A Goodbye Taj Post

So, I’m about to leave Tajikistan. And I was thinking about all these lists about goods and bads and lessons learned that I’d share with this blog. But, at the end of the day, I think on both sides, it comes down to my life in Tajikistan being surprising, and sometimes pretty weird.

In the span of the last three days I’ve given a research presentation to the Persian Department at the Tajik National University, gone on a final Osh picnic to Varzob, and caught the flu, necessitating a visit to the doctor for the first time since I’ve arrived here. Nearly made it!

Final Group Osh. Looks pretty much the same as they all do.

I’ve tried to keep this blog pretty upbeat all year, but truthfully there were a lot of aspects of studying in Tajikistan that were incredibly difficult and frustrating. Looking back, I absolutely wouldn’t trade the study abroad experience here for all the coasts in Costa Rica, all the romance in Rome, or all the mummies in Egypt, but there are some things I might try to forget, because who wants unpleasant memories?:

Nights spent shivering myself to sleep in the dead of winter.
The sinking feeling of coming home and realizing there was still no electricity.
The loneliness of realizing that the majority of my peer group here was married with a few kids.
Car sickness. So much car sickness. Stop building tall flagpoles and pave some roads, Taj!
Waking up every single day before 6am, because if I went running any later I’d be stared at, followed, shouted at, etc.
Literally living out of a suitcase for 9 months, because my room had no cupboards/closet
Going to bed every night around 10pm, because there just wasn’t anything else to do.
All the oil in Tajik food. Cotton oil, flaxseed oil, vegetable oil, just lots of oil.
Corruption.
Outhouses. Specifically mountain outhouses.

But there are also memories I’ll cherish, things I’ll genuinely miss and hope to see again someday.

If I could remember Tajikistan any way it would be like this:

(finally asked my host family permission to share that!)

Or like this:

Chris, Joey and me, on the Panj River near the Wakhan corridor, in the Pamirs. Behind us are wild batrian camels.

Or maybe like this:

As a US American, I will never cease to be amazed by still-standing structures that are more than 500 years old.

There is a part of me that is also extremely grateful towards Tajikistan. Most languages, you get a pick of your location, dialect, etc. when you decided to study abroad. As a US citizen studying Persian abroad long-term, that’s not really the case. For better or worse, we come to Tajikistan, and even though sometimes the Tajiki-Farsi dichotomy is frustrating, I dread the day when studying here isn’t an option.

I came here a wide-eyed Perso-phile, and I’m leaving as someone who can communicate effectively in Persian (most of the time). So it was worth it. Honestly, I don’t pick up languages easily. And I think the one-on-one/two-on-one classes that I’ve had all year have probably been the reason I’ve come along as far as I have. I’ll deeply miss my professors and my classes.

In case you thought THAT was sentimental, let me turn now to my host family. I’m pretty sure there have been times when my host family thought I was a complete nutter. And there have definitely been times when I thought they were totally bonkers. There have been more cross-cultural miscommunications than I can count. And yet, when I leave, I will miss my host family most. I decided early on that host family bonding was one of my priorities, and thanks to the fact that my host family was genuinely interested in spending time with me, it remained one.

When I was in Khujand last week, my host family called me, just to tell me that they missed me, and that the baby was crying and pointing to my shoes and asking “where’s Amanda.”

I love that when I come home a million people greet me (some of who I’m always supposedly related to but have never met before). I’ve even grown fond of my host brother bursting into my room and demanding that I go with him to buy a shepherd dog (this happens about twice a day). I’ll miss how, even though they think its nuts, they always make sure my Osh is meat-free. I’ll miss my host mom describing the millions of cakes she can make, and my host baby attempting to pray and falling over, and taking my little host cousins for walks around the block (one toddler on my shoulders, two toddlers holding my hands).

I’ll miss it all.

So that’s that.  Three more days in Tajikistan, three weeks in the U.S., and then summer in India. Although I’ll miss Tajikistan, I’m really looking forward to the immediate future. One last poem, an extract from Attar’s Conference of the Birds (Fitzgerald Translation):

For like a child sent with a fluttering Light
To feel his way along a gusty Night
Man walks the World: again and yet again
The Lamp shall be by Fits of Passion slain:
But shall not he who sent him from the Door
Relight the Lamp once more, and yet once more?

