Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Tour of My Yard

At last!  I was planning to re-start my blog months and months ago, but it didn't happen...so here is a video tour of the house where I live with a Tajik family.  The yard is bare in the winter, of course, but there are apricot, pear and apple trees and I've eaten the apricot preserves the family canned last summer.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Anecdotes from 119

From my first day in Tajikistan until about 5 weeks ago, I lived in an apartment building right next to the university where I work, 119 Rudaki. Due to plans to build a large new building on the site, all the residents were forced to move. Many others owned their apartments and are [hopefully] being given apartments in exchange for the ones they left. I was happy to find a place on up the street, but sad to leave the community I'd been a part of since day 1 here.

Here are some glimpses of the sights and sounds in the day of the life of 119 Rudaki.

7:30 AM--door to the neighbor's car shed outside my bedroom window creaks open as the neighbors get the car out to take 2nd grade Nodira to school

7:45--high heels on the wooden stairs as Nodira and her mother or grandmother come down

8:00 most Fridays--the same male voice calls out in Tajik: "Flour! Milk! Come on!" Announcing that people should come quick if they want to buy flour and milk without carrying it from the shop or market

8:45--I leave for the day and often exchange greetings in simple Russian with Lena, the middle aged woman who lives above me. She ends the exchange with "paka paka!" (bye bye) and blows me a kiss. I sometimes go up for tea with her and her elderly mother, aka "Tiyotya Faiya" (Aunt Faiya).

1:00 pm--home after university classes, preparing for the next day or afternoon classes, I hear the sound of Dilorom, the Tajik grandmother, sweeping and mopping the stairs and entryway.

3:00--if I happen to come home at this time, I sometimes see with amusement that Tiyotya Faiya has joined a young couple or a pair of friends trying to have a private conversation on the bench outside the door. It's her bench, and she just sits there and walks to whoever is there.

5:00--back from afternoon classes or meetings, I stop to say hello to the 5-6 girls playing in the yard. They beg me to join them for hopscotch, a jump rope type game, or drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. Chalk is sometimes provided by me. I can't get the hang of the jump rope game, but I try anyway. Tiyotya Faiya the grandmother keeps an eye on the children, yelling at them for walking in the grass. She also keeps an eye on any unfamiliar cars in the yard and asks if I can identify them.

7:00--all traffic on the main road stops except for a motorcade of police cars and black Mercedes sedans that streak down the street at lightening speed. The pre-recorded warnings blare out from the police cars, telling everyone to get out of the way. Police, stationed on every block, blow their whistles continuously. Someone very important is finishing another day at the office. Two minutes later, traffic flow is back to normal.

8:00--I cross the street to the little shop on the corner and buy milk, yogurt or other basic items. For an convenience store, this place also has a good stock of produce. The men who work there rarely crack a smile. But that doesn't mean they don't know about customer service. At Nav Ruz (Persian New Year in March) they helped me figure out where to go to see a buzkashi (dead goat polo game) match. Another time I left money there to be put on my cell phone account since the cell phone guy was out. A couple hours later I received an SMS that the money had been put on my account as requested.

9:00--the electric trolley bus lines pop and spark as the buses sail past the building to the next stop 2 blocks down. If you're outside, you can see the mini-fireworks display as the buses go along.

9:30--I hear the Tajik family coming downstairs to say goodbye to guests they may have had for the evening. Car doors shut and there are repeated exclamations of "well, come again!"

10:00--from my bathroom I can hear one of the older Russian neighbors snoring in the room that shares a wall with my bathroom; from upstairs comes the high-pitched voice of Tiyotya Faiya talking with her daughter.

11:00--I'm usually the last one in the building up, per my night-owl tendencies. I finally close the email, Facebook, Skype, etc and head to bed. The last thing I hear as I drift off to sleep is the heater or air conditioner switching on according to the thermostat setting...

Friday, January 21, 2011

In Memory of my Russian Grandfather

January 2011
I actually started a blog post about my Russian Grandfather last spring, but didn’t finish it. Yesterday I found out that he died on Wednesday of a heart problem. For someone I didn’t really know very well or for very long, it’s really made me sad. Grandfather was one of the group of people I claim as the best neighbors in Dushanbe. As a relative works outside, spray painting a metal Orthodox cross in preparation for memorial gathering tomorrow, I’ll post this tribute to Grandfather Colya, one of the many people who consistently brighten my day. One of the noor (bright, shiny) people, as they say in Tajik.

