Saturday, May 14, 2011


Those of you who are not on Facebook may not have hear about my recent jaunt over to Khujand - one of the northernmost cities in Tajikistan. We (other students and I) took a car and driver from Dushanbe to Panjakent to  Istaravshan to Khujand. While Panjakent and Istaravshan are amazing , this blog post is going to focus on a.) the long drive to Khujand and b.) why Khujand was worth the journey.

In order to reach Khujand by car we had to travel through a long tunnel built by the Iranians and then proceed to climb over the Shahristan Pass. The Iranian Tunnel would be a perfect set for a horror movie. The tunnel isn't lit, and is filled with debris, water, ice, boulders, and who knows what else. It's a death trap. Crossing the Shahristan Pass was also quite an adventure - the views were absolutely gorgeous, but I definitely felt like a rag doll being tossed around in the back of the Range Rover.

The cliffs are steep, there are no guard rails (or bathrooms) and if you look over the side of the road you can see the remnants of wrecked cars. Occasionally we were delayed by a herd of goats moving from winter to summer pastures, and I probably ate half a kilo of fresh cherries on the journey (yum!). Travelling the Khujand wasn't a cultural experience - but I gained a newfound appreciation for Tajikistan's rugged, inaccessible beauty.

Khujand is also home to some awesome history - Khujand was the northernmost city founded by Alexander the Great during his conquest of Central Asia. Khujand is (was) also home to the largest Lenin statue in Central Asia, which is now being moved to a new location in Tajikistan. We were able to visit the statue just as it was being dismantled by the Tajik government.

Besides my trip to Khujand the only other news worthy event has been my little host sister's 7th birthday. Tajiks love parties - and when a birthday or any other special event rolls around a family is expected to throw a lavish (by Tajik standards) feast to commemorate the event. My host mother told me that Shukrona's birthday party would be a small affair - but when I returned home from the office there were about adult relatives and maybe 10 children in our howli (courtyard) doing what all Tajiks do during parties - eat, talk, and drink tea. Conversation centered around the price of meat in Tajikistan, the terrible Tajik economy, marriage, kileens, and finding a Tajik husband for myself.

I'll try to squeeze in a few more updates before I return to the U.S. on May 23rd - a journey I'm begining to dread. I love my host family, have a good grasp on the language here, and feel like I still have so much to learn. I'm already trying to figure out how to wrangle a return to Tajikistan (sorry Mom).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tajik Wedding Photos

I know it's been a while since I've updated the blog - and I have so much updating to do. For the sake of saving myself some time, for this entry I'm simply going to post photos of a Tajik wedding I attended in a little village about an hour or so outside of Dushanbe. For background information, I encourage you to read this article from the Foreign Policy Blogs Network and this article from BBC News.

Friday, April 15, 2011

BBQ in the 'Stan


I'm sorry I haven't updated in the past two weeks - but nothing terribly exciting has happened here in Dushanbe. The biggest development thus far has been an issue with my laptop's battery - my six year old sister spilled choi (tea) on my laptop, and while my computer work(ed) just fine, the battery won't charge. Fortunately my computer is under warranty (thank you, Aunt Monique!) but I'll have to wait until I get back to the States to have my computer fixed - this means my first stop after landing in D.C. will indeed be the nearest  Apple Store.

So until then I'm using a laptop that the American Councils has kindly let me borrow. Not having my personal laptop is frustrating, especially because I use a special flash card program to study Persian vocabulary. On the plus side, I've learned all sorts of words relating to computer repair.

We haven't had power at night for the past few weeks - and there are several theories circulating on the matter:
1.) There has been less rain this spring, and the reservoirs are empty and dams are unable to produce power.
2.) Tajikistan preemptively sold electricity to Afghanistan in January, not expecting lower rainfall and empty reservoirs in the spring.
3.) There is plenty of electricity, but Tajikistan is just selling it all to Afghanistan.
4.) The Uzbek government has been complaining that Tajikistan is sabotaging the Uzbek cotton crop but limiting the water flow to Uzbekistan. Tajikistan is citing electricity shortages as proof that as much water is reaching Uzbekistan as possible.


Besides the usual electricity shortages, life has been fairly mundane. On Sunday I'm making BBQ for my host family. I have been unable to find any cuts of meat resembling brisket or ribs here, so I purchased a slab of mystery meat that a Tajik gentleman assured me was beef. My host family's oven doesn't have any temperature settings besides '1', '2' or '3' so I'm going to scrounge up some foil, set the oven on '1' and hope for the best.

