Friday, October 26, 2012

A plov-tastic postscript

So I had planned not to post again for a while, but then a couple things happened immediately after my last post that I wanted to tell y'all about:

In an attempt to meet up with a Couchsurfer that I had spotty contact with, I took the short bus ride up to Margilon from Fergana. I had no way of contacting my potential host other than email, which he might not check for days, so I spent my afternoon wandering the town waiting for a phone call or darkness, whichever came first.

As luck would happen, darkness came first, so I started looking for a hotel. Uzbekistan has a similar policy to China in that tourists have to stay at certain hotels and register. It's questionable how often you have to register, but from what I've heard you should have at least a handful of registration slips when you try to leave the country. Unfortunately, the first hotel I checked out had lost their license and couldn't accept foreigners, they pointed me instead up the road to the other hotel in town. A couple of local kids who I had just met wanted to help me out, so they came with to show me the way.

The 2nd and 3rd from the left were my guides on the first night, the furthest right is Ahmed, my guide for day 2.

Once we got there, we were told that a single night at this hotel would cost me $55, at the cheapest. Wah wah. Being used to spending between $0 and $6 on accomodation for the past two months, I was shocked, and got ready to find myself a camping hole somewhere in suburban Uzbekistan.Not so fast. One of the boys (I can't pronounce his name and definitely won't try to spell it here) pulled out his phone, called his mom, and within minutes was guiding me back to his house to stay for the night.

During the walk, I took a mental step back and thought about this situation for a minute. What if two American 16-year-olds met some scruffy, cheap foreigner on the street who didn't speak any English, then called their mom and said, "can we bring him home?" I could think of a few outcomes, most of which would leave me homeless or arrested back stateside.

Luckily, this was Uzbekistan, and instead of a cold, lonely night in my bivy in a ditch somewhere, I was treated to a hot meal, some hilarious language-barrier-battling conversation (with help from four dictionaries and through three languages, plus gestures), a warm bed and an invitation to stay yet another night to get a tour of the town and to celebrate the beginnings of the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha with them.

An unfortunately terrible quality family photo
Not only did I get all of that, but the next morning the local 17-year-old English teacher (one of the most ambitious little men I've ever met), Ahmed met me at 8am to begin our tour of Margilon. 12hrs later, he had whisked me back to Fergana to see the collection of English books at the library, donated by the US Embassy (I missed the ambassador by 2 weeks, but I got to sign my name just after his in the guestbook), one of the biggest markets in Central Asia,

The crowd, and some Uzbek boots hanging
An Uzbek bike shop

 his old English teacher in the midst of a class,
You could never get a class of American kids to look like this

a silk factory,
The cocoons are in the vat in the foreground, then the thread goes to the second lady, who coils it

Another mosque and mausoleum

Ahmed, me and Humayun in front of the mausoleum

and his own home,

The air filled with smoke as thousands of families began to cook plov at the same time
to celebrate the eve of Eid-al-Adha. The holiday itself is described by wikipedia as,

"an important 4-day religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to honor the willingness of the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his young firstborn son Ishmael as an act of submission to God, and his son's acceptance of the sacrifice before God intervened to provide Abraham with a ram to sacrifice instead."

In practice, they spend the morning of the holiday at the mosque in prayer, and the night before is kind of like a reverse Halloween, without the costumes. Everyone makes a huge steaming vat of plov, then they send the kids out with small plates full to take to all of the neighbors. The result is a street filled with happy kids (often sampling their deliveries on the way) and a table covered in at least 6 different family recipes of plov. As my friend, Joy, told me after my last post that when I get back, "plov! that's either gonna become your middle name or your favorite word!" I think she may be right. I could measure my current weekly plov intake by kilograms, easily.

Two varieties on the table

The family batch

Ok, that is all. I just wanted to pass on another example of the exceedingly generous hospitality of the Uzbeks, and some cultural awareness. I continue to be impressed. Until next time!

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