Photo: Umeda, me, Grandfather Colya, and Amina (the girls are in the Tajik family)

April 2010
My biological Grandfathers were both 100% Swedish by ethnicity, but I have a Russian grandfather here in Dushanbe. One of my neighbors is an elderly Russian man who I see outside at least once a day, smoking and walking around the yard and down the sidewalk with his cane. (The smoking and exercise is an ironic combination, I realize, but at least he’s exercising and not just smoking). One of my first interactions with Grandfather happened a few days after I first arrived in the fall of 2009. I didn’t know where to throw the garbage, and after a couple days, I decided it was time to find out. I looked up the word for garbage in my Russian dictionary, (it’s musor) and took my garbage bucket, prepared to knock on one of the neighbor’s doors and ask where I could dispose of the stuff. I took a deep breath—this trying to communicate without language is never easy. “Please God, help them understand me.” Paper with the word musor in hand and the bucket in the other, I opened my door. Just at that moment, Grandfather was coming out of his apartment across the hall with his musor bucket. I asked “gdye musor?” and Grandfather smiled and said something to the effect of “I’m going there now, come on.” He led me slowly to the dumpsters in the alley behind the building and we emptied our buckets. And that was the start of my friendship with Grandfather.

Since I decided to work on learning Tajik, my knowledge of Russian is about the same as when I arrived, which isn’t saying much, literally. I’ve added a few random Russian words to my vocabulary, because Tajiks use a lot of Russian borrowings. My collection of recently acquired Russian words includes nouns that describe modern objects, like “electric heater,” “microwave,” “stove,” etc. Nevertheless, Grandfather and I continue to communicate with our few common words. Here is a typical exchange between me and the Russian grandfather.
Me: “Zdrastrooytsay!” (hello in Russian)
Grandfather: “Zdrastrooytsay!”
[Big smiles on both sides. Grandfather doesn’t speak much Tajik, but he has adopted the Tajik custom of placing a hand over the heart and nodding slightly to show respect and greeting. I’ve adopted the custom as well, so we both do this. Sometimes, Grandfather reaches out and gives me a firm handshake. Occasionally he salutes me.]
Me: Kak vi? (How are you?--Russian)
Grandfather: “Normal,” or “hanging in there.” “And how are you?” he asks.
Me: “Harasho,” (Russian: good). “Sport?” I ask.
Grandfather: “Da, da, sport.”
Next Grandfather usually makes a circular motion with his cane to indicate that he is going to walk around the yard for exercise “sport”.
Me: “Harasho!” I give him the thumbs up sign.
Grandfather: “Kujo meraved?” (Tajik “where are you going?”)
Me: point to the university, store, or say “doma pradrooshka” if I’m going to a friend’s house.
Grandfather: “Harasho!” Another big smile.
Me: “Ladna,” (Russian, well, OK). “Dasvidanya,” (goodbye).
Grandfather: “Dasvidanya.”
[We both place our hands on our hearts Tajik style, more big smiles].

Well, Grandfather Colya, since our conversations were always bilingual, I’ll close with the Tajik to didan (til the next time we see each other). I don’t think you’ll be needing that cane anymore.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Thanksgiving Turkey

I thought it was time I wrote about the Thanksgiving turkey since it's almost Christmas. Another thing that I rather enjoy about Dushanbe is the challenge of finding certain foods. Sometimes this is frustrating, but I usually enjoy it because it's a chance to practice my language and interact with locals. The turkey was a case in point. It was a week before Thanksgiving and I was hosting a post-Thanksgiving gathering at my place. I wanted a turkey, but was prepared to buy several chickens as a substitute. Last year at this time several larger supermarkets had frozen turkeys (from Brazil, of all places) but this year they were no where to be found. So I asked around the international community and found out about a place outside a large market where they had live turkeys they would butcher for you upon purchase.

Based on the description of where this place was, I went to that area outside the market at about 5:00 PM the Tuesday of Thanksgiving. This is the place behind the large produce market where they sell mostly root vegetables in bulk. I think it's where people from smaller shops come to buy their vegetables. I asked a carrot and potato seller if he knew about turkeys, and he took me to a stall a couple sellers down where there was an empty pen. Since no one was there, he said we would go look for the seller, who apparently lived behind the row of stalls. So I followed the man down a narrow sort of walking alleyway, avoiding the gutter with water running to the street. We came out into a courtyard with simple dwellings around it. (Don't worry, there were still lots of people around). He asked at a couple of places until someone told him to come back the next day at 7 or 8 in the morning to find turkeys. He led me back out to the market area and told me that I should come find him before going to buy the turkey, because they would give him a better deal. "If they see you, they will make it expensive," he said. I thanked him for his help, but decided to negotiate the price on my own, since I think people are usually fair.