The weather here has been getting pleasantly warm - and I've gotta admit, my spirits have improved now that I'm not freezing. I'll update next week with something more interesting!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Child Rearing

Well it's time for my weekly update from Dushanbe. I haven't done anything terribly thrilling this week, as I've had midterm exams for the past 5 days. Considering I'm the only person in all of my classes, midterms were relatively relaxed. For example, for my Persian Literature class I read a short book about the History and Evolution of Persian Dictionaries (exciting, I know) and then gave a presentation to my teacher on the book. Not terribly exciting, but better than last semester's midterm paper. 

A few days ago I had the opportunity to go to the "Athletic University," where, from what I gathered, Tajiks study Sports Science. Most of the structures over there are is a state of disrepair, as the University was originally built by the Soviets (surprise surprise). Gabby was able to show us her gymnastics skills, and I was able to snap some photos of the gyms. It was a very interesting tour, as the most popular sports for youth in Tajikistan are Judo, Wrestling, and Soccer. 

Living with my host family is, as usual, awesome. Of course there are always awkward moments - especially when my siblings are disciplined. Fairuz and Shorukh often get into arguments about computer usage. They have a system worked out where each sibling gets a certain amount of time on the computer per day, but normally this devolves into typical familial arguments, including the wrestling that tend to occur between brothers. This week Shorukh managed to kick Fairuz in the nose (a pure accident). Fairuz wound up with a bruised nose, and I got to witness Muhabbat beat Shorukh (and Fairuz) with her purse and one of her slippers, while calling him  "animal" and "black." Honestly, it was pretty hilarious. The the atmosphere returned to normalcy about 10 minutes later, but Tajik methods of child rearing never cease to entertain me. For example, it's very common for young girls (around ages 0-5) to have very short hair, similar to mine. Tajiks believe that keeping their daughter's hair short in their developing years will lead to thicker, longer hair later on in life. One of many interesting traditions that I've grown to appreciate during my time here. 

A few days ago Muhabbat made Mantu (similar to dumplings) the other day, definitely one of the tastier dishes from Tajik cuisine. I don't think I'll ever understand Tajik butchering practices - for example, there's no uniform method of preparing chicken. They just take the whole bird and hack away away at it, bones and all. 

The most exciting event in recent memory was the arrival of my care package - my lovely family in the States sent over some much needed Smoked Chipotle Tabasco Sauce, BBQ Rub, and Peanut Butter.  As of now I'm very pleased with the progress I've made in my Persian studies, and will continue to keep you all updated on happenings in Dushanbe. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Well, I've officially witnessed one of the few spectator sports in this world that involves an animal carcass. Buzkashi is chaotic - there are very few rules, and the game is very simple. 

Buzkashi is played on horseback, in a large field - the dimensions of which are not standardized. The point of the game is to bring the buz, or goat, to a white flag planted at one end of the field. If you do so, you get a prize. The prizes get progressively bigger - and the game ends once all the prizes have been given away. There is no point system, and there are no teams. The winner is essentially the person who scores the last point, so someone can only score a point and come out a winner. The "final prize" is normally something like a car, or television set. And while there are no "teams" in Buzkashi, alliances are often made before the game. It's like a really dirty game of Risk.

Actually watching Buzkashi is a test of patience - sometimes players will spend up to 15 minutes in a massive clump, fighting over the goat carcass. And then suddenly one player will break away and go galloping off with the goat, only to form a new clump of horses in a different part of the field. The goat carcass is soaked in water overnight, which apparently keeps it from disintegrating too quickly. There are also few clear boundaries to the Buzkashi field - in one of the pictures you'll notice a herd of players running into spectators. Buzkashi. You watch it at your own risk. In the picture below you can see two men fighting over the goat carcass - and get a glimpse of the carcass itself. They're on the right-hand side of the picture. 

Besides my Buzkashi and Nowruz festivities life has been fairly quiet here in Dushanbe. I have midterm exams coming up, which will be interesting, considering I'm the only person in all of my classes. Regarding the living situation, I really do feel at home in my host family. Muhabbat has even started to allow me to do small chores - hanging my own laundry up (still won't let me wash my own clothes), and taking out the communal trash. Tajiks are very hospitable, and it took two weeks before Muhabbat even allowed me to help clear the table after meals.

Speaking of meals. I met my ultimate "Tajik Food Face-Off" a couple days ago. Dinner one night consisted of  vegetable oil, spaghetti noodles, slices of boiled chicken hot dogs, and a pickled oyster mushroom type thing mixed together and salted. I'll eat pretty much anything (if hungry enough), but this was definitely a challenge to scarf down. I'm never complaining about dinning hall food ever again. Ever. Somewhere between the Soviets and the 1993 Civil War Tajiks gave up on enjoying food. My care package (Smoked Chipotle Tobasco Sauce!) can't come soon enough.  

