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.”

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Some notes on popular culture, cuisine and 5-D films

First, let me apologize for not writing last week. My official excuse is that I had a lot of homework, but also there was this whole thing where not much was going on. Sometimes that happens when you’ve been in a place for 6 months.

The one piece of exciting news from last week was our trip to the mall. If you have ever met me, you know that I don’t usually spend much time at malls. I usually find them to be evil, soul-sucking places. But this mall has THE ONLY ESCALATOR IN ALL OF TAJIKISTAN. Excitement, no? So we went and rode the escalator. And watched people ride the escalator for a while. When there is only one escalator in an entire country, sometimes people are not so good at riding it.

This weekend is a three day weekend. We have today off for U.S. President’s day. And so we were determined to find interesting things to do. And we did manage to create one bit of excitement- we went to see a 5-D film!

Now, maybe you are thinking “Amanda, you are confused. Movies only come in 3 dimensions.” But not in Tajikistan. In Tajikistan they come in 5! They also only last about 10 minutes. Joey and I saw one about an amusement park. We were on the roller-coaster.

Sitting in the waiting room for the 5-D Movie. Its like a doctor's office, except with 5-D advertisements

When not inventing these outrageous “adventures” we satisfy ourselves with the routine offerings of Dushanbe. Which are actually pretty decent. For example, a new Iranian restaurant opened last semester, and is a great place to spend hours on end. It is also a nice break from Osh. Delicious kabobs, Iranian specialties, tea, and a place where everyone speaks in an Iranian accent.

I also genuinely like my routine at home. In particular, I enjoy the mornings: we usually have oatmeal and chestnuts for breakfast, and watch crazy music videos. I am not an expert on pop culture or fashion: I have been wearing the same pair of Gap jeans for 4 years. When the wear out, I buy the exact same pair again. But I very much enjoy trying to figure out pop culture phenomena. Particularly in Tajikistan, where it is delightfully mixed up.

I’ve mentioned before how Tajikistan is this conglomeration of different cultural influences. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the music videos that my host siblings enjoy. Uzbek videos are very popular in my house, since a.) my host family understands Uzbek and b.) there seem to be much more of them then Tajik music videos, which makes sense since Uzbekistan’s population is 4X larger than Tajikistan’s.

Here is an Uzbek music video I very much enjoy, mostly because of the singer’s awesome dance moves.

On occasion, we watch Iranian music videos. Everyone likes Arash, the Swedish-Iranian megastar, and also this guy who sings a song about how awesome Iran’s soccer team is. There are a few notable Tajiki-language pop stars, the most famous of whom is probably Jonibek. And then there is this guy, a Tajik guest-worker who became famous in Russia for being able to sing both male and female parts of a Bollywood song:

Bollywood music in general is pretty popular: I told my host family that I was going to India for the summer (more on that in a minute), and so yesterday morning we spent a significant period of time watch Shah Rukh Khan clips. My host baby calls him “Shoo Roo!”

Ok so yes, the other exciting news from this week is that I’ll be spending the summer in Lucknow, studying Urdu through a Critical Language Scholarship. (Don’t worry, I’ll continue studying Persian for a long time.) I’ll come home for about a month-ish starting the 10th of May, before heading over there. Sometimes I forget how incredibly awesome my life is, but finding out about this was a nice reminder. Other cool reminder: I’m currently writing an essay on irrigation methods in the Samanid empire… in Persian! Ahh!

Before I leave you with a poem, here is a fun picture of Tajikistan’s president, in honor of President’s in the U.S. day. The text says “Rogun: Koh-e Noor of Tajikistan.” (For those unaware, Koh-e Noor literally means “Mountain of Light” in Persian). Rogun is a dam in Tajikistan that has been under construction since… 1976. It is a major cause of tension with Uzbekistan. It also has very little in common with a giant diamond.

"Rogun: Koh-e Noor-e Tajikistan"

Here’s a quote by Sanai. We’ve been reading in poetry in Dari class lately, and I’ve become fond of him:

“When the path ignites a soul,
there’s no remaining in place.
The foot touches ground,
but not for long.”

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