Sunday, May 22, 2011

15 Second Mood Booster

Who knew an agriculture expo could be so much fun? If only we could all find this much joy in life! Notice the fantastic percussion instrument made out of saucers and thimbles.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


It seems like so many of the best stories I have are of the disasters, the misadventures, the challenges that I've come across, so I'm very pleased to finally tell a story about something unexpected and pleasant.

Yesterday, while enjoying the gorgeous spring weather, I ran into an American colleague and his wife, who invited me to join them to see an art gallery where they were going to finish a payment and pick up an order. I'm not a huge art enthusiast, but having nothing else to do, I went along.

The art gallery turned out to be the private residence of the artist, who is well known and respected within Tajikistan. The home was easily the most beautiful I've seen in Central Asia. There are two rooms to the small gallery/studio that they showed us. The entry way is lined with the proudly framed work of children who take art lessons there. The main gallery is bright with natural light coming in through the skylight in the high ceiling. The walls are lined from ceiling to floor with brightly colored heirlooms--wall hangings passed down through the generations, grandmother's embroidered wedding dress, and, of course, the artist's work, which is stunning. The best part of this room was the grapevine, which the room was actually built around, so that the vine comes up through the floor and out through the wall onto an arbor outside, creating shade in the courtyard. The vine itself was another heirloom, having been planted by the grandfather.

As if this weren't surprising enough, the artist's family had laid out a full feast for their expected guests (making me feel guilty for tagging along, but Tajik people are always prepared for extra guests, and I think this family sincerely enjoys being hosts). This particular spread was in gratitude, I suppose, for the substantial purchase that my friends were making. The artist's life work, it seems, is reviving the Persian miniature style of painting. I thought that this meant little paintings, but most of them are quite large. It simply means that the subjects are miniature, which means that his work is rich with detail, and they are like illustrations--they tell a story. He also makes these beautiful chess sets, one of which is what my friends were there to pick up. These chess sets are also beautiful and richly detailed, and each set is specific to one region in Tajikistan.

After enjoying traditional Tajik food and chatting about the history of all the interesting things in the gallery and about the family's work, a huge amount of picture taking ensued. We were taking pictures of everything in the beautiful gallery, and the family was taking pictures of us enjoying the gallery. We all ended up laughing about it the situation was so funny--all of us taking pictures of each other. We even took a group photo on a timer.

Ironically, I actually didn't have my own camera at the time, so I don't actually have any pictures at the moment, but check out the artist's website at this address:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dead Goat Polo

So, if I remember correctly, today marks 2 years since I first came to Central Asia. How fitting that I should finally see an official game of Boz Kashi, known to the rest of the world as "a polo-like game played with a goat carcass."

I enjoyed the game about as much as I expected to; which is to say, I didn't. I mean no disrespect to this ancient and treasured tradition, but I just don't really like contact sports with incomprehensible rules and objectives, and I especially don't like standing in the mud and rain and cold watching such a sport.

Now that I'm home and warm and dry, I don't necessarily regret going. The attitude of the riders was impressive to me, and interesting, right down to their clothes, which gave me the impression that they couldn't decide whether they were in a rodeo, an American football game in 1920, or playing quidditch.

As far as I could tell, the game is something of a free-for-all with each rider competing individually for prizes donated by sponsors. The main riders are supported by a back up team that guards them once they get hold of the goat. The first winner was awarded with a prize of honey. The second winner received a car.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Happy Navruz!

It's almost Navruz again--I can't believe it! The last year went by so incredibly quickly.

Navruz (in Kyrgyzstan, Nooruz) is the Central Asian New Year holiday celebrated on the Spring Equinox, March 21. I arrived in Kyrgyzstan right after this holiday two years ago, and spent the following year hearing about how awesome it is. By the time Nooruz finally came, there was a freak mid-spring blizzard and the electricity was out all day. I sat around being bored with my host family waiting for the power to come back on, but it never did, so we sat around in the dark eating cake. Bummer.

