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. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Marriage and Family

The Tajiki concept of marriage is far different from the concept we adhere to in the West. People marry young here - normally before they turn 22. Farzona, my peer tutor, is 21 and currently facing pressure from her parents to get married already. After marriage the bride goes to live with the groom and his family . Even into adulthood, children never live separately from their family, and support their parents as they age. A daughter-in-law are referred to as a "Killeen" in Tajik. 

A Kileen is expected to do all the cooking and housework for her husband's family. It's actually really depressing - they're essentially slave laborers. Once a woman is married she's bound to a life of child-rearing and housework. If a woman manages to finish University without getting married and secures a job before marriage she is less likely to be bound to the home, but the "ideal" Tajik woman belongs at home. 

Arranged marriages are very common within the older generation (and by older I mean 30 years +). In fact, it's perfectly acceptable for family members - usually cousins - to marry. My host sister-in law, Muhabbat, and my host brother, Jalol, are cousins. I actually asked my host sister-in-law how she "met" Jalol and she explained that she knew from a very young age that she was promised to Jalol, although she had never met him. Apparently they didn't meet until their wedding. I'm fairly impressed that two complete strangers can marry and create a fairly healthy and functional family environment. 

Muhabbat wasn't able to finish University before having her first child. She manages the house, cooks, cleans, et cetera. Unlike American households, her children and husband are not expected to assist with household chores - even when I offer to help out, I'm rebuked with a kind "no", and an explanation that "this is my work."

After Nowruz (think Persian Christmas) I'll discuss the plight of women in Tajikistan more. For now, I'm simply very thankful to be born in America. I'd be a terrible Kileen. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Heavy Industry

So I know I said I would write up a post about Marriage and Love in Tajik Culture, but I just got back from an American Councils-sponsored trip to the Aluminum Factory, so I figured I'd seize the opportunity to discuss Tajikistan's main export. 

Most income in Tajikistan comes from aluminum exports - the percentage the tour guide thew around was about 60%. The ore they refine at the Talco Aluminum Factory doesn't actually come from Tajikistan, and the factory itself was built by the Soviets in the 1970s, and hasn't been updated since. 

The actual factory is pretty cool - molted metal being poured everywhere, furnaces melting down ore and whatnot. I certainly got a sense of what "heavy industry" looks like in the developing world. Because the Talco factory uses outdated equipment, they aren't able to make large amount of aluminum, but our Tajik guide claims that Tajik aluminum is of a very high quality. The plant operates 24/7, and is located about an hour and a half outside of Dushanbe. 

After touring the Talco plant we stopped by a "Rice Factory" - basically where the husk of Tajik rice is removed before consumption. Unlike the Talco factory, which was massive, the rice factory was in a small garage-type structure. The factory's "machinery" consisted of a wooden beam that pounded the rice via a motor. Definitely cool to see the difference between Talco, a Soviet-built factory, and local Tajik styles of production.