Published: October 26th 2004
October 26th 2004
Before the ceremony
Not too serious a veil
Alright, here I am in word again… when did I last write? I don’t know, but I think it was before the birthday party, so I’ll start there. I was invited to go to Nargiz’s cousins birthday, and I went. At first it was very quiet, and I talked with a woman who works in Dushanbe with Aga Khan foundation. I should talk about Aga Khan a little bit, he is supposedly a swiss born business man, and the Imam of Ismailism, a branch of Shia Islam that’s extremely peaceful, and has no mosques, no holy day, and no praying 5 times a day. Ismalism is a great religion in my opinion and basically exists in opposition to what most Americans think when they think about Islam. The Aga Khan has extensive humanitarian aid throughout the world, and during Tajikistan’s civil war he saved the region from almost certain starvation, and now is revered as sort of a living god by the Ismailis. If I could do anything with my life it would be to become like the Aga Khan, but he inherited the position, and it’s a little more difficult to start from scratch. So any way, it’s the
After the ceremony
A serious veil. I don't know why it's so much heavier.
Aga Khan who’s been feeding me potato dinners and milk from time to time. But this birthday started to pick up as an enormous feast was laid out on a tablecloth placed on the floor with cushions all around it. A surprising amount of vodka and beer was also laid out, even for twenty people. As the young guests came in, we began to eat. The six young men who were also attending the party were really fierce in pressuring me to drink, but I refused to drink vodka, and finally they settled to let me drink just beer. It was a lot of fun, but a lot of focus was put on me, people were very interested in me and where I was coming from, so on so on. And as the pressure mounted to drink, I finally moved up to cognac. Celebrations are taken pretty seriously, as these people were just as poor as everyone else-maybe a little less, since they had a relative working for Aga Khan who pays very well- but they had champagne and cognac, just Central Asian stuff of course, but still, nice. They insisted that I give a toast to be translated, but
Well this was undoubtedly the most beautiful girl I saw in Central Asia, and here she is dancing during the wedding... I danced too, but I looked so idiotic that there's no way I'm posting that picture.
I didn’t feel ambitious or confident in the English abilities of anyone, so I gave a pretty standard toast that you can probably guess. The meal finished and by this point I had moved up to vodka and was just about as wasted as all the other men, who had been drinking vodka at an amazing rate for three hours. And the dancing began, and I tried my best, and I did all right, but the beat of pamiri music is really difficult for me to dance to. By this point I’ve got a basic grasp on it, but then I didn’t and I was a laughing stock, but it was fun. But damn I was drunk, and eventually it became clear that all of the boys were unemployed but rich, and as they started trying to sell me smuggled gems I realized they might be unsavory. They kept asking what sports I played, and at one point I revealed that I had at one point trained for boxing, a big mistake. They all wanted to box me all of a sudden, and I was getting more belligerent by the glass of vodka, so I wanted to box them also, but luckily the sensible girls broke us up before things got crazy. Damn, I don’t know if I’ve ever been that drunk and still standing before, but finally I was loaded into a car and driven to some place where the car ran out of gas and a bunch of argument went down. Nargiz was there also, but I don’t remember what happened, she tried to keep me in the car, but I finally just got out and walked back to her house, where my bed was made on the floor, waiting for me.
And my bed isn’t on the floor just because I’m a guest… everyone sleeps on mats in the two room soviet school house flat. There is one sofa but it’s not long enough for me so mahteen sleeps on it. And I get one sheet and the other three of them, Farod, Anzo, and Fakhri, also get one sheet. I get two mats and they (the three of them)also get two mats. Because I am the guest.
