Sunday, January 30, 2005

Turkey slaughter and a steam bath

I’m back in Osh, my home for the foreseeable future. After a few weeks away in my own apartment, it was an adjustment returning to Uzbek family life. On the night I returned, I’d had a bad day, was tired and stressed and just wanted to be alone. First my friendly family invited me to have tea with guests. I declined. Then I had to fend off offers for dinner and tea, and even then, I didn’t feel I had any privacy as Nigora came by several times - to check on the stove, to ask for my help writing a card in English. And any time I wanted to go to the bathroom, I also had to emerge into the cold winter air and into the central family space, making it hard for me to isolate myself and mope as I wanted to.

I just have to get used to the lack of privacy, for that’s the price I pay for having interaction with a local family. And they are a great family. Nigora brings me dinner every evening, they are always friendly, and really try to make me comfortable. When I told them I got a headache reading at night because the lightbulb was so dim, they had a brighter one put in the next day. When I didn’t eat the almonds I’d bought because I couldn’t crack the shells, they bought a nutcracker.

This evening Habib came to my door and told me that his father was about to kill the last turkey. I’d heard some squaking outside my window, but thought the turkey was being especially vocal. It turns out Shavkat had been tying its legs together and preparing it for the execution.

I went outside and saw Shavkat standing in the courtyard area. One of his feet was on the turkey’s legs, the other stood upon the turkey’s wings. The bird’s head was located near a small hole they’d dug in the snowy ground. The bird seemed calm and rested, not knowing what would soon happen.

“What’s the holiday?” I asked.

“No holiday,” Shavkat said. “But all of us have been a bit sick lately.”

He lifted the bird’s head by wrapping his hand around the beak and sliced the neck, letting the blood run out into the hole.

“It’s better to not feed the turkey for 24 hours before killing it,” he said. “Then the blood becomes really thin and runs out quickly. But the kids forgot and fed the turkey this morning.”

Animal slaughter is strictly a man’s job here, but Shavkat doesn’t kill with pride. His face flinched as he cut into the neck for the second and the third time. He told me that he had never killed anything until a couple of years ago, when a neighbor woman asked him to come over and kill a chicken. He told her that he didn’t know how and she began to berate him, asking how he could consider himself a man. After listening to her harangue and her challenge to his manhood, he went over and killed the chicken, but only under duress.

He did a better job than the slaughter I’d seen at the market. There, the turkey flopped around headless for a while. But Shavkat waited until all the life had drained out before he released the wings and feet from his weight.

He sliced off the head and handed it to Faruh, who was going to feed it to the dog. Max began to jump up, eager for the treat.

“Don’t give it to him now!” Shavkat warned his son. “You need to boil it first. Last time I gave him a raw head he started chasing live chickens.”

The turkey was then passed to Nigora for defeathering, back to the boys for cutting into pieces, and then Nigora took charge again to boil a turkey soup. A few hours later, she brought me turkey broth with carrots, potatoes, and an overboiled turkey leg.

Also this evening, in addition to my first turkey slaughter, I was treated to my first banya in almost a month. They built a fire to heat up the bathhouse and called me when it was hot. I splashed steaming water from a faucet onto the rocks, breathing deeply as a layer of steam rose and the sweat emerged from my pores, taking in the sweet smell of the pine wood. Warmed by the stove, the soup and the banya, as well as by a surprise call from a friend overseas, I went to bed comfortable.

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