Sunday, January 02, 2005

Nigora's birthday

Nigora turned 46 on January 1, so they had several guests over to celebrate – Shavrat’s brother with his wife and child, along with a Tajik friend, Aleksandr, and his Turkish wife. All of the men work for geologists, Russians and foreigners coming to Kyrgyzstan to hunt for gold.

Apparently here, the birthday girl isn’t allowed a rest. She spent much of the day preparing the meal for the guests and then cleaning up afterwards, receiving a bit of help from her sons.

Only one of the men, Shavrat’s brother, wanted to drink. Aleksandr hasn’t drunk for ten years and Shavrat was on his first day of giving up cigarettes and alcohol. Rather than supporting Shavrat, this brother and his wife put a lot of pressure on others to drink – basically just to keep the one drinker company. Here, others don’t abstain in order to help people refrain from drinking. Instead, people are expected to drink, even if they don’t want to, in order to provide company for the drinkers. I thought it was sad the way that they pressured him and the others, putting a shot of vodka in front of me when I said I didn’t want any, and placing a glass of champagne in front of Aleksandr’s wife, even as she shook her head no. Only several hours into the visit did Shavrat’s brother refuse to drink, saying that it was obvious that no one else was interested.

We sat in the same place we’d spent New Year’s, putting our feet under the heated table, enjoying turkey and potato soup, salads, and several hours later, plov – fried rice topped with a fruit that resembles an apple and chunks of meat wrapped with grape leaves into small square packages.

We watched old Russian movies and day-old New Year’s shows on TV. After a few hours, I was eager to spend some time alone, but the guests remained until 8. Then, as I headed into my room and picked up a book with relief, Nigora came in to check on the stove, then stood in the doorway and told me how a tour leader once brought her small soaps from the Hyatt in Bishkek and how they are her favorite soaps. I tried to smile politely, but I was really wishing she’d leave.

I was grateful for the company, and for the way they accepted me into their New Year’s celebrations. My European colleague spent New Year’s alone with the TV and if I was still living alone in my apartment, that would have been my likely New Year’s as well. But in this type of environment, it can be hard to get away and to spend time on my own.

Nigora left, smiling, happy with her birthday celebrations. She’d received two sets of dishes, flowers, and a cake from the guests, as well as some soap and a calendar from me. “I’m not tired at all!” she said, while leaving. I was glad when they all headed to bed, or at least to their quarter of the house, and I laid on the bed, feeling the warmth emanating from the nearby stove, listening to the coal crackle, luxuriating in the quiet and the escape of my book.

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