I went to the cinema with Sino and Nargiz and his sister Lailo and watched “The Hot Chick” with Rob Schneider in Russian. It was pretty fun, but the power went out and we sat in the dark for fifteen minutes and then finished watching it on the generator. It’s twenty dirams, or 7 cents admission, and they asked me how much it is in America. I told them about 8 dollars, or 24 somani, and they gasped, as that is about their monthly food budget, damn they’re poor. So I continue Pamiri activities, and now I’m casual enough in the household that I’m peeling potatoes and bringing water just like everyone else. I’ve been here for two weeks, just taking trips to the countryside. But Anzo invited me to his village for a wedding, which was a lot of fun. It was really pretty compelling, you would have to hear live Pamiri music to understand… when you walk in the house at the beginning, the scent of the food cooking and the heat of about 70 or 80 bodies hits you, along with the sound of the accordion and several drums, and the wailing of Persian singing. You get sandwiched between two people, and in the middle of the floor dancers rotate, and everyone dances at one time or another. There are traditions, like the clothes of the groom being passed around one of the poles of the house three times, and throwing nuts and raisins at the dancers, and the groom getting dressed there with everyone. Then I and 30 men or so packed into the back of an old soviet truck and we drove to the brides village. The bride and groom are called the king and queen in pamiri language. There was a similar ritual in the brides village, and then we sat on two platforms, cross legged or however around a low table, and as the honored guest I was given one of the villages 4 spoons. We eat palau, rice pilaf and meat with carrots and other snacks, nuts and fruits I’ve never seen before, and a big cake that tastes good. After we celebrated in the queen’s village we got back in the truck and drove with the queen to the kings village to celebrate there. I think this village, Wamd, is much richer than the other village, Deh, because they had a dj and loudspeakers and three platforms with more food and a better looking cake. Wamd is less remote, and they’d had two tourists from Austria before. There was more dancing, and I was asked to give a speech which Anzo translated and everyone seemed to like very much, most of all because I said that Badakhshan was like my second home, by far their favorite part of what I said. I also gave blessings to the couple and so on, it went very well. I even managed to have a one minute conversation in pamir language with a girl that I like, from Deh. I was able to ask her what her name is, how old she was, where she was from, where she was going, if she was happy, and why not. The answers were Sadokhat, 19, Deh, Rushan center, No, and because she has to go to the hospital to have her anemia treated. But that’s not the limit of my pamiri at all. I’m actually pretty amazed with how much I’ve learned. Everyone also speaks Russian very fluently, but I prefer to speak Pamiri, more specifically Rushan language, as opposed to the Ishkashim, Shugnan dialects…
A funny thing about all the weddings I’ve seen in Central Asia is that I’ve never seen a happy bride. Most of them seem to be close to crying, and at this wedding she seemed close to crying and disgusted, as her new husband drank way too much vodka. Toward the end her veil lifted a little and I saw how sad she was. This is because they are sad to leave their homes and their family, to move to another village and house. So I was told. Also, the husband and wife don’t dance, well some do, but in this case only the husband danced.
I had my first chicken slaughtered in my honor at Anzo’s house, and it was tasty. We watched a bootleg of Titanic in Russian in his traditional Pamiri home until the power dimmed to the point where the TV couldn’t run. Pamiri homes are really beautiful, they have five pillars representing the five pillars of Islam and the five prophets or something, and tiered seats where you sleep or during celebrations guests sit around to watch the dancing around the central hearth, which is not a hearth at all until winter. The light comes from one or two small windows and a skylight in the ceiling where the smoke goes out.
Well, other than that I’ve just been spending time with my friends, and for entertainment going through the casual rituals of getting a girlfriend, her name is Khairi but in the Western sense you don’t really have a girlfriend until you’re married. But it’s fun in any case, and she knows I am leaving soon so it’s not too serious. Well, some people have girlfriends in the western sense but they’re mostly gangsters and smugglers, and frowned on by the community. But I’m going to her house tonight for dinner. Oh man, a little girl just got the courage to ask me for the chair next to me, in English, and I said yes and she took it and then ran back to her friends to sit in a giggling heap of nervous excitement. I love Pamiri people. My canon of non electricity games is completely exhausted, as I have now even busted out musical chairs(with pillows, since they only own one chair) and bobbing for apples in the candlelit nights. Soon I head to Ishkoshim, to leave my friends behind and head back out on the road, alone. I like Sino now, yeah, he can be irritating and he’s rich, but he’s a good guy. I was talking with him the other day about England(he lived in London) and he was telling me how much he loves bacon. I asked him “Aren’t you musulman(muslim)?” and he replied yes he was. I asked him if he thought it was okay to eat pork and he said “What are you talking about?” He thought it was sheep and was horrified when I told him the truth, that it’s pork. It’s funny, someone told me an old Pamiri proverb when we were talking about the poverty, and it translates “Money is dirty.” I thought it was pretty funny, and maybe a little true. The best way to use money is like the Aga Khan uses it, I think. The smugglers here don’t seem to agree, as you can see from the occasional Mercedes, BMW, and Audi that cruise along the roads along with the numerous Land Cruisers of aid and relief organizations. I can’t really sum up the last however many days with words, but for those of you who are wondering, that’s what I’ve been doing… I wish I could help you out by playing some of the music for you and sharing with you some of the food, but when you come to Badakhshan yourself you will know with more certainty what I am trying to say. Please do come to Badakhshan. Okay, goodbye, I’ll try to write again in the next two weeks or so.