خدا حافظ,
Amanda

The third largest aluminum factory in the world!!!!!

So guess what!? I survived February in Tajikistan. I think I should get a t-shirt. The beginning of March and the return of temperate weather means that I haven’t fallen down lately, there’s no need to constantly wear long underwear, and even my giant amusing hats have disappeared from my wardrobe. Here in our little Persian-language-learning world it means we get sit outside and study or nap in the courtyard. It ALSO means that leaving Dushanbe for day trips is becoming sort of possible. We had one this Saturday. We went to… THE THIRD LARGEST ALUMINUM FACTORY IN THE WORLD.

Undergrads/boren scholars/Eurasian Regional Language program repping.

I know. Extreme excitement coming outta this blog lately.

As you may have noticed from my previous posts, Tajikistan has a lot of natural beauty. But apparently (unfortunately), countries can’t survive on natural beauty alone. They need industries, I’ve heard. Hence, big aluminum factory in Western Tajikistan (thanks Soviets!).

Supposedly, this thing takes up somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of all of Tajikistan’s electricity supply. So, when I was freezing my butt off due to electricity outages all winter, I had this place to blame.

The pouring of aluminum

When we got to the factory (which is called TALCO, short for Tajik Aluminum Company), we were greeted by our “minder.” This man didn’t seem to have any particular knowledge of the factory or the small museum that accompanied it, but was really great at reading signs and pointing out the obvious, eg: “These are stones.”

In the museum there were lots of awards and presents from other countries and signs promoting Tajik-Belorussian friendship. The factory itself was much more interesting. First of all, the entire place was magnetized. So, things like coins and keys all stuck together. Evidence below:

o hey, look at these dirhams sticking together. magnetism.

Second, the whole thing looked like something out of a nuclear apocalypse. There was old Soviet propaganda everywhere, everything was grey, and sometimes I swear I saw particles of aluminum just hanging in the air. At the end we asked our minder-person how many on-the-job injuries took place there each year. He shook his head and said “That’s a secret.” We were pretty lucky to be able to get in though: not many foreigners have been, and they often forbid photos.

This sign says something like "Glory to the winged aluminum producers." Or something. Its in Russian so I don't really know.

They did several demonstrations of aluminum pouring for us. We were warned not to wear any baggy clothing, or touch ANYTHING, as this might lead to spontaneous combustion and/or third degree burns. Afterwards, we went to another, much smaller factory in a village somewhere. I am a little unclear on what this factory did. They definitely husked rice, and maybe did something with wheat. They weren’t actually operating, but showed us the rice husking machine and looked confused when I asked how people had husked rice before electricity. I also bought flaxseed oil for my host family there.

Nope, not Osh. Its a giant boiling pot of aluminum.

On a side note, the TALCO plant is a major point of political contention between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (though what isn’t?). If you’re interested, you can read about it here or here.

When I got home from the trip on Saturday, I found that my host family wasn’t home, and I was locked out. This wasn’t a big problem… I walked over to my host grandmother’s house and found them all there. I hadn’t been there since coming back from break, and actually had a really lovely time.

As the sun set, I played soccer with my host cousins in the courtyard. I am not a good soccer player. However, I was also the only person over the age of 9. The kids thought I was pretty good. They said “Amanda, you’re Messi!” “No! You’re Ronaldo!” Kids are the same everywhere. Its reassuring.

One of the interesting things about taking only Persian classes is that at least 3 times a week my professors spontaneously burst into poem. Here is one my professor quoted by Rudaki this week. Its about a time when Ismoil Somoni (aka the Wizard of Dushanbe) went off to Herat and didn’t want to come back to Bukhara. Basically, its flattery. (I actually quoted a different part of this poem once. Its one of Rudaki’s most famous).

Long live Bukhara! Be thou of good cheer!
Joyous towards thee hasteth our Amir!
The moon’s the prince, Bukhara is the sky;
O Sky, the Moon shall light thee by and by!
Bukhara is the Mead, the Cypress he;
Receive at last, O Mead, thy Cypress tree!

