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Friday, January 2, 2015

Tajik Hospitality

I've never been a big fan of 'cultural experiences.'  This probably makes me completely unfit for this lifestyle - what better place to have those experiences than while living in foreign countries for years on end - but I don't worry too much about it.  I'm happy to spend my life in my own, comfortable safe American bubble with occasional forays into the Outside to gather provisions before hunkering back down in my safe place.

Brandon is of a like mind, and so we haven't made any efforts to make local friends in any of the countries we've lived.  He had a speaking parter from his student days in Cairo who we spent some time with during our tour there.  We had several meals with his family and attended his sister's wedding, but that was it.

We made no local friends in Baku.  Our small neighborhood was populated mostly by expats and the children didn't go to school, so I never even had an opportunity to make a local friend.  I did want to attend a wedding (they always looked like crazy fun parties), but you have to make friends to get invited to weddings, so no weddings for me.

When the CLO Dushanbe welcome packet assured me that I would make lots of local friends because Tajiks are very friendly, I didn't believe it.  How was I going to make friends if I spent most of my days behind a big concrete wall?  And what would I say to anybody who wanted to be my friend - mimery only goes so far.  I've got lots of friends, anyway - six of them - and they keep my social calendar very busy thank you very much.  And making friends means obligations.  No really, I'm fine.  I've got plenty of those already, too.

Then last week a friend called.  This friend is the same friend who appears in all of my stories (you know who you are).  She has helped me keep my sanity through the four plus weeks of limbo we've been going through, helping with lice, inviting us over for Thanksgiving, inviting us over for dinner and playdates, and even finding me a housekeeper.

My friend was calling about my housekeeper.  Zarifa doesn't speak English and I don't speak Tajik (or Russian), so we use my friend's housekeeper, Zulfiya to communicate.  Zarifa, who was cleaning my dining room, had called Zulfiya to tell Kim to call me and invite everyone (Zulfiya and Zarifa's husbands are cousins) over to their house for dinner on Sunday.

I, of course, accepted.  I don't think turning down a dinner invitation for the entire family + friends is considered a very polite thing to do.  Thankfully, Brandon speaks Tajik and Russian, so there would be one person in the family who could translate.  I was, however, a little apprehensive.  After all, this woman cleaned my toilets - how would things be when I was her guest?  I'm always afraid of offending people and looking like an idiot while doing it, and being a guest carries an even heavier burden of politeness.  But, the invitation was accepted and the day was set.

We caravanned Sunday afternoon with my friend and her housekeeper and so showed up en-masse - all thirteen of us - to Zarifa's house.  Her husband had set up the plov pot out in the courtyard and, after taking off all twenty-six shoes, she proudly ushered us into the dining room of her house.  The power had gone out twenty minutes before we showed up, so the table was candle-lit and absolutely crammed with dishes.

There were salads and bread and meat and pickles and pickled salad and cookies and cake and sambusas and compote and bread and fruit - and that did not include the massive pot of plov (plov, being a meat dish, is the province of men here) the men were cooking out in the courtyard.  The children's table was similarly loaded.

Zarifa's four children - from early twenties down to eleven - immediately sat the children down and plied them with all sorts of tasty food while the women chatted and ate before the plov was brought in.  Eleanor was whisked out of my arms and passed around, smiling broadly at her adoring (the three oldest children were girls) attendants.  Joseph, initially shy, sat on my lap for a few minutes before remembering his rock-star days in Baku and happily submitted to the tender ministrations (and gifts of candy) of his own attendants.

After we had eaten our fill of appetizers, the plov was brought in.

I had eaten plov before, at a holiday caroling party.  It was, of course, tasty.  But it was nothing compared to this plov.  The plov had carrots, chickpeas, fried onions, rice, and meat topped with meat-filled dolmas, all cooked in a delicious, greasy, savory meat stock.  All ready full from the first part of the meal, I took a small plate.  Then I took another.  And a third.  I'm still dreaming about that plov.

By the end of the meal, everyone was lolling off their seats, stuffed with amazing food.  The children played together, not caring if someone spoke English or someone else spoke Tajik.  Eleanor smiled at her fans and Joseph begged candy off his new friends.  At the adult table, the talk drifted back and forth, sometimes in Russian, sometimes Tajik, and sometimes English as tea was shared around.  Sometimes I understood the conversation and sometimes I didn't, but it didn't really matter.

I was with friends, and that didn't need any translation to understand.


PaulaJean said...

It all looks delicious!

UnkaDave said...

We need recipes. In Spanish or English, however.

Bfiles said...

what a wonderful experience. I'm still waiting for my first invite like that.