Front row, from left: Father of the Bride, Kobol Iche, Bhartyr, Me, Kobol Iche’s Dad, Local Holy Man
Samarquand – Uzbekistan
After having my crash with a car, a local Uzbek guy, named Kobol Iche, took me to his home where I was his guest until my legs got better. Kobol Iche lives with his children, and as he was the youngest son of his family it was his duty to support his parents, so they lived with him too. For the few days that I stayed with him, I was taken from place to place at a moments notice. Kobol Iche would just go “Simon” (with a high pitched “i”, in the French sounding way) and we’d dive into his microscopic Daeoo mini van to go to tea with some family, lunch, to the market, school and even to a wedding party. I called it Kobol Iche’s Magical Mystery Tour, and had the Beatles track in a loop in my head the whole time.
Since I had no Uzbek, a local English teacher named Umid took a few days off work so he could practice his speech with a “real English speaker”. He wouldn’t actually have been teaching though, as the whole school was off helping farmers to pick the cotton, which they do every year at harvest time (each student getting $0.1 per kilo of cotton). During the course of my time there, over 100 locals passed through Kobol Iche’s house, word had spread like wildfire that there was a dirty, smelly Irishman staying there, and they all came to have a gawp and a chat. Each man would greet me and all the other men with a strong handshake, the women would usually stay in the background and prepare food and tea for the guests. Umid helped me translate with all the locals that were itching to talk to me, asking about Ireland (is that part of England?), family (you’re 28 and not married?) and Europe (there are no borders? But how do you protect yourselves?).
When we weren’t being visited by the locals, we’d usually be off having tea, though “tea” will always be accompanied by bread, fruit, pastries and usually some sweets at a minimum. If the guest has time, you’d be offered a hot dish, but you should never leave without having some food, it would offend your host. Of course, it’s the women (usually the wife, daughter and grandmother together) that prepare everything, the men just sit down, chat, and expect to be served. Umid was dying to get me to “meet” his sister, but when we arrived she just giggled and blushed, then ran off to prepare food and spent the whole time serving us; we didn’t get to talk once.
At dinner time, we’d sit on the floor around a low table and eat dishes such as pumpkin stuffed dumplings and the Uzbek favourite, plow which would be accompanied by lots of flat bread and lashings of tea. Not being able to speak Uzbek, I couldn’t really join in much of the conversation, so I just sat, ate and observed. I was particularly fascinated by Kobol Iche’s dad (on my left in photo above). He was a big man with a barrel for a belly and long bushy eyebrows that cascaded down towards his huge dimpled golf ball nose which was surrounded by deep, cavernous wrinkles. All his movements were slow and grumbling, like a glacier, and when he talked, it was with an incredibly deep voice, like Darth Vader from Star Wars. But he was such a soft friendly man, when I first met him, and also both times I left, he gave me a huge bear hug.
There was a wedding on in town which I was whisked off to one chilly morning. The grooms parents had selected the bride, and she had only met her husband 2 days before! After the wedding ceremony, she would have gone to live in their new home which would have been furnished by her brothers. Umid, the English teacher said that when his sister was married, he was “ordered” by his father to spend over $5000 on ornate rugs, curtains and such, and he obliged as it was his “duty”. And this is in a country where $1000 a month is an astronomical amount of money to earn, even in the capital city.
As is the custom, everybody went to the bride’s house for food, including me. It was 7 in the morning when we arrived and I was still bleary eyed when I was intruduced to the village elders, then ushered into the courtyard where a few dozen tables were set up. At that time only men were eating, the women eat later. I was told that over 1000 locals would be fed on that morning, each being served soup, plow, bread and tea. Later in the day, the women had eaten and the music had begun, so we returned to party. The Traditional Uzbek music has drum beats that would put any hardcore drum and bass enthusiast to shame, with strings and live vocals laid over the top. I was offered some Uzbek wine made from both grapes and apples, and tasted like sherry, which came accompanied by an odd horse terrine and chunks of soft gooey fat taken from a sheeps bum.
I was invited to say a few words to the congregation, which I really didn’t want to do having been shown off and gawped at like a zoo animal for the previous few days. Before I knew it though, I was standing with a microphone in front of around 200 strangers and wishing my best to the wedding couple. I figured at that stage that I was finished and could hobble away into the corner, but then I was told to dance….. I was pushed out onto the dirt and gravel “dance floor”; by myself, where I did my best at imitating the traditional Uzbek dance, arms up high and waving my hands about. I did a bit of improv too, Saturday Night Fever style, wiggling my hips, then finished off with the Hokey Pokey, though I’m not too sure what the locals thought of me crucifying their traditional dance moves. It’s a custom that dancers are given money by onlookers, and the cash is put in the pot for the new couple. I reckon my gyrating body earned them a fair few quid, and definately much more than any of the other dancers that I watched earlier. I strutted off the dancefloor leaving slack jawed faces in my wake, which I like to think was due to my dancing prowess, then jumped back to the mini van to continue the Magical Mystery Tour.