تا دوشنبه آینده،
Amanda

At Home in Tajikistan

I’ve been living with my host family for about six months now, and yet I realized I haven’t written much specifically about life here in my big pink house near the Agricultural University. And given that February is still slowly rumbling along, I thought I’d treat all those out there avidly reading this blog to tales from my surrogate home.

One of the odder things about living with a host family in Tajikistan is that even after half a year I’m still officially referred to as “mehmon-e ma” or “our guest.” As in “Don’t take tea before you give some to Amanda, she’s our guest.” Or, “Amanda, don’t you dare consider trying to be useful, you’re our guest!” I’ve mostly gotten used to this by now, but being hollered at for attempting to vacuum is disconcerting.

After spending so much time here, I’m pretty much over the culture shock of being plopped down with a family several thousand miles away from home. But occasionally, there are things that remind me that my host family and I sometimes have different ways of seeing the world. My host family doesn’t talk about politics often, but when they do I’m always surprised. My host dad says “Why are they protesting in Kazakhstan!? Everyone is Kazakhstan is rich!” My host mom says “Of course we like Putin. Because he’s not like Yeltsin. Yeltsin drank too much vodka.” On a non-political note, my host sister says “Amanda, are any of your friends boys!? I saw you walking with some boys!!”

Before coming to Tajikistan, I hadn’t spent large amounts of time with small children, at least not since I was a small child myself. Nine year olds are a special kind of crazy. My host brother constantly wants to teach me Sambo, which is a sort of wrestling/martial arts popular in the former Soviet Union. This is not my favorite activity.

My host family really makes an effort to speak to me only in Tajiki (as opposed to Russian or Uzbek). But my host brother isn’t really old enough to understand how much Russian he mixes in. We spend a lot of time staring at each other, looking confused. I’m confused by the Russian words, he’s confused by the weird foreigner who can’t understand basic sentences. But we’ve bonded recently because he’s taken an increased interest in his Farsi homework (or, “Classical Tajiki Alphabet” homework) and requested my help.

Of all the members of my host family, I guess I’ve told the most stories about my host baby. That’s because she is adorable. Lately, she’s started calling me “Aoity-Boon,” which is her mispronounced way of saying “Aoity-Joon,” and apparently means “dear big sister” in a Tajiki dialect.

My host baby also drinks a concerning amount of tea. She chugs the stuff. Doesn’t matter how hot it is. My host family usually calls her “mymoon” which means “monkey.” When she’s being really naughty, they say “in parazit ast” which means “this one is the pest.” I taught them how to say “monkey” in English, and occasionally they call her that, too.

After all this time here, life at my host family’s house feels pretty normal. There are mornings when I feel grouchy about the fact that I can’t make my own breakfast, or weird about the fact that people ask me where I’m going and when I’m coming home whenever I leave the house. But mostly, I’m pretty glad I got such a great host family.

This year so far would have been pretty hard without the excitement that goes on at my host family’s house. I can’t imagine a dinner without a baby crawling on me, my host siblings competing for my attention for help with English homework or my entire host family breaking out into a giant 3-hour long argument about whether to buy an aquarium. If nothing else, my host family has certainly succeeded in keeping me entertained and engaged throughout this slow cold month.

Here is a quote by Nazami Ganjivi, a 12th century Persian poet from modern-day Azerbaijan.

Seek knowledge, for through knowledge you effect that doors to you be opened and not closed.
He who shames not at learning can draw forth pearls from the water, rubies from the rock.
Whilst he to whom no knowledge is assigned—that person you will find ashamed to learn.
How many, keen of mind, in effort slack, sell pottery from lack of pearls to sell!

تا دوشنبه آینده،
Amanda

Playing in the “Barf”: My triumphant return to Tajikistan

Before anyone gets grossed out, let me clarify: “Barf” means snow in Persian. There is even a brand of washing detergent called “barf.” The Persian-speaking world is delightful, no?

Anyways, I’ve been doing a lot of “barf-bahze” (snow-play) since I’ve been back in Dushanbe, mostly because my host siblings have decided that that’s what their weird foreign house-guest is good for.

That’s right… you read correctly. I’m back in Dushanbe! And glad to be here. I thought I would struggle, missing the comforts of Europe. But really, who needs escalators and well-organized mass transit? I’ve got mashrukas and space-heaters and loads of tea!

