Muslims here in Irkutsk are observing Ramazan (Ramadan), an annual month long period of fasting and prayer. In coordination with that, I thought I would try to shed a little light on the numerous Central Asian peoples who live and work here. I will be doing short stories about or interviews of people representing (hopefully) each people group. Many people know next to nothing about Central Asians, here is a chance to get in the know!
There are large communities of Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijanis, Tajiks, and to a somewhat lesser extent Kazakhs and Armenians here in Irkutsk. You will find this true in most cities in Russia. All of these groups are predominantly Muslim excepting Armenians who are historically Christian.
When I first came to Irkutsk, my encounters with these peoples were rare. As I have come to know Russian, and become familiar with different regions of the city, I recognize them often. Taxi drivers, fruit and vegetable merchants, construction workers, sellers of all things sellable at the local bazaar. They lay cable, dig ditches, lay sewer lines, paint buildings and make street food. They work long, hard, cold hours, and are rewarded for their toil with the pleasant opportunity of monthly payments to the “powers that be” in order keep legal status here. As a foreigner here my self, I have stood in tiny rooms, in long, long “lines” along with them waiting for my chance to be brow beaten by some Russian official. I feel their pain, but you know, they usually have a smile on their face. :)