Imagine glowing red stacks of tomatoes next to gleaming white onions row on row. As Zarina Mukhitidova stacks fresh green cucumbers one on another, she tells me about her life as a Uzbek immigrant here in Siberia.
Zarina is on her own here. Her young son lives in Tashkent with her mother, her husband was killed in an accident several years back. She has worked here selling fresh vegetables for three years. Her hope is to work five more, move back to Uzbekistan and open a shop in Tashkent.
“Zarina, don’t you miss home?” I asked. “Of course! But when I get lonely, I go give my son a call, so it’s not so bad.” She continued, “Life in Uzbekistan is hard, there is no work, no way to make money, people have to go somewhere else to find work.” And go they do. As I stand in the sun at the central marketplace and look around I see central Asians everywhere, talking on cell phones, hauling carts full of produce, hawking Chinese peppers and watermelons from Astrakhan. A young Tajik man I met yesterday walks by, greeting me with an “Asalaam alaikum” (peace be upon you) and a handshake.
The whole Muslim community is observing Ramadan (or Ramazan as they refer to it here). Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, a month-long fast. It is a time for extra prayer and drawing closer to Allah. Rising before the sun, they eat breakfast and after prayer, begin their day. They neither eat nor drink anything again until after sunset.
Zarina is reorganizing her egg plants.
“Why do you observe Ramadan Zarina?” “It is a sin not to observe it.” I purchase two light green zucchini, and a bag of lovely cucumbers. Thanking Zarina, I weave through the multilingual jabbering of the thronging crowds. I breathe deeply to savor the sultry scent of sun warmed tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, dill, and cilantro, the marketplace flavor of Russia.