home, plop down in my living room, and write as much as I can. My last writing assignment was to explain the U.S. electoral system in Persian. It was difficult, mostly because the U.S. electoral system is too complicated in any language.

Dari classes are also pretty exciting. And confusing! Its not that different, but in many cases, I do understand, but it doesn’t sound like something I’ve heard before. Or it sounds like someone got confused and started mixing Farsi and Tajiki together in a blender. Its actually pretty useful for reading my historical text though… I’ve learned words in Dari class that my Farsi teacher has then pointed out as uncommonly used Farsi words in the History of Bukhara text. In general, I’ve found that this semester I have a lot of control over what I study (taking half of my classes alone will do that, I guess), which in turn makes me a lot more motivated to study.

Step Four: When All Else Fails, Put on Long Underwear, Make Some Coffee and Wait It Out

Pretty much what it sounds like. I’m staying as warm as I can, and hoping that spring comes soon. All in all, its not bad… the pipes in my house haven’t frozen, my space-heater works, I’ve got my ghichak to practice, and I’ve downloaded new books for my Nook. Hopefully, I’ll be creative enough to keep coming up with stories for this blog until spring finally makes an appearance!

Getting Ready for Lift-Off

Here’s one of the more vivid Rumi quotes I’ve read:

Last year, I admired wines
This, I’m wandering inside the red world.
Last year, I gazed at the fire.
This, I’m burnt kabob.
تا دوشنبه آینده

Saying “Turkey” in Persian

Farsi, Dari and Tajiki each have different words for “Turkey” (the food you eat at Thanksgiving, not the country I’ll be visiting in three weeks). In Farsi, its بوقلمون / Buqalamun. Oddly, Buqalamun means chameleon in Tajiki. In Tajiki the word for Turkey is мурғи марҷон/ Murgh-e Marjon, which literally might mean “Coral Chicken,” if I understood my professor correctly.  My favorite, however, is the Dari word,  فیل مرغ / Feil Murgh, which literally translates to “Elephant Chicken.” It reminds me of Dr. Seuss.
(Also, if you speak Persian, check out this VOA Dari clip about some Turkey farmers in the US. Why exactly this clip is on VOA Dari is a little beyond me, but I’m really glad that it is:

This is how you make Thanksgiving dinner, Tajik style.

I was lucky enough to get some delicious Elephant Chicken this Thanksgiving, despite being in Tajikistan. We had the day off for Thanksgiving. While our professors and administrators prepared Osh and Turkey in the very-advanced-technology you see above, we sat inside and drank coffee and watched Charlie Wilson’s War (three lines in Dari for the win!), and eventually emerged to make some hot apple cider and enjoy the feast.

giant VAT OF OSH

Obviously, it wasn’t the most traditional of Thanksgivings- there was Osh, after all, but the Osh had cranberries in it, and there was Apple Pie for dessert, and it was spent in good company. We stood around the courtyard and discussed the various terms for Turkey, and used the hot apple cider to protect agains the cold Dushanbe weather.

Also, I should mention that Tajikistan’s National Flag Day happened to coincide with U.S. Thanksgiving. What an incredible coincidence! Except that no one in Tajikistan seemed particularly excited about Flag Day. I mentioned it to my host family, and asked if they’d gone to the parade, and they laughed at me and said they didn’t even know Flag Day existed.

Our Thanksgiving Turkey! On a lunch tray... on a ping pong table. Pretty freaking classy.

Despite the fact that Thanksgiving was delectable, it was not, in fact, the most exciting food related event of my week. That took place on Saturday, and began, as all good things should, with a long walk. I was visiting a friend who lived on a backroad, and decided to take a meandering path to get back to the main street. It was snowing and beautiful out: I’ve come to believe that Dushanbe is miserable in the rain, but absolutely delightful in the snow.

Anyways, I wandered along, found a quaint little park and some interesting looking neighborhoods, and just as I was starting to feel cold and hungry, the side road I was on opened up onto Rudaki Ave, and I found myself next to a small Iranian Kabob Shop I’ve been meaning to try for ages.

It was perfect. It was filled with elderly Iranian men joking in Farsi, the Iranian version of MTV was on, and since the menu was in Farsi script, it didn’t take me several hours to read! I had kubideh kabob and a big pot of tea, for less than 3$. I plan on frequenting this place very often.

Afterwards, I walked to Rudaki Park to enjoy the beauty of Dushanbe in the snow for a little while longer, and took several pictures for your viewing pleasure:

Rudaki in the Snow

Ismail Somoni, AKA the Wizard of Dushanbe, and his snow lions.

View of the Park

In other news, its getting pretty close to winter break- in just about three weeks I’ll be boarding a plane to Istanbul. I am very glad that I am coming back to Dushanbe for a second semester after break. I am equally as glad to have a few weeks off, and incredibly excited for the steady supply of strong electricity and even stronger coffee in Europe.

Before I go, here’s a quote from Hafez,

“Good poetry makes the universe admit a secret:
‘I am really just a tambourine, grab hold
and play my music against your thigh.’”

تا دوشنبه آینده