Of course, getting back was a bit of an adventure.

First, Paris: Paris was wonderful. Magical. Exactly how it should be. Last time I was in Paris, I saw a great many wonderful things, but as a non-French speaker, felt fairly lost. Thanks to Rocío’s French prowess and awareness of the city, I could enjoy some of its famous magic this time. Its still not a place I could really imagine living– but it was a wonderful visit. It also involved a lot of things I realized nostalgically, I’d be doing for the last time for a few months. Cooking thai food. Touring interactive museums. Drinking wine that’s not from Georgia or Moldova. Staying up late watching cheesy at a friends house. Skim lattes.


Rocío and I in Paris!

And then, the actual trip. Flying into Dushanbe is strange, but I was prepared for it this time. The weirdest bit it that there are no lights on the ground below for quite a while as you descend. Its just empty and dark. I don’t know how the pilot manages to even find Dushanbe. But he does, and as we get really near, I can make out the outlines of the largest streets, and even some of the major landmarks. Also weird– no announcements about connecting flights. Implication: there are no connecting flights. Welcome to the end of the road.

The Dushanbe airport is unpleasent. You get off the plane (its 4 am and FREEZING), and then a bus takes you to the “arrivals terminal”… everyone rushes the single door of what is essentially a small pavilion. And then you have to fill out a registration card… you write as fast as you can, because the more quickly you write, the more quickly you can get on line.

But no matter how fast you write, there is always the chance that the passport control fellow will decide to go have a tea just before your turn, and disappear for about 10 minutes. And even though there are tons of other passport control fellows walking about, none of them will take his place. Once he comes back, its not too bad… a young foreign woman speaking Tajiki at 4am can be confusing… and after glancing at your passport he waves you along… to the endless wait for luggage.

Its endless because you know that outside there is a driver waiting for you, and that of course, your flight was late, but if you go outside to let him know that you’ve arrived, you won’t be allowed back in. Also, because there is typically about a 50/50 chance your luggage ended up in Australia, or maybe Brazil, or maybe Mongolia.

Fortunately, my small bag made it to Tajikistan, and I made it back to my host family’s house, and to the routine that I found I was craving: warm tea while watching Russian cartoons, my gym, walking to school to make coffee, playing with my host baby (who, in my absence, increased both her vocabulary and her variety of dance moves), evenings spent reading and studying.

And speaking Persian. I didn’t realize how dang much I missed speaking Persian. When I got here, it just all spilled out, and still, all I want to do is talk. I thrust concerns about grammar and dialect to the side, and just let all the words tumble out of my mouth.

I’ve actually been surprisingly busy, given that classes don’t start until next Monday, and the vast majority of my classmates aren’t back yet. I’ve been organizing to volunteer for an English class next semester, meeting with my speaking partner, practicing the ghichak, getting coffee and lunch with friends who are around, working on some school work I’ve put off, spending extra time at the gym, and learning to play computer games from my host brother.

I’m happy to be back. And I’m happy I’ve got another 4 months here. Not only did I not realize how well I knew Dushanbe until I got back, I also didn’t realize how much I liked it here. Even though I know about the difficult things to expect from this semester (cough- electricity, I’m looking at you- cough), I’m weirdly really excited. I have a feeling its going to be awesome.

Here is a verse by Jami, a 15th century Sufi poet:

The eyes, like dew, should receive the seal of a dab of tears.
Non-existence has an image and a world of its own.
Realities are sometimes created in the footprints of passerby.
No one could help rid me of my dual self.

تا دوشنبه آینده،
Amanda

I Believe I Passed My Finals. Here’s the Semester’s Final Blog Post

One of the best things about living in Tajikistan is that you can wear really crazy things on your feet, and no one judges. This, for example, is a common Dushanbe fashion:

You WISH you could wear your giant Pamiri socks over your jeans.

Warm and cozy feet and a total change of fashion norms when its cold are among the things I will miss most about Tajikistan over the next month or so. And, since this is my last Monday in Monday for almost a month, I figured I should tell you all about the awesome things that I’m going to look forward to coming back to next semester.

