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.