So, as you can imagine, I am totally pumped for Navruz in Tajikistan, especially because it seems like so much of the Tajik national identity is centered around its Navruz traditions.

They started decorating the city over a week ago. On Friday, I started seeing lots of kids of all ages on the streets in national dress, heading to and from school celebrations. This morning I ran out to the store and found that someone had decorated my building's stairwell and my door with spring-colored balloons. The checkout girls at the store across the street were all decked out in their national dresses and hats. The weather is great and everyone seems to be in a good mood, including me!

UPDATE: Turns out the balloons were in preparation for a wedding! I had forgotten that the girl upstairs was getting married. I almost had a heart attack when I heard the horns and drums coming up the stairs.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Coffin Lid on the Stairs

Today is Sunday, so I woke up late this morning. It had gotten colder overnight, so when I got up I turned on the air conditioner that heats my apartment. The strong smell of incense flooded in with the warm air. My next-door neighbor, an old Russian woman named Aleksandra, died of a heart attack two nights ago. Her funeral is being held in her apartment today.

News of her death came to me last night at precisely the moment the neighbor who lives in the apartment directly below Aleksandra and I were sharing complaints about her. “There's always people coming and going from her place early in the morning,” I complained. “Her doorbell is loud and plays annoying tunes like 'My Darling Clementine' and 'Happy Birthday. The chiming of her grandfather clock sometimes wakes me up at night.”

“She yelled at me about setting my garbage in the hallway for a minute,” added my friend. “And people were moving furniture around up there in the afternoon when I wanted my baby to sleep.”

Someone delivered the news to us while I was sitting in my friend's apartment, gossiping, and we felt terrible. We simultaneously looked to the ceiling, asking forgiveness, whether we were directing our prayers to the apartment above or further up, I don't know. I don't know why I was so ungracious toward this poor old woman. She always returned my greetings in the hallway when I saw her, but since the weather turned cold, I didn't see her very often. I was glad when she stopped coming out so much, because she whenever she did she would always talk to me, striking up a very one-sided conversation that always made me uncomfortable. Once she made me repeat her full name several times until she was satisfied with my pronunciation. A moment later, I didn't remember her last name. More than once she motioned to me that I should come in for tea, but looking past her into her dark and creepy apartment that emitted some strong unpleasant smells, I would say in my best broken Russian “nyet, sichas nyet.” (“no, now no”) and saying a word that I hoped best resembled the Russian for work, I pantomimed running in place, and left.

Today is a rare gloomy, damp, snowy day. It's cold, but not that cold, so the city is covered with muddy puddles. I preferred not to go out at all today, but I had a pile of garbage that needed to be taken out, and as all I had in my fridge was one egg, some ketchup, and mayonnaise, a trip to the bazaar was needed.

As I readied to leave, I could hear several voices on the other side of my door. I looked through the peep hole to watch for the mourners to move out of the way. I felt guilty trying to avoid the whole funeral thing, and I wondered if I should offer to do something, or at least go in and pay my respects, but I'm a coward, and it seems more respectful to stay out of the way than to risk a cultural faux pas.

When the mourners dispersed, I made my escape. The hallway was filled with smoke, not from the incense, but from Tajik women cooking over two open fires right in the stairwell. One woman is deep-frying potatoes, and the other is watching rice in a larger pot. A rare and out of place taste of community and local tradition in a building who's occupants are a mix of nationalities that all keep to ourselves.

A red coffin lid is propped up against the wall of the stairwell opposite my door. On my way out and the way back home, I navigated past these obstacles—the large coffin lid, the two fires and two cooking pots, the mourners huddled around the building's entrance with umbrellas. And now I'm hiding in my apartment again, the TV on, but muted respectfully. Rest in peace, Aleksandra. I'm sorry I never took you up on that offer for a cup of tea.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Greetings from Dushanbe

The big New Year tree in my neighborhood. I have been thinking that Dushanbe is such a pretty, neat and well-kept city until they started decorating for New Years.