Assalomu Alaykum! Salamatsyzby! здравствуйте!

Assalomu Alaykum! Salamatsyzby! здравствуйте! Hello!

My name is Kristina and I am a 26-year-old Austrian with a slight obsession with Central Asia and travelling to the more remote parts of the world. Learning a lot (of and about) languages, foreign cultures and trying to gain a better understanding of traditions while teaching German has been my mission in the past years.
Initially, this blog started out as a mere means to inform my friends and family about my life and adventures when I first moved to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It became a lot more than that to me after realizing that writing helped me to make sense of the strange world surrounding me, to deal with culture shock as well as to help me organize the chaos in my head. My Central Asian adventures haven't ended yet and I am looking forward to entertaining you with some more (crazy) stories from Kyrgyzstan in the very soon future!

I am also a couchsurf host - if you're planning a trip to Naryn, let me know on here and we can take it from there :)

I am always happy to hear from my readers, so please don't hesitate to contact me if you have comments or questions, about travel tips in Central Asia or about life in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan :)

Much love,

Samstag, 6. April 2013

Intercultural spring celebrations

The first thing you may want to know: I am successfully registered and no longer illegal in the country! Good news.

Returning to Tashkent was a little strange after being home for three weeks, but I think I am somewhat fully readjusted now. Of course there are still issues and situations at work that are new to me and that have me rethink my own idea of work, or the kind of relationship you have to your work colleagues cause even these things differ culturally. But in the end, these situations develop my skills in intercultural communication and help me grow as a person.

Returning to Tashkent was also important, as going back home did not only make me realize how much I missed certain things about home and, therefore, raised my appreciation of my own hometown, but also reminded me of the things I genuinely didn't miss. As a result, there was a part of me that really looked forward to returning to Tashkent, and after struggling a little to readjust, I enjoy being back. As a very dear friend of mine has said, it's important to experience all four seasons in order to really get a feel for a place, and I completely agree with him. After a short but sunny autumn, a snowy and comparatively short winter with a dry cold, it is finally spring. I love to go for a walk to enjoy Tashkent's verdant green of its blooming trees, and the gentle warmth of spring's sun on my face while sitting in our flowering garden.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon
The sun's coming back!
Spring in Tashkent. A road close to where I live.

 The beginning of spring, i.e. the 'beginning of life' is also extensively celebrated in Uzbekistan on the 21st of March - the celebration is called Navruz (sometimes also spelled Newroz, Nauryz, meaning "new day" in Farsi) and is the most important holiday in Uzbekistan (and in a lot of other countries, too, such as Iran, Afghanistan and Tadjikistan). Already when I arrived in Tashkent at the beginning of October, all my students tried to convince me to stay longer to celebrate Navruz with them, and so I did. Navruz symbolises the victory of spring over winter, of light over darkness, and this tradition is said to have derived from a zoroastrian ritual from about 3000 years ago. Even months before the 21st of March, students were missing classes due to official preparations for celebrations in parks and on Mustaqillik square, and many school groups and choirs were seen to go in and out of rehearsals for this big day. I was unlucky enough not to experience any of the official celebrations despite our checking out some of the biggest parks in Tashkent before it started raining that day. I was, however, invited to the Navruz celebrations at my old University a few days later, which I happily accepted. The holiday is marked by the preparation of one of Uzbekistan's national dishes, namely sumalak, so that I was asked to join the preparation ceremony at 7pm on a Friday night. Sumalak is a brown, sweet paste made of germinated wheat and water cooked in a massive cauldron (called kasan)*. Since the wheat and water take a long time to thicken, it is cooked all night long, and there is a whole set of traditions related to its preparation. It is believed that Sumalak is much tastier if the people preparing it celebrate, sing songs and dance, and so we also did so at University. Matthias and I were asked to stir and were told that we could make a wish.

