I must admit, I never expected to have a good time at a circumcision party. I supposed it helped greatly that the circumcision was not my own, and in fact the deed itself occurred after the party. Let me back up a bit and explain.
I arrived in Tajikistan full of optimism and energy, eager to start my job as a Kiva Fellow. I arrived at the airport in Khujand, Tajikistan after 22 hours of flying and 23 hours of layovers after enjoying 5 airports in 3 countries. Needless to say, I was a bit tired when I finally landed and was in no mood to fight the disorganized mob trying to get through immigration.
I held back and stood in front of the one air conditioner in the airport, luxuriating in the cold. Eventually, once most of the people had passed through I was noticed by the immigration agent who rushed over to me to enquire my nationality. Upon learning that an American was waiting, I was immediately put in the front of the line and rushed through. There is a certain amount of guilty pleasure in being treated as royalty just for being an American. I have lots of stories that start just that way, but I digress.
I left immigration and looked around the small airport for and ATM, unsuccessfully. Mildly concerning, but I was sure the taxi driver could run me by an ATM on the way to the hotel. I exited the airport to find…nothing. Every urban airport I’ve ever been to has the same crowd of taxi drivers vying for my business. Not in Khujand. There were a few relatives picking up passengers and embracing, but that was it.
A bit distressed, I walked out to the street and found a security guard by the main gate. I asked about cabs, and he enquired where I was going. I gave him my hotel name, and he told me to wait. He walked off, and a few minutes later arrived in his car. I wasn’t going to ask a bunch of questions regarding proper taxi licensing and the safety of the unguarded airport; I just got in. Strike while the iron is hot, I always say.
On the way he had to call a few friends to pinpoint the location of my hotel, but eventually got us to the right place. I didn’t want to interrupt the phone calls to demand a trip to the ATM, so I just kept my mouth shut and hoped for the best. Upon arriving, he thought about it for moment and requested 50 Somonis, or about $6. I figured that was the “foreigner” price, and later found out it was about double the going rate. Still, my smallest bill was $10 USD, so I was pretty sure we’d both be happy with the compromise. He took my bill, said “OK” and off I went. It’s always good to be flexible.
At the hotel, I couldn’t make myself understood that I had reserved a room with the internet, but the manager gave me a room anyway. I put my stuff down and immediately ventured forth to find a SIM card so that I could communicate with the world again. Wifi seems to be somewhat rare locally. After hitting an ATM I found the two major phone carrier’s stores and was told the same thing by both of them: we can’t sell SIM cards to tourists. Hmmmm…
I made it back at the hotel and offered to pay the manager to use his cell phone. He was a great guy and not only didn’t charge me to use his cell phone, he insisted I share his watermelon and bread while I called my Kiva field partner contact. Awesome.
Wait, you say, what about the party? I’m getting to that.
The next day I arrived at work at IMON, Kiva’s field partner. They’ve been doing business with Kiva for close to 10 years and IMON has helped Kiva lenders loan over $16 million to low-income and rural borrowers in Tajikistan, one of the poorest of the former Soviet Republics.
On just my second day at IMON, I was invited to a “child-wedding”, as it was called, for the son of one of the IMON employees. In describing the “wedding”, it was quite charming to watch the young woman try to be both discreet and informative about the real purpose of the party. She was successful, and I realized it was a circumcision party.
Of course, its not the kind of party I usually go for on a weekend, but hey, I happened to be free that day. Two days later I found myself in the back of a car going to the big event with 3 other IMON employees. We stopped by the central market to buy a large toy sportscar for the poor little tyke who was going to be shortened (I wonder, is that when men begin to associate sports cars with the size of, well, you know).
The central market is an amazing place; one of the biggest markets I’ve seen in my life. And trust me, I’ve seen plenty. Every type of meat, fruit, vegetable, spice, and packaged goods were out on display and available for sale. I can’t wait to get back for a wander around.
Here’s just one section of the tremendous market:
There’s an outside section too, and this is only a tiny part of it:
After that, we drove about 45 minutes past fields of corn, cotton, wheat, sheep, and cows to a small village of long, tan, one story houses. We entered a gate and found ourselves in a courtyard made up of three of the houses attached in a U shape. It had flowers and a fountain in the middle, with a large walkway on the outside that had a number of tables set up for the party. Each table was overflowing with food and beverages; a veritable cornucopia of culinary delights.
We were ushered into one of the houses and into a room with it’s own table of wonderful foods. Apparently this one was reserved for the non-relative 30-somethings. Basically, the friends of the child’s father who worked at IMON. The relatives, older men, and women were all in different rooms and sitting outside. We sat, chatted, and ate the afternoon away. Candied walnuts, pistachios, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, dried apricots, figs, candies, cakes, cookies, it was all laid out for our pleasure. And of course, bread. Tajiks love their bread and serve it at every meal. Admittedly, it’s good bread.
After I had enjoyed a fair amount of snacking, the real food started coming in. We were served samosas (or sambusa: meat filled baked pastries), meat and potato soup, mantos (or manti: steamed meat dumplings), ribs, and of course the ubiquitous plov (or pilav: rice with carrot and meat), Tajikistan’s national dish. I’ve had plov about every other day since I arrived. It’s quite good.
I was fit to burst, and enjoying myself immensely. One of the guys there was clearly a joker. Even though I couldn’t understand the language, I couldn’t help but join in with the infectious laughter at his joking antics. Humor is truly universal.
The child who had a date with destiny was paraded around a few times during the day wearing some adorable traditional clothing. He may have had some premonition of the future, for he didn’t look very happy. Luckily for everyone, his shortening did not take place while we were there.
Luckily, my friends decided to make a retreat before we were asked to stay the night. We made our goodbyes and, satisfied and satiated, began the long journey home.
If you would like to support IMON’s important social impact loans please click here: https://www.kiva.org/lend?partner=100