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.
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:
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.
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،