Home remedies for illnesses are another Tajik quirk I've come to appreciate. I got sunburned at the Buzkashi match (yes, Mom and Dad, I wore sunscreen) and my very concerned Bibi (Saodat) gave me some Russian-style sour cream to put on my nose. It didn't really help the burn, but hey, do as the natives do, right? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nowruz Part II

Well, Nowruz has passed. I had Monday off from school, and went to the Botanical Gardens with a bunch of friends to celebrate Nowruz and, simultaneously our friend Gabby's birthday. All of the females dressed up in traditional Tajik garb - the Kurta, or "the Tajik Mumu." The Kurta makes up for what it lacks in aesthetic appeal and figure-flattery with supreme comfort. It's like wearing pajamas, and the Kurta is especially awesome because it's socially acceptable to wear them on a daily basis. Imagine. Wearing pajamas. All day. In fact, most women don't even have to buy maternity clothes during their pregnancies - the Kurta is a 3-in-one deal - everyday wear, sleep wear, and maternity wear. 

For Nowruz some of my host family's relatives came to visit, and Muhhabat, being the good Tajik woman she is, spent most of the day in the kitchen. In fact, for dinner that night she made Qurutob, which is a traditional Tajik dish. Qurutob consists of fitayer (a type of bread) soaked in chakka (think liquid sour yogurt) and topped with fresh and cooked onions. Qurutob was a welcome break from the monotony of carrot-potato-mystery meat. Unfortunately Jalol ditched family dinner at the last minute to go over to a friends house. Hey, no one every said Tajik men were mature. In fact, they're all fairly arrogant and entitled (an insight my older male Tajik professors agree with! Ha!). I made sure to let Muhhabat know how much I appreciated her efforts. She was especially proud of a side "salad" she served with the Qurutob - basically, it was a strange gelatin terrine thing with meat and carrots. Imagine salty grey jello with chunks of meat floating around in it. Yuuuuum. 

One more highlight from Nowruz: After dinner, 6-year-old Shukrona was told to take the dishes back to the kitchen because "you're a girl, this is what girls are supposed to do." Hopefully Shukrona's destiny does not lie in the kitchen, but alas, this is Tajikistan. 

On Thursday I'm going to a Buzkashi match. Buzkashi is basically polo, but played with a goat carcass. I'll post a bunch of pictures and an entry about "goat-carcass-polo" by the end of the week. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Chaharshanbe Suri

Well Monday March 21st is Nowruz - the Persian New Year. Nowruz celebrations in Tajikistan, involves lots of Osh, dancing, games, and brightly colored kurtas. 

In Iran the last Tuesday night of the old year is called Chaharshanbe Suri. It's a prelude to Nowruz. In Iran people make bonfires in the streets and jump over them saying 

"زردی من از تو، سرخی تو از من"
"zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man"
"my yellowness (sickliness) is yours, your redness (health) is mine"

Basically the fire is supposed to take away sickness and problems and give us warmth and energy. Chaharshanbe Suri dates back to the early Zoroastrian era, about 1700 BC. In the office we celebrated Chaharshanbe Suri on Friday, as it was raining Tuesday night and nearly impossible to build a fire. In Tajikistan Chaharshanbe Suri isn't celebrated by the general public, and the holiday really is specific to Iran. 

The office additionally had a Nowruz party this Friday. For Nowruz we set up a Haft Sin table. The Haft Sin table includes seven items which begin with the letter S or Sin (س). The items symbolically represent the coming of spring, rebirth, and good fortune for the coming year. I've included a picture of our office Haft Sin, and a description of the seven traditional items, below. 
1. Sabzeh – sprouts growing in a dish, which symbolize rebirth
2. Samanu – a pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence
3. Senjed – a sweet dried fruit which symbolizes love
4. Sir – garlic, symbolizing medicine and health
5. Sib – apples, symbolizing beauty and health
6. Somaq – ground sumac berries, which represent the color of the sunrise
7. Serkeh – vinegar, representing age and patience

In addition to our Haft Sin table we reenacted the coming of spring, with the lovely Gabby, dressed in a traditional kurta, playing the role of "the Queen of Spring" and Kramer filling the role of her "groom." Osh was cooked and eaten, dances were performed, and eggs were painted. Yes, think Zoroastrian Easter. 

I'll post another entry after actual Nowruz celebrations occur here - for now, I'm enjoying the warmer weather and sunshine. It's nice to be less dependent on a space heater for general comfort, and since it stopped snowing the power hasn't gone out nearly as much, and the internet seems a wee bit faster (trying to watch a video on Youtube is still unfortunately too difficult for the internet here). I'm even hoping that the arrival of spring introduces vegetables other than carrots into my host family's diet… rumor has it that radishes exist over here, and I might go to a bazaar to hunt some down in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.