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

Dancing and Beer Factories and Tajik Cartoons, O My!

My first Tajik semester is starting to wind down, and honestly, I thought that by this point in the winter, I’d be pretty bored. Good news: I’m not. Bad news: I may be in the process of slowly transforming into a giant walking icicle.

The freezing bit isn’t so fun, but I’m managing to do enjoyable things while I freeze. So, although I could regale you with tales about how I wore 4 pairs of socks and three pairs of pants to sleep last night, I won’t. There are plenty more fun things to dwell upon.

Let’s start with beer. Do you like beer? If your answer is yes, it is probably because you have never tasted Tajik-produced beer. It does not taste great (no offense, Tajikistan. You’re good at other things). It usually comes in water bottle-like plastic containers that are sometimes shaped like barrels. On Saturday, we were treated to a trip to the Dushanbe Beer Factory, which produces this magic substance. We saw birds nibbling on the wheat that was going to be used to make ethyl alcohol, and we saw machinery from the 1970s that has to be monitored 24/7 because there are no computers to do those things. We saw a giant room filled with bathtubs, in which the yeast is left to ferment. The room looked like a giant creepy, ice-infested dungeon from a low-budget mid-90s horror film.  Here is a picture of me with one such bathtub.

Note the ice on the wall and the general shadiness of my surroundings.

After the beer factory, we were treated to a lunch of Kaubli Palav at an out-of-the-way Afghan restaurant with no name. Kabuli Palav is essentially the Afghan version of the Tajik Oshi Palav, except it has less oil and more raisins. It was pretty great, and not at all like Tajik beer.

Adventures continued on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. The Ismaili Center here hosted a handicrafts fair, which featured giant socks and Kyrgyz hats and cool musical instruments from around Tajikistan and Central Asia.  On Saturday I was too overwhelmed to do any actual shopping, but on Sunday I went back to do my Christmas shopping (and also bought some more socks for myself. If I’m going to freeze to death I might as well have warm feet while I do it).

The handicrafts fair also featured free performances. Here is a video clip of the dance performance from Saturday. The style is somewhat fusion-y… I think some of the moves are traditional, but Michael Jackson is definitely not a classical Tajik singer.

At my host families house, the recent excitement has been centered around a DVD that I was given to bring home… it is a collection of famous cartoons (Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Cars, How to Train Your Dragon, etc), dubbed into colloquial Tajiki. Because most TV here is in Russian (or dubbed into Russian), my host family is pretty freaking excited about these films. I am too, honestly… its nice to understand the television for once. We have already watched Shrek twice, and my host brother is well on his way to memorizing Tajiki-language Madagascar.

I also have a few things to add to the collection of adorable things my host baby does:

1.) When I’m sick or have a headache, my host baby attempts to feed me, ripping off tiny pieces of bread and motioning for me to open up my mouth. Then she pats me on the head twice, and then tries to feed me again.

2.) She likes to try to pray with my host dad. This mostly involves yelling “Allo, Allo” like she’s talking to a giant invisible mobile phone, and then falling over when she tries to bow down.  When she gets bored with her own prayers, she sits in the middle of my host dad’s prayer rug, which is disruptive and adorable.

3.) She steals my giant hat, and wears it herself. It is bigger than she is, and she can’t get it off herself. This makes her angry and she starts slapping her head until someone takes the hat off for her.

Before I leave you with a poem, here are a couple more pictures of the beer factory:

Care for a sip?

Aren't you impressed by this technology?

And here is a quote from Rumi (I think its a little cheesy, but it’s still nice).

“Oh soul,
you worry too much.
You have seen your own strength.
You have seen your own beauty.
You have seen your golden wings.
Of anything less,
why do you worry?
You are in truth
the soul, of the soul, of the soul.”

تا دوشنبه آینده،