Unbeknownst to the world, ancient Tajik mountain mines are the source of opulent jewels, such as the Timur ruby, and the Black Prince ruby, both now part of Britain’s Crown jewels. I have chanced upon another Tajik gem, his name is Hurshed (pronounced Hur-shed). Hurshed hails from Dushanbe, Capitol of Tajikistan. I met Hurshed stepping into the restaurant he works at for a cup of tea. I got on so well with the staff, that they treated me to a pot of tea, (and an espresso to boot!), typical of Muslims, who are possibly the most gracious hosts the world over. Tea in Tajikistan is made with lots of lemons and sugar, a sweet nectar, it is like sipping hot lemonade, with a few tea leaves sprinkled in for flavor.
The first two things you will immediately learn from any Tajik is: 1. The Tajik people are Persian, from the same stock as Iranians. (In fact Tajik means “Persian speakers” in old Turkish!) 2. 93% of Tajikistan is mountainous terrain. The Pamir mountains dominate the entire country, leaving little room for agriculture or settlement.
Spending several afternoons in Hurshed’s company, I found him an earnest and friendly young man. He continued my education on Ramazan (Ramadan), specifically explaining how the end of Ramazan in celebrated in Tajikistan. Referred to as “Idi Ramazan” in Tajik, more commonly “Eid ul-Fitr” in Arabic, it is a joyous holiday, marking the end of one month of fasting to draw closer to Allah. Excited children rise early, knocking on doors to wish people a happy “Idi Ramazan”. Their efforts are justly rewarded with cakes, candy, and balloons. Adults also go visiting, gathering with relatives and friends, they place a fine “table-cloth” upon the floor, and cover it with a sumptuous celebration feast. Typically people sit on pillows on the floor for meals in Tajikistan. You may greet one and all with a hardy “Idi Ramazan Muborok!” Which means roughly “Congratulations to you on the holiday of Ramazan”.
If you continue hanging with Tajiks, you will come to learn that Samarkand and Bukhara are Tajik cities! (Both in present day Uzbekistan.) Looking them up on Wikipedia, I found they are predominantly inhabited by . . . you guessed it, Tajiks. Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, actually means “Monday!” Hurshed explained that historically people from mountain villages would descend to the valley to trade goods on Monday, which is how Dushanbe came to be named.
Hurshed works long hours, from 10 am to 2 am, often later. Last Thursday, we took a free afternoon to stroll along the Angara river. With the savory assistance of ice-cream, he wove me the tale of how a young man in Tajikistan might find a bride. When a potential maiden is discovered, the women of the family, with Mom taking point, go and inquire about our maiden’s character, especially from her neighbors. If the neighborhood ladies give good report, they return, often the next day prepared to bargain for her bride price. A basket full of thirty loaves of flatbread, a kilogram of sugar, sweets and fine white material, is presented to the young lady’s family. Thus begins a three-hour cultural dance, where the potential brides mother and aunties inform themselves about the young man in question, and if pleased accept the presented basket. Through out these events, the young maiden does not show herself. If the basket is again filled with goodies and returned it is a sign that the pairing has been agreed upon.
At this juncture, the mother of our now official groom, presents a gift worthy of the bride to be. The women of the grooms family come prepared with gifts, and after some combination has been agreed to, the girls relatives accept the gift. Issuing forth from the recesses of her family’s home, the young woman now “shows her face” to the grooms mother, who takes the white material recently presented, uses it to measure the girl from her shoulder and cuts it off at her ankle. Thus having obtained the young ladies measurements, she pledges to sew the bride ten beautiful dresses and accompanying head wear. After this, the families agree on what the bride will be given by the grooms family, budget and date for the nuptials.
Hurshed finished explaining the proper form of Tajik engagement as we arrived at the bus stop. We stepped into the crowed jockeying for position at the bus’ door. Hurshed, out of habit, allowed two young Russian ladies to board before him, and seeing an old Russian woman struggling with her cane, grabbed her arm, lifting her into the bus. He singly, thought to help her. Shaking my head, I walked away thinking, “Hurshed, a gem of a young man.”