Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I had the amazing opportunity to see the famous Central Asia game of buzkashi on March 21st, the Nav Ruz "New Day" holiday. It's the New Year of the Persian world. I don't understand all the rules of this game, but the name means "goat grab" and the object is to grab a headless, dead goat that's been soaked in water and ride with it into a certain goal area. There are no fouls and no "out of bounds"; this game is hockey on a double dose of steroids, to put it mildly. This particular game was played in a field set in a low bowl and the spectators mostly stood on the slope around the field, but as you can see in the video, some of them chose to stand on the field. The riders can come in any direction at any time, so the crowd frequently runs from the action. The game came way too close for comfort to some of my expat friends; they were about a yard from a horse. I didn't get that close but had to run with the crowd several times. It's scary, but there's definitely a thrill. It was a very unique experience. The foreigners, especially women, were almost as entertaining to the spectators standing around us as the game itself. The crowd is 99.9% Tajik men wearing the standard black jackets and bowl haircuts, and a group of 15 foreigners, most of them women, stuck out even more than usual. People were basically quite polite, but people definitely got a kick out of how quickly we were prepared to run when the horses even looked like they were coming our way. The video speaks for itself--enjoy!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Women's Day

Photos: sign saying "Holiday congratulations, dear mothers and sisters"--(yes, I can read that now!); a couple walking--note the woman's large stuffed bear in plastic

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. It’s a big deal in Tajikistan, something that became part of the culture during the Soviet days. In honor of Women’s Day, schools, universities and many businesses are closed. Technically, the name of celebration here was changed to “Mother’s Day” by the president, but most people still call it “Eidi Zanho” or “Women’s Holiday.” What follows is a collection of my musings about the holiday and the place of women in the society in general.

To commemorate the day, most people give gifts to mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, teachers, female coworkers, any women in their lives. Women give each other gifts as well. It’s like a combo of American Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and a birthday. People are walking up and down the streets carrying flowers and stuffed animals, and vendors in the bazaars are selling gift basket type things wrapped in red and pink plastic. Sometimes men and boys even prepare meals for the women in the household, which is definitely not the norm here!

As someone who isn’t a mother, I really appreciate a day when all women are celebrated. For days, I’ve received congratulations from sellers in the bazaar, coworkers and students. On Friday, one of my students brought a homemade cake to class and the students gave me a gift! I was very touched, but unfortunately didn’t have my camera to capture the moment. The men in our section of the English department brought food to the office and had a party for the women, complete with cake and a speech by our supervisor. It was great!

For those of you wondering if there’s a men’s equivalent, there is Men’s Day (or Army Day) on February 23rd. At work the women planned a little celebration for the men in our office. People usually give gifts to the men in their lives, but it’s not nearly as big a celebration as Women’s Day. It wasn’t a day off, and I didn’t notice nearly the amount of gifts being carried down the streets. I don’t intend to sound anti-men, (see post “Surprised by Honesty” for examples of men’s kindness) but I have to admit I’m glad that Women’s Day is a bigger celebration, because every day in Tajikistan (except maybe Women’s Day) is Men’s Day.

At any point in their lives, the vast majority of men here have several women who cook, clean and do laundry for them. (And believe me, these tasks take a lot longer than they do in the States!) In most families, when sons marry, the wife comes to live with her husband’s family. That’s right, men live with their parents all their lives. In one household, there may be more than one married son, so a couple could have multiple kayleenho, or daughters-in-law. So a man almost always has a mother, grandmother, sisters, wife, and maybe aunts to do housework for him. Kayleenho often do the brunt of the work, and in many cases the mother in the household actually stops doing much housework when there is a new bride, and expects the new kayleen to do almost everything. One of my male students even wrote about this as a health problem in the country, because mothers-in-law often become obese when their daughters-in-law are there to do all the work! Women who have sons old enough to marry will sometimes tell their son “I need a kayleen, so we’re going to find a wife for you.” Then the son gets married whether he wants to or not, to someone selected by the family. Imagine being the poor wife who hopes her husband won’t beat or cheat, and that his family will be kind to her. An expat friend told me that a recent study reported that 50% of women are victims of some kind of abuse, and the real percentage is likely higher.

So, I’m not going to complain too much about not having a day for women in the US that includes me. I’ll take the opportunity to make choices about education, marriage, a profession, where I live, etc, over a holiday. But these choices did not always exist, even for women in the West. I’m so thankful for those like Susan B. Anthony who fought for women’s rights. Would that each day, not just the 8th of March, we lived in a world where the treatment of women increasingly reflects the truth that all people bear the Creator’s image.