I didn't have time the next morning but I returned the morning of Thanksgiving to find the same pen with several turkeys in it. Bingo! I began talking to the man about the different sizes and prices of the birds. "That big one is 150 somoni," he said, which seemed like a good price. "Fine," I said, "I'll take it." Then the man said "are you married?" Oh no, I thought. Here we go again. What does me being married or not have to do with buying a turkey? I said that yes, I was married; it's my usual answer when men I don't know ask that question. It's much easier than responding to all the follow up questions and comments, which could include the suggestion that I marry a Tajik man. The turkey seller continued: "was it your husband that came yesterday and ordered the big turkey? A foreign man was here and ordered it and said he would come today." Darn. "No," I replied, "I didn't order a turkey. I'll take one of the smaller ones. I don't want to take one someone else ordered." So we agreed on a price of 80 somoni (just under $20) for one of the smaller birds.

The man went into the pen and the turkeys started gobbling. They knew something wasn't right. Wasn't it just the day before that Tom had disappeared after the man entered their pen? The man grabbed one of the birds under his arm and walked out of the pen. He sharpened his knife on the edge of the cement gutter and that was the end of the poor bird. While he plucked the feathers and poured boiling water over it to clean the down off, I went into the main part of the market to buy some other things.

When I returned, he put the turkey in a couple layers of plastic bag and I took it home. Since it was a couple days before my party I froze it, knowing that meat goes bad quickly because there are no preservatives. It was a bit tougher than a Butterball, but the flavor was good, and I made some tasty soup with the bones.
Here's the final product:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Top 11 Things I Love About Dushanbe

11. You go to the market and the sellers tell you "we have spinach today" or "come back tomorrow for broccoli" because they remember you and what you buy.

10. After a car has been pulled over by a cop, the driver and cop first shake hands and ask about each others' health.

9. The fruits and vegetables have great flavor and they're generally either in season or you can't find them at all, meaning they haven't been preserved with weird chemicals.

8. You can go to someone's house without being invited. In fact, your host will grill you about why you haven't come in so long.

7. You can get in a taxi, start talking with the driver who speaks English, and find out he was in your colleague's English class last year.

6. If you live in the "center" you can be a 5-10 minute shared taxi ride plus no more than a 10 min talk from almost all your destinations.

5. You can eat lunch at a local "oshhona" for $1-2. That will buy you osh (national rice dish) or lagman (filling noodle soup), bread and tea.

4. Being called "Big Sister" as a term of respect, calling others "Big Sister," "Big Brother," or "Aunt."

3. You can meet the post office lady on the street outside the PO and she tells you that you don't have any mail. Then you have a 10 minute conversation. Reminds me of my hometown of 1,000ish people!

2. In the country's capital city, you can look up and see constellations on a clear night.

1. And...arguably the top thing I love about Dushanbe...being able to look up and see the snow-covered peaks of the mountains.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Wedding Celebration

Last month I attended the wedding of one of my university students. This was the first wedding where I saw all the steps in a long day of celebrations. Previously I had only been to afternoon or evening parties at a restaurant. My student is ethnically Uzbek and is from a town about an hour and a half from Dushanbe. Follow along with each step in the wedding day!

Suray and I congratulate Dilbar as she waits for the groom to arrive.

The groom picks her up and they ride around town in a decorated car, stopping to take pictures at interesting places. Note that they don't smile: it's shameful to appear happy on your wedding day, especially for the the woman. Tradition says that if she's smiling too much it means that she's glad to leave her family or that she knows the groom on a level that she shouldn't.

The bride and groom then go to the groom's house very briefly to greet his family. Then they return to her house, where she is able to rest for about an hour in a room with other women. She takes off the European dress and puts on a traditional dress. A robe is thrown over her and she is led out of the house to the sound of drums and lament-like songs. She weeps loudly as she enters the courtyard of the home where her father and grandfathers wait to say a prayer of blessing.

The bride throws herself at her father's feet, still weeping loudly. You can then hear a pin drop in the usually noisy courtyard as the men pray. The prayer is finished and nearly everyone in the crowd has to wipe tears from their eyes. The bride stands, is led to a car, and is taken back to the groom's house.

At the groom's house, there are 3 large rooms with tablecloths spread on the floor, and women packed around them. Two of the rooms have the bride's new wardrobe displayed on the walls. It's a stunning array of colors, sequins and bead work. Dresses of this kind cost at least $50 each, probably more.

Course after course of food is served. (Note: we also ate a meal and were fed a snack at the bride's house prior to this). By the last course, osh, the plates go basically untouched because the guests are so full. Before we leave, we are encouraged to take anything from the table we wish. This is apparently an Uzbek custom. Despite my protests, I end up taking candy, bread and fruit home.