That moment when I put on an “Oscar the Grouch” voice in Tajiki to stop the Host Baby from crying.:
Lately, when my host baby gets upset, I pull my hat down over my head and put on a really strange voice and yell “Where’s Somaiha! Somaiha help me, I’m stuck!” in Tajiki. The whole family seems to enjoy this, and the baby always stops crying, and laughs. It makes me pretty proud.

More generally, I’ll miss evenings with my host family. Usually, I bring my Nook downstairs, and they turn on the Russian TV, and we drink tea and joke around, and chat on and off for a few hours. It’s a really pleasant evening ritual.

When I’m out to dinner, and all of a sudden a giant debate erupts among my professors about the difference between a moose and a reindeer:
Friday, after finals, our entire program went out for a celebratory Iranian meal. Amid all the joking in Persian, I innocently asked how to say “reindeer.” A debate raged for nearly 20 minutes on this topic, and involved several middle-aged Ph.D.’s making moose and reindeer antlers out of their hands, trying to figure out which was which in Persian.

The Whole Gang, after some delicious Iranian food

My professors are generally really cool people. I’ve been treated to lunch, invited over to parties, and told hilarious stories more times than I can count this semester. Learning Persian barely feels like “class” half the time.

Memorizing all those Arabic plurals and other weird Arabic forms that snuck their way into Persian.
Just kidding, I won’t miss those! Pesky  little buggers hurt my head. I will miss studying though, and feeling like I am gaining new knowledge. One of the coolest things about studying language full-time is that you can tell, from week to week, that you’ve learned new things. One day you don’t know something, and the next day you do. Even when at thing is an Arabic plural.

Being offered Russian classes by Tajikistan’s military while hiking on beautiful hills in the early morning.
I know, I know, you all probably wish I would shut the heck up about these hills and mountains. But I have a story! Yesterday morning, I woke up at sunrise and went for a short hike in the hills around Dushanbe. Just a few kilometers outside of town, and everything is different: little boys carrying firewood to heat their homes, homes built into hillsides, and a lot of snow.

Along the pebble access road I passed the oddest military base in Tajikistan- just three guys and three rusted tanks, and also some grazing sheep. I talked to the military guys for a few minutes: they were my age, and on government service, and got a big laugh out of the idea that I was “just walking… because I like hills.” They thought I was a nutter for learning Tajiki and not Russian, and offered to teach me Russian. 

My Peoples:
I’ve met a lot of really cool folks over my last 3.5 months in this city. Students on my program, other students in Dushanbe, locals and foreigners. I’m excited that most of them will be around next semester.

My friend Joey, our peer tutor Hanie, and me

 

Pic with friends from a while back, at a soccer game

Of course, while I’ll miss these things, I’ve got some awesome adventures planned out for the next month or so. I leave in the middle of the night on Wednesday/Thursday… the semester ended this past Friday, but that’s when my frequent flier miles weren’t valid until later in the week… so I’ll spend a few days meandering around Dushanbe. And then I’m off to gallivant about Europe, visiting wonderful family and friends. My trip includes stops in Turkey, the UK, Austria and France. While this is my last post of the semester, I may on occasion update this blog with a story or a photo over the next month (or stop being lazy and update the Persian section)… keep an eye out.

In honor of the fact that everything in Dushanbe is named after him, here is a quote by Rudaki:

“Many a desert waste existeth where was once garden glad;
And a garden glad existeth where was once a desert sad.
Ah, thou moon-faced, musky-tressed one, how cans’t thou e’er know or deem
What was once thy poor slave’s station–how once held in high esteem?”

تا سال آینده،
Amanda 

How to Party in Dushanbe: A Guide

I’ll admit that Dushanbe, like anywhere else, has its advantages and disadvantages. In the disadvantage column I’d place the winter, the electricity outages, the lack of a national passion for coffee, and the Dushanbe airport. Fortunately, Tajikistan’s, and especially the residents of Dushanbe’s ability to surprise me makes up for these small disadvantages.

Also, corruption is bad. If you take a bribe, the government will feel sad and put up a billboard reprimanding you.

Generally, I’ve found that one does not make plans in Dushanbe. Plans happen to you, whether or not you expect them.  For example, on Saturday afternoon, a party miraculously formed around me, without any planning or thought on my part.

I managed to realize ahead of time that it was my host mom’s birthday. I also managed to avoid buying flowers that symbolized death or something else unpleasant (I’m incredibly afraid that one day the flower man will take advantage of my lack of flower knowledge and sell me death flowers…).

