Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Uzbek cotton pickers

I had read in an essay about Uzbekistan that cotton is so essential to the local culture that the national soccer team is called the Cotton Pickers.

Tonight, Nigora told me that her sister’s husband, his father and all his brothers were big soccer fans.

“They loved it so much that they’d fly from Osh to Tashkent to watch the Cotton Pickers play, then fly back the next day.” Of course, this was during Soviet times, when flights between Osh and Tashkent existed and were affordable.

I asked her about the name. To her, it didn’t seem strange at all.

“Cotton is called white gold,” she said. “Everyone in Uzbekistan earns a living thanks in some way to cotton.”

Unfortunately, a sharp fall chill is setting in and I’m afraid our dinners on the patio will be ending soon, as will our extended evening talks. Soon enough, I’ll probably go back to having a dinner delivered to my room.

Only six more days to go until Ramadan and the weddings are still going full blast. It’s hard for me to believe that there are enough single people available to get married to make so many weddings in one month.

Earlier this week, Nigora’s brother called and asked her to do some spy work. He wants to marry off his 26-year-old. That’s very old by Uzbek standards and apparently there aren’t many choices available. They found one option, a lepushka-maker, that the daughter is satisfied with. Problem is, this guy has been married before and his wife has been in Russia for the past four years. They are not officially divorced and at any point, it’s possible that the wife could come back. She has a daughter with her in Russia and their son is living with this man in Osh.

Nigora was sent to walk around on the street where the man lives and to try to find out about his character by talking to the local women. She was nervous and wasn’t looking forward to it. But she put on her nice green dress, her green scarf and her gold jewelry and went out to spy.

She came back late that evening. “Nobody especially praised him, but nobody condemned him either. I learned that he and his wife fought from the time they got married and they spent a lot of time screaming at each other.”

“That’s not a good sign,” I said.

“No, but they say that his wife had that kind of character.”

“Of course it’s easy to blame her,” I said. “She’s not here. Why don’t they call her and find out from her what she thinks?”

“Yes, some more research needs to be done,” she said.

I asked if they decided to go through with the wedding when it would be held.

“It could be within a week,” she said. I found that amazing.

On Sunday I went to my second wedding this fall. It was at the same restaurant and at the same time as the wedding I’d attended a week before.

The bride, one of our employees, was beautiful and demure. When I asked a coworker if the bride was OK, she said, “Yes, she’s supposed to sit quietly.”

The celebration went until almost midnight, then the couple had to drive to the groom’s parents’ home in the village of Alai, almost two hours away. I would guess that the roads weren’t too good.

“Why do they have to go so far right after the wedding?” I asked the girl sitting next to me? They could let them rest in peace for one night, I thought.

“His parents must want that,” she said. I wondered if they would hang a sheet outside the next morning, as still happens in some villages and I felt sorry for the bride.

In Osh, cotton is blooming on the branches, President Bakiev’s portrait is appearing on some large billboards, and watermelon is nearing the end of its season, losing the brightness and sweetness of summer. My health club, owned by Bayaman, is back in operation. A huge poster with his torso in front of a background of mountains hangs on the wall, watching over the wrestlers.

Everyone is busy getting ready for winter. Nigora has spent the last few days canning peaches, tomatoes, pickles and red peppers. She prepares and cans them, Shavkat screws on the lid, then they put them on the patio covered with a quilt. The next morning, any cans improperly closed will have raised lids, so they can pull out the unhygienic products.

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