During the meal the bride remains hidden behind a curtain. At the end of the meal, some of the groom's relatives come to greet her behind the curtain. Then she goes out to the courtyard and bows to a large crowd of women and children.

A couple of older women bring out a tablecloth filled with flour. They place it on the ground and the bride's hands are covered in flour, seemingly symbolic of the bread and food she will prepare for the household. All the while, women drum and sing.

After her hands are cleaned of flour, relatives come one by one and present the bride with gifts, placing them on a tablecloth on the ground. Then they each lift up the bride's veil in a tradition called "Rui Binon" (literally, "Seeing the Face"). They kiss her and welcome her to the family.

The bride backs into the house, bowing the whole way. Then she changes back into her Western style dress for the restaurant party.

The bride and groom enter the restaurant hall. Again, the bride bows constantly. Her friend, the maid of honor, stays at her side.

The bride's friends from the university dance to the live traditional music.

Guests take turns posing for photos with the couple. The guests can enjoy themselves, but the bride and groom don't smile, dance or eat during the party.

At the end of a long day, I return to my peaceful apartment. My thoughts tumble through the various paths life can take us, and how mine is so different from those of most girls here. I wish my student a "rohi safed" (white way/safe trip) on her journey of life.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Back to the Land of the Unexpected: A Journal Entry

This is my first post again in a long while. As you all know, I spent the summer in Minnesota with family and friends. There have been a lot of events in my first weeks back in Tajikistan, so I'm writing this in the form of a journal entry with some highlights.

August 17: departed Minneapolis for Amsterdam and then Istanbul. Thanks, brother Matthew, for taking me to the airport and dealing with my last minute "Argh! My bag is over 50 lbs! Hold this while I rearrange..."

August 18: enjoyed my last Burger King meal for a while at the Istanbul airport. Was looking at the schedule board to check my gate to Dushanbe and heard people discussing a gate change in Tajik. It was great to hear Tajik again, and to know I was in the right part of the airport! Saw other expats I knew in the waiting area, and had the very surreal experience of a young woman coming up to me and reminding me that her name was Mavluda and we had been seated next to each other on the same flight last year, when I first came to Dushanbe.

August 19 AM: Saw the lights of Samarkand and Buhkara, Uz, as we began the descent to Dushanbe. Landed, waited an inordinate amount of time for the luggage, and exited the airport. Was thankful both of my checked bags made it, since the airport staff had to find them in Istanbul and hand write tags to check them through to Dushanbe. Arrived at my cozy apartment at 5:00 AM, glad to be "home" again.

August 19 PM: Awoke from my long summer's nap an hour later than I thought, because my alarm was still on Istanbul time. Was up in time for a walk down the street, where I was greeted by one of the women who works at an office supply store I frequent. Yes, feels like coming home.

August 20-22: Spent the weekend at a dacha in Varzob with friends. A highlight was using the old, leg-powered giant swings at Varzob lake. Swings have always been my favorite, even if they are less than up to safety standards!

August 23: Traveled to a rural area of Tajikistan before reading the travel restrictions to that area due to the escape of 25 unfriendly characters from prison. Fortunately, everything on that front seemed calm during my stay. Heavy rains caused mud and rock slides in that area, which took out gardens and outbuildings. My friend's house was fine, and we didn't know about the mudslides til the next morning.

August 24-25: helped cook potatoes over the fire for the mud clean up crew, and went and surveyed damages. In the picture of the bridge, you can see how the underside of the bridge was plugged with boulders that had come down the hillside, forcing the water to make a new course on the left side. The power of all that water and those rocks was very sobering. Fortunately, no one was killed. Enjoyed an Iftor (end of the day of fasting) meal at a local family's house.

August 26: returned to Dushanbe, passing a number of new security posts. Had to stop to wash the car before entering the city, since dirty cars are one reason drivers can be stopped by police.

August 27-September 8: Had meetings at the language center where I'm working, helped orient new English teaching types, got new internet set up at home, and caught up with friends and neighbors.

September 9, Tajikistan's Independence Day: Enjoyed a wonderful day in Norak with some friends. Norak is an hour outside Dushanbe (see post from last Sept or Oct). We visited the dam, ate lunch on a platform over the river, and went swimming and boating. Watched evening fireworks from the 3rd floor of the house where some of the group are living.

September 10-11: Went from house to house, eating in celebration of Eid i Ramazon, the end of the month of fasting. On the 11th my students took me around to 4 of their houses. Explained that the guy in Florida is crazy and the event he planned did not actually happen. Enjoyed their hospitality, but don't want to see another piece of cake again for a long time :)

For more info on recent events in the country, go to www.reuters.com and search for "Tajikistan."