Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Nowruz in Almaty


Nearly two weeks ago, Spring finally arrived in Almaty, and I could not be happier. The snow and ice that previously carpeted the sidewalks has melted, thereby allowing pedestrians to walk, rather than waddle. I am proud to say that I survived a Central Asian winter without falling on the ice and incurring major injuries. Pretty sure my health insurance doesn't cover those kinds of injuries. Mission accomplished.

The holiday "Nowruz" commemorates the lunar equinox -- when day and evening are equal -- and the begging of Spring. One of my Tajik "bratishkas" (brother) in Baraholka taught me that in Farsi, the word Nowruz directly translates to "new day." Nowruz is celebrated around the world, but is a particularly notable holiday in the five former-Soviet Central Asian republics, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran. The celebration of Nowruz throughout the region is the result of Persian cultural influence during the reign of the Achaemid dynasty. While many in America consider Nowruz an Iranian holiday, as President Obama extended Nowruz greetings specifically to the people of Iran when he should have wished people throughout Central and South Asia (with all due respect).

In Kazakhstan, Nowruz is an official government holiday so students enjoy a week off from school and professionals receive a five-day weekend. In Almaty, there were some fabulous street fairs with music, arts and crafts and food. Nowruz koje -- a porridge drink that contains seven ingredients -- is a Nowruz staple in Kazakhstan. Specific recipes differ, but as long as the drink has seven ingredients, it is koje. Usually it includes some sort of milk, cheese curds, grain/wheat and/or meat. I bought a cup on the street and tasted it. I can't say koje is my new favorite drink, but to each his/her own.

Since Nowruz, it has been a pleasure to see the city, and its inhabitants, transition from the cold, dark days of winter to spring. From my perspective in the bazaar, we have been transitioning our inventory and putting out spring and summer models. It turns out that spring here is a very, very short season and within a matter of weeks, we will be in full-on summer mode. Summers here are pretty hot, and somewhat humid, but not as humid as DC summers.

On a more humorous note, anyone who has spent time in Russia or Central Asia knows that the women wear sky-high heels. They wear heels to school, to the grocery store, to work. Heels are worn all day everyday. This is beyond me. Now that we are entering heel season, consumers come to the bazaar looking for sky-high heels, so I am pretty entertained as young teenagers fight with their mothers over heel heights, while others try on heels and complain that they are not comfortable...well DUH. I've even see girls fall while trying on high heels, and then proceed to purchase them.... Sometimes girls come in with rulers requesting a certain heel height. I asked them why they always wear heels and be pretty. they say to attract men and to be pretty. I get this view, but girlfriends, take a chill pill.

I officially have around four months left in Kazakhstan for my Fulbright and the time has just flown by. Like crazy. I'll try to be better with the blog. Until then, I wish you all a happy Nowruz!

Nowruz Koje.

The stage on Satpaeva street.

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