And so we settled into a big ‘ole Tajik party.

My host mom’s birthday was actually one of two Tajik parties that I attended this weekend. The other was an engagement party for my professor’s nephew. I love that in Dushanbe it is not at all strange to get invited to your professor’s nephew’s engagement party.

Here is how one parties at my host family’s house.
A. Eat a lot of food.  Fruit, Osh, nuts, sambusas, my host mom’s 6 homemade cakes, salads with mayonnaise, one salad without mayonnaise, chai, chai chai,  more Osh, more chai. I try to strategically sit by the salad without mayonnaise.

B. Turn on Uzbek and Russian music videos that typically look like they were made in 1980. Anyone who enjoys Bollywood films, moderately offensive cultural appropriation, or Ukrainian things will be amused by the popularity of music videos like this in my little corner of the former USSR:

C. Discover you have more host relatives that you previously thought. Every time I turn around they multiply. I’m pretty sure that at this point I am host-related to 76% of Dushanbe.

D. Listen to the debates that erupt. Common topics include: whether Tajiki or Russian language schools are better, whether the singer on TV is lip-synching, how the Prophet brewed his tea, how to say certain words in English (sometimes people don’t believe me…), the merits of Arabic script vs. Latin script vs. Cyrillic script, green tea vs. black tea, etc.

E. Never assume that the party is over. For example, I came home on Sunday evening to discover that late-comers had arrived a full 24hrs. after the party had supposedly “ended.” They were the Uzbek-speaking branch of the family, up visiting from Khatlon province (in the Southwest). They were kind enough to teach me several words in Uzbek, including “Antelope” which is “Kiyik.”

And that’s it! You’re all ready to party with us!

Two quick anecdotes before I leave you with a poem: First, we had an excursion to the “Artists Colony” of Dushanbe on Saturday. This is where all the Bohemian Dushanbe-ers chill. They wore berets and smoked a lot and looked like they were dropped out of the film Moulin Rouge.

They all have their studios there, and we got to see them producing their art. We also found a “lost Lenin”– Essentially, at the end of the USSR there were all these Lenin statues around, and they didn’t fit in with Tajikistan’s new nationalist history, so they ended up in the backyards of artist colonies, and other unexpected locales. Here I am with the lost Lenin:

Lenin and I can see something that you can't. It is over there. It is pretty exciting.

The youth population of Dushanbe seems to have decided that I am Santa Claus’ granddaughter (in Russian, she is called Snegurochka, or “Miss Snow,” and on multiple occasions, children have followed me yelling this). This is because I wear a large hat and am always bright red from the cold. Apparently, a fun game to play with Snegurochka (me) is to try to steal her (my) hat. They have succeeded twice… one time my friend had to chase after them to get it back.

This is Snegurochka. I don't see the resemblance.

Here’s a Omar Khayyam poem (Fitzgerald translation):

For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

تا دوشنبه آینده،

Amanda

Eid Qurbon, Dushanbe Style

Eid Qurbon (also known as Eid al-Adha), was celebrated in full force at my host family’s house (and all over Dushanbe) yesterday. All through the week, the city seemed to buzz with excitement, and now I understand why.

Quick background: Eid Qurbon marks the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son. The point of the story is that Abraham was faithful and devoted enough to sacrifice his son… but at the last minute God told Abraham he didn’t have to do it, and gave him a ram to kill instead. Because of that, many people sacrifice animals on Eid Qurbon (Qurbon means sacrifice).

Preparation: My family was pretty freaking pumped for Eid. They cleaned for a week, and my host mom started cooking 5 days before the actual holiday. My host brother and father actually went to stay with my host grandmother for most of the week, because my host mom didn’t want them underfoot (it was either that or the fact that cooking and cleaning makes them nervous. I heard both explanations).

One of the best parts of all the preparation that went into Eid was that I was actually allowed to help out a couple of times- mostly just with chopping veggies and sorting strawberries, but you know, baby steps.

