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


The View from Outside Tajikistan

Happy New Year! I celebrated in Austria, which is really where one should always celebrate the New Year… but I’ll get to that in a minute. First, some reflections from the first two weeks I’ve spent outside of Tajikistan!

Statistics: Since leaving Tajikistan, I’ve been in five different airports. I currently possess six different currencies (I’ll give 10 somonis to the first person guess them all). I’ve learned new words and phrases in three different languages. And statistically, I’ve spent more time feeling warm in the last two weeks than I have in the last two months that I spent in Tajikistan.

I managed to fit all of my belongings for the next month in this little carry-on: quite proud!

Story time: Two weeks ago, I was fretting about whether I’d make it out of Tajikistan. A giant snowstorm had hit Dushanbe, apparently breaking a record, or something. I was convinced that with all the ice and snow there was no way the Dushanbe Airport (which is among my least favorite places in Dushanbe) would remain open.

But somehow, suddenly, we were off to Europe, to Turkey, to Istanbul, to steady electricity.

Enjoying Turkish Coffee with my friend Mike in Turkey

Although I was only in Istanbul for about 30 hours, I was totally enamored with the city. It felt like the Center of the Earth. Of course, this may have been caused by jet-lag, or by the fact that for the first time in 4 months, I rode on an escalator! And an elevator. And saw hundreds of cafes, and millions and millions of people.

Did you know that about twice as many people live in Istanbul as live in Tajikistan? This is true. According to Wikipedia, source of all truth, nearly 14 million people live in Istanbul, while just over 7 million people live in Tajikistan.

Chris and I think Turkey is great!

In any case, after a delightful day spent in Istanbul with friends, I was off to London.

Airports are the same everywhere, I think (except in Tajikistan, the only country where it is acceptable for the customs official to propose that I marry his son). I’ve spent a lot of time in airports over the last two weeks, and they are comforting. The coffee chains, the cool upper-crusty British female voices announcing my flights, the confused looks from customs officials about the “weird bits of paper” I have in my passport (my Tajikistan registration cards).

But after so much time spent in airports, it is refreshing to spend time in the comfortable abodes of dear friends and family; to plop myself down in someone else’s world and feel comfortable in it, for a few days. In London, for the Christmas holiday, I stayed with my cousins. I don’t think I have felt quite so comfy since leaving home last August. Something about the holiday season, combined with being with family, combined with pasteurized milk made me feel o-so-very-cozy.

With my cousins Emma and Kaitie in London

After spending several days running in the cool English weather, relishing in the ability to put milk in my tea, enjoying delicious food and drink, watching far too much English-language television, and having a generally wonderful time, I went into Central London to stay with MUWCI friends.

If you know me at all, you’ve heard me talk incessantly about MUWCI, my school in India. But one of the most wonderful things about MUWCI is that no matter how long its been since you’ve talked to or seen a friend from there, there are always a million things to talk about, and conversations and friendships fall right back into place. I stayed with a MUWCI friend, and we met up with more MUWCI friends, and things sort of fell back into place. We even found an Indian grocery store, where we bought maggi masala, the instant noodle brand so popular as a nighttime snack back at MUWCI.

After about 20 hrs. in Central London, I was once again in an airport, on my way to Austria, to stay with my dear MUWCI friend Lena for the New Year.

As my flight hovered over Innsbruck, I felt quite silly. Here I was, going to yet another mountainous, snowy country, after just leaving Tajikistan 1o days earlier! But I really do enjoying spending a holiday with Lena and her family in Innsbruck: it is the perfect combination of outdoorsy and hot espresso. Also, Lena’s apartment has central heating.

Snowman that Lena's family built outside of their house

On New Year’s Eve we went tobogganing, which is like sledding but involves a 2 hour hike and the ability to steer a toboggan. My steering abilities are weak, but I enjoy tobogganing.

Lena and me, after walking to the top of the Tobogganing trail

Our New Year party was a quiet affair, which is how I like it. A group of just seven, we shared delicious food, and listened to jazz records, and drank champagne out under the stars and fireworks as the year 2012 began.

And now its 2012. I’m still in Innsbruck, although we’ve discussed going to Germany tomorrow or day after. If not, the stops left on my trip are: a return to England, another stop-over in Istanbul, and several days in Paris. Not a bad way to spend my time outside of Tajikistan, I think.

Poetry: Omar Khayyam:
And that inverted bowl we call the sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to it for help – for it
Rolls impotently on as thou or I.

(PS- No, its not Monday. But I’m also not in Dushanbe. I’ll try to update this blog once more over winter break, possibly from Istanbul or Paris).