Saturday, October 31, 2009

How to Carve a Pumpkin in Tajikistan

Step 1: Go to the bazaar and find a pumpkin "kadu" in Tajik. (In my case, this was the only pumpkin I've ever seen in the market that was shaped like a American pumpkin. Most are like giant butternut squash).
Step 2: Amuse the seller by your over the top enthusiasm at finding said pumpkin, and laugh while your friend takes your picture with the seller and the pumpkin. (That picture is still in her camera, I think).
Step 3: Take the 9 kg (20 lb) pumpkin home in your backpack.
Step 4: Cut the top off the pumpkin and try to remove the cap. Since the flesh is so think, cut a nose hole so you can try pushing from that angle.
Step 5: Pry the cap off the pumpkin using a knife and spoon.
Step 6: Take a victory bite. Just kidding!
Step 7: Clean the inside (note how thick it is).
Step 8: Go upstairs to your neighbors' apartment, since you had invited yourself over to demonstrate pumpkin carving. (Three people in the Tajik family in my building speak English, so that's how I communicate with them. I also practice my Tajik phrases on them).
Step 9: Ask the neighbor girls' advice on eye and mouth placement, and practice Tajik words for eyes, nose, and mouth.
Step 10: Carve the pumpkin as the whole family watches in amazement and excitement.
Step 11: Give the finished pumpkin a name. The grandmother thought this one should have an English name, so the girls named him "Tommy."
Step 12: Light a candle inside the pumpkin and applaud with the girls at the face glows.
Step 13: Eat soup, bread, cookies, meat and salad and drink homemade juice while talking with the family.
Step 14: Go back home with the pumpkin (he's going to a Halloween party hosted by an American couple) and reflect on how great your neighbors are.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Norak--The Hydropower City

A week and a half ago I had the privilege of visiting Norak, the home town of Shahlo, my "counterpart" at the university. She was assigned to help me navigate life at the university, and she teaches the "A" half of our group of students and I teach "B." I can't describe how thankful I am for this woman. She spent hours trekking from office to office helping me fill out paperwork in Tajik so I could be an official employee of the university, came to my apartment to check on me when I was sick last week, and took me as her guest to her hometown. She exemplifies Tajik hospitality. Seriously, the level of hospitality in this country is amazing.

Anyway, about Norak. It's a city of about 45,000 people (but feels much smaller) about an hour drive from Dushanbe. It is home to one of the largest hydro power stations in the world, according to Shahlo, and it powers much of Tajikistan. The plant was built during the Soviet era. Note the old mural on one of the apartment buildings in the town. If you click to enlarge it, you can see that it features a "Rosie the Riveter" style illustration of a woman with a power plug. During the Soviet era, the town itself was occupied mainly by Russians, while the surrounding villages were home to the Tajiks. Shahlo's family was one of only 2 Tajik families in their apartment block in town, so she speaks Russian almost like a first language.

Norak's square still features a large statute of Lenin. The Lenin statute in Dushanbe wasn't around long after independence. If it's too dark to see the Lenin statute, one only needs look to one of the mountain peaks to see a lighted silhouette of Lenin's head at the top of a mountain.