Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Men's Day

Today was a rather humorous holiday – Men’s Day. As if every day wasn’t a holiday for men here. The original holiday was a Soviet one, Defenders of the Fatherland Day. It was meant to honor soldiers. Since most soldiers were men and no one wants to give up a holiday, at the end of Soviet times it became a holiday to celebrate men, the corollary to March 8th, International Women’s Day.

While International Women’s Day has always been an official holiday, this is the first year that Men’s Day has resulted in a day off of work. Our Office Manager, Gulnara, theorized it was because it was the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Someone one told me that President Akaev “decided that men are people too.”

So we had a day off today. Our driver Malan told me that he had plans to gather with several male friends at a chaikhana (teahouse) at 11 a.m., where they’d spend the day drinking and eating plov (fried rice with carrots and meat). My Ukrainian colleague Anton didn’t have any special plans. We took them both out for lunch yesterday, though Anton laughed, saying he didn’t consider it a very serious holiday.

My family didn’t have any special plans either. So I invited them out to a new Chinese café that has become my favorite place to eat. None of them had tried Chinese food before and they rarely go out to eat. So they got all dressed up. Shavkat cut his hair and wore a sports coat, Nigora put her black hair into a ponytail and wore a glittery dress. The three boys all wore nice shirts.

For $22 we had a wonderful meal of sweet and sour fish, beef with mushrooms, mutton with onions, duck, sautéed spinach, cauliflower with mushrooms, and fried rice with egg and onion.

When they first came in, Nigora whispered to me. “Faruh told me he’s afraid because he doesn’t know how to use chopsticks.” Nigora told me how she’d used chopsticks as a child. Her class teacher until the fifth grade was a single woman with a large home and she’d often invite all her students to come home with her and to spend the night.

“She’d have the A students sleep on the right-hand side of the room, the B and C students on the left, and the D students at the base.” She said that this teacher was like a mother to them and the kids enjoyed spending time at her house. “She had chopsticks and so we’d eat noodles with chopsticks there. I used to be able to use them well, but I think I’ve forgotten by now,” she said.

Faruh picked up the skill the quickest and Lutfulo did OK, while Habib and Shavkat struggled.

“We better get some forks or dad is going to go hungry,” Habib said. But Shavkat was determined, not one to admit defeat. He played with the chopsticks throughout the meal and asked Nigora to buy some at the market. “I need to learn how to use them,” he said.

All the boys received gifts at school yesterday. Faruh got gifts from his classmates, Lutfulo was taken out to a café and to a war movie (at a DVD hall), and Habib seems to have a girlfriend, having received a nice watch from a female classmate.

They told me that when the boys want to get married, Nigora will bake a large lepushka (round bread) and take it to the family of the girl. The boys accepted this tradition, as long as they could pick out the girl themselves. Nigora and Shavkat told how their parents found them their spouse.

“I waited so long to get married that Shavkat was the only person left to marry,” Nigora said.

Shavkat retold the story of why he wanted to marry Nigora – because she didn’t want to marry him. “There were plenty of girls interested in marrying me. So when this girl refused, I decided that was the one I wanted to marry.”

Nigora laughed. “His family brought all kinds of presents to me, dresses and other nice things. I gathered them all and took them back to his house, saying I didn’t want them. My parents were so angry with me.”

She eventually agreed to marry, at the old age of 25, only due to the pressure of her parents. “I’m the youngest in the family and my parents were already in their 70s. My father felt he was nearing the end of his life and told me that if I wanted to be married while they were still around, I need to do so right away, for he wouldn’t be there the next year.”

“Was he there the next year?” I asked.

“He died two years later, three months after Lutfulo was born. He told me that he could rest in peace, knowing that I had a good husband and a son.”

Nigora plans for her sons to marry during their fourth year of university study, but both Shavkat and Lutfulo (currently in his second year), think that’s too early.

Shavkat said it’s important to get an education first. He told how his father died at age 39. He’d been a driver in the mountains and said that he’d gotten sick from the cold and primitive conditions during Soviet times. Once he stopped driving, he prepared and sold some kind of Muslim tobacco. After his death, his mother raised her children, but couldn’t afford to give them educations. So it’s important to Shavkat that his sons have the opportunity to study.

Despite his mother having raised him alone, that didn’t raise Shavkat’s esteem of women. He repeated his belief that the man is most important and the woman is in second place, a belief he takes seriously.

Everyone in the family seems to love, but also to mock Shavkat. When Shavkat talks about the preeminence of men, Nigora smiles and says fine. The boys laughed at how Shavkat fears snakes when they go mushroom hunting, while Habib wants to capture a snake and try eating it. He was hoping there would be snake on the menu at the Chinese restaurant. Both of the older boys laughed at their father’s inability to fish.

We had a nice time. Outside it was drizzling and grey, but the café was brightly lit, with the Chinese version of MTV showing on a television and a steady stream of hot and tasty food landing on our table.

Later this evening, Nigora told me that the boys had really enjoyed the lunch and I was glad to hear that. They are a nice family and I’m glad to have the opportunity to live with them. And as Nigora told me today, she’s happy to have me here, so she is no longer the only female around.

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