Trick-or-Treating?: When I got back from running at 7:30am, the holiday was already in full force. Groups of little kids wandered from house to house, shouting a poem that roughly translates to “happy eid, now hand me one or two somoni!” My host cousin though he was being funny, and changed the lyrics to “happy eid, now hand me one or one hundred somoni!” Mostly though, houses gave out candy, not currency, so it was little bit like a very early morning Halloween.

Death of a sheep: I’m sorry mother, and anyone else who is squeamish, for the story I’m about to tell next… I’ll keep it short. Or you can skip to the next paragraph. Around 9 am, my host father and host uncle sacrificed a sheep in the garden. It was pretty quick and pain-free for the sheep I think. I wanted to grab a picture of the sheep, but there was a giant crowd around it and I didn’t want to get too close. So, you’re spared a picture of the sheep that my entire neighborhood will be eating for the next few weeks.

The reason my entire neighborhood will be eating it is because after the sacrifice, Tajiks exchange the meat of their sheep (or goat, or cow if you’re super rich) with each other. Basically, you drop by your friends’ houses, give them some of your sheep, and then they stop by your place and give you some of theirs. Some of it also goes to the poor.

Visit from Jughi people: Also, in the morning, several Jughi (the Central Asian equivalent of Roma) stopped by my host family’s house. I know very very little about the Jughi, except like other so-called “gypsy” communities they are often poor and face discrimination. In any case, around 11am, a bunch of them wandered into my house, sat down, and waited for my host mom to give them clothes and cookies.

My host mom at no point seemed at all concerned by the large group of random people in her house wanting clothes and cookies. None of my other friends have reported this happening at their host family’s houses, although my family has a rather large and posh-looking house, so maybe that’s why they chose our place. Or perhaps they just know that my host mother is nice.

Hosting:  Shortly after that, the “guesting” started. Somewhat fortunately for my stomach, my family was primarily hosting, as opposed to visiting other houses. This meant I wasn’t forced to eat quite as much. There was still a whole lot of food though. My favorite dish at my house was the beet salad my host mom and I made- unlike normal Tajik salads, it did not contain any mayonnaise! There was also a ton of dried and fresh fruit, cakes, nuts, sambusas (Central Asian style samosas) soup, and endless supplies of tea. Shockingly, there was no sheep meat.

I enjoyed having the guests over because although most of our neighbors speak super colloquially, I’m starting to understand more. The older women were particularly chatty and amusing, gossiping about whose daughter is way too old to still be single, and whose son is about to propose, and whose daughter is marrying an Uzbek. They really like talking about weddings.

This was early on, before all the food was on the table, but at least it gives you an idea

Guesting:  After staying with the guests at my house for a while, I ventured out to visit a professor of mine who had invited his students to visit for the holiday. It was nice to get a short break from the million and one people at my house, and also to get out for a little. As I was walking there, a car pulled up next to me. Initially I thought it was just random people playing gawk at the foreigner, but it turned out to be the driver who took us to Iskander-Kul and made us that awesome dinner I blogged about. Along with his friends, he gave me a ride to my professor’s house. Sometimes I love these little things about Dushanbe.

My professor’s house was pretty similar to my own, although his wife had made pickled eggplant, which I enjoyed. Fortunately, my professor was also pretty understanding of how full we were- it seems he had also been guesting earlier in the day.

So that’s my first real Eid Qurbon: When I got home, there were more guests, and more people dropping off sheep and goat meat, and so on, but for the most part, the day was winding down. I really enjoyed the holiday because I felt very included: from helping my host mom with a little bit of cooking, to watching the kids, to sitting around the table gossiping with the older women, to my host uncle giving me a description of exactly how to sacrifice a sheep, my host family (and the rest of this city), really made an effort to include my confused foreign self.

Because Eid Qurbon is a major holiday, and happens to fall two days before “Tajik Constitution Day” this year, we have today and Tuesday off of school. I’ll be off hiking today, and seeing a play on tuesday.

Before I leave you with a poem, here is a picture of a very misspelled “Tajikistan/Tajikistn” hat I picked up at a bazaar on Saturday:

"Tajikistn" is a great place

Here’s a quote from Sanai, a 12th century poet from modern day Afghanistan:

“While mankind remains mere baggage in the world
It will be swept along, as in a boat, asleep.
What can they see in sleep?
What real merit or punishment can there be?”

تا دوشنبه آینده
Amanda