We weren't able to try sumalak until the next day, when the actual Navruz celebrations took place. Once again, tables were filled with amounts of food that nobody could possibly eat, music was blaring out of loudspeakers, and dancing, speeches on good luck  and performances (drama, dance) were taking their turns. It's impossible to deny dancing at an Uzbek celebration, so that Matthias and I were reluctantly pulled on the 'dance floor' to join in their happiness. Despite my dislike of being force-fed (I know I sound ungrateful here, but everyone who has lived in Uzbekistan will understand), I genuinely enjoyed celebrating with my former students who would not stop telling me how much they had missed me. I realised how much I had missed them, and I became a little nostalgic of having to move on from the joys of teaching them. My nostalgia was interrupted when it was announced that sumalak was ready. We all gathered around the kasan in order to take part in an ancient rite: Everyone is dying to see which design appears on the surface of the finished sumalak, as the shape of the design would be used for fortune telling. Apparently the variety of which design the surface can take is quite big, from seeing a bird, to a tree or a flower. Our sumalak, however, clearly showed a sun. Since there was nobody to interpret its meaning, I am just going to guess that it"s a sign for a positive and good year :)

Now it was time to finally try sumalak. My housemate Saskia had already told me about how  she was told the previous year that it tastes similar to Nutella, only to find out that it really doesn't, so that it was a bit of a disappointment. I tried to tell myself not to except anything, and certainly not Nutella. Also, how much can go wrong with something consisting of wheat and water? A massive cup was served and I was scared that I wouldn't like it, meaning that I would have to finish it nevertheless cause I didn't want to hurt the feelings of my former students who looked at me with big and hopeful eyes and who asked me repeatedly if I really did like it. It was okay - it's definitely not similar to Nutella, but it's somewhat sweet and not too bad (I was glad, however, that they didn't have any spoon left for me, so that I didn't have to finish the whole cup!)

The brown stuff in the cup is sumalak

The students are dancing away.
Uzbekistan is regionalistic so that every region has different national dresses, ways of making plov and baking bread.

A student from Khorezm dancing a traditional dance

It was a beautiful celebration, particularly because I was able to spend it with people I genuinely like. As much as I liked Navruz, I also thoroughly enjoyed our own culture's (kind of) spring celebration on the following weekend: Easter! Even though Easter isn't as much of as family holiday as Christmas (for me at least), it makes a big difference when you spend it in a country where it isn't celebrated at all and, sometimes, not even heard of. Luckily Saskia was as convinced as I was to at least have a lovely Easter breakfast together, so we gathered together all of our imported goods (such as colours to dye eggs, Milka chocolate eggs and bunnies, pumpernickel, Viennese coffee, etc.), baked homemade Striezel, dyed eggs in five different colours and set up a lovely Fruhstuckstisch as we know it from home. This may not sound that special to you, but it really is considering how many things there are you have to do without with in Uzbekistan, particularly regarding food. We didn't go on an easter egg hunt, but really enjoyed bringing a tradition that we all grew up with to a country so different by chatting away in the early hours of this rainy Easter Sunday. Celebrating German/Austrian holidays together is also a bonding thing, so that I've felt a lot more comfortable in the new house ever since.

As I have mentioned before, spring is the time of renewal and of a 'new start', and it really is for me, considering that I have a new job and live in a new environment. For some reason, however, I felt as though something was missing in my life and that I would need something else that is completely new for me...;) After thinking about this a little while, considering and reconsidering the advantages and disadvantages, talking to Saskia and Matthias, as well as our landlady, I decided to take action. Please let me introduce you to my new housemate:

Her name is Undine, and she is a very lovely and pretty Russian tortoise. Tortoises like her are dirt cheap over here (I payed 8000 Uz sum at Askiya bazar, which is about 2.50 Euro) because Uzbekistan is their natural habitat, meaning that it's also very easy to keep them. We simply keep her in the garden, feed her and give her fresh water everyday, soak her every now and then, install a little shelter from rain and natural predators, and, of course, keep her company. So far, her favorite food is lettuce and dandelion, and she loves to lie in the sun, but we are only in the process of getting to know each other! I love her to pieces and will be sad to leave her behind when I leave Uzbekistan in September..

* Recipes seem to vary, as this blog, for example, states that the ingredients are wheat, flour and vegetable oil.

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