Thursday, April 26, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
Now having moved half-way around the world, I find myself in a largely Muslim context. Kazak. Uyghur. Tajik. Dungan. Uzbek. There are numerous Muslim minorities represented around me. Eating kosher (halal in Arabic) is a big deal here. I have Uyghur friends that won't even eat in a different Muslim minority simply because they don't believe they are 'really' halal. Here, NOT eating pork is a strong identity marker for many Muslims. Many of my friends, being Muslim, naturally don't eat pork.
A hugh part of hospitality out here is cooking for your guests, and while I might not be the best chief in the world, it only seemed appropriate, then, to make my home kosher/halal. I haven't completely given up pork, but it seems that if some of my friends are going to be able to come to my house it needed to be pork-free. Yet I'm finding that declaring my home halal isn't always enough. Just tonight I served a local dish to a few friends. I had previously told one of them that my home was halal. Yet, as the main dish was set on the table I noticed the uneasy glances of my guests. Using Uyghur, they asked my American friend that was there, "Is this house halal?" Only after my friend's reassurance that my house was completely pork-free did they feel free to eat. Other expats have reported guests that have come to their place but completely refused to eat. For some, a simple declaration of 'halalness' is not enough.
It can be confusing to me at times. It seems the safest bet is to always eat in restaurants or in other's homes at the invitation of friends. Going that far isn't an option for me, I want to place hoste, and welcome others into my home. I will continue to keep a halal kitchen. No pork products. I only buy meat at halal grocery stores. "My house is halal", is a common phrase when inviting Muslim guests over. Ultimately I can't make people feel comfortable eating at my house nor is it my goal to make someone feel this way. There are some that I just simply won't invite over knowing their strong convictions. Like many things in life, it seems prudent to know one's audience before inviting anyone
Sunday, April 15, 2012
I always find care packages such and telling way of understanding a person and what is important to them. Lifting the lid of the box reveals what friends and family deemed worth of paying good money to have sent. It speaks of the comforts of one’s home that are most missed by the receiver. For instance a person who dug through a parcel sent to me would quickly learn the tale of a coffee-addicted, chocolate-loving, book –reading young lady.
For the last few weeks one of our Uyghur friends has been staying with us as we waits to go meet up with her husband on the other side of the country. Today a care package arrived from her village down south, that her mother had carefully filled with goodies from her home town. I was anxious to look over her shoulder and see what treats were pulled out. I wanted to watch her face fill will excitement as she saw the items that represented the things see missed most. The first layer was bags of raisins, walnuts, almonds and other dried fruits and nuts. Under that there were eggs, more than a dozen fresh, home-grown, hard boiled eggs. The whole bottom half of the box was nothing but homemade nan (bread) wrapped in newspaper. Some of the bread was baked with real pieces of lamb and lamb fat right inside. The contents tell the story of a small town girl, travelling to a very non-muslim part of the country. She and her family know how hard it is to find Hallal food, so her mom took the time, and energy to send her things fresh from their farm.
Our roommate clapped her hands with excitement and pulled out the eggs and bread. “Girls, look what my mom has sent. Please eat!” My American roommate and I looked back and forth at each other, wondering if it was indeed wise to eat the newly arrived food. When my mom sends me a care package it can take over two months to get to me. My roommate was having the same thought “how long has this thing been in the mail? Is it safe to eat?” Thankfully we quickly learned that her mom had just put the package together the night before and sent it all via the overnight bus.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Friday, April 06, 2012
We got all dressed up with bling and leopard print for the performance and even met up with some of our friends for dinner first. As the lights dimmed and the actors took to the stage we quickly realized that a lot of the evening was going to be above our heads linguistically. The poetry and the music both were written with a superior grasp and articulation of the language. But music is one of those art forms that lyrics don’t have to be understood for the message to be communicated.
As one artist was caught up in the deep emotion of her song a small child ran up on the stage and handed her a bunch of flowers. It took the kid a minute to get the musicians attention, she actually ended up pulling on her sleeve a little. The performer graciously accepted the gift and the interruption as she tried to continue singing.
This young girl was not the only audience member to take to the stage during the evening… in fact men, women, and children alike had all purchased bouquets and wreaths of flowers to give their favorite singer or dancer. Grown men would march on stage and mid note drape a fellow male singer around the neck with a ornate arrangement of roses. They do it was such composure and masculine flare that I almost lost the humor of a guy giving another guy flowers. This wouldn’t happen in North America, would it? The audience is not allowed on stage to shower the entertainers with gifts of appreciation are they? I have witnessed this sort of group participation before, it is a regular part of school performances here. A student will have to sing a song in front of the whole class and part way through his/her seat mate might run up and encourage them by passing off an apple from their lunch. I just never expected the same spontaneous acts to happen at a formal performance at the theater. You could tell which artists were best loved based on the armful of flowers they had to carry off stage. I also soon learned to judge who their fan base was based on whether it was young giddy teen age girls adoringly showering the Uyghur Justen Beber with presents, or prestigious business men in the community offering their gratitude to their contemporaries.
Monday, April 02, 2012
The story was hilarious. The main character had been in a car accident and had given one address to the hospital and another to the police. Both were his home, since he had two wives and two places of residence. As the police start to investigate the accident, the lead character was forced to pile lie upon lie so that his marital status would not discovered. We followed a lot of the story, but all the stretching of the truth and fibbing to the offices was meant to be confusing, even for native speakers. We did get really lost at the end when the bandits/mafia guys showed up stuttering and waving around guns, I am not really sure how they fit into the story. The staging was amazingly creative, with only one living room set up center stage, they wove the story in such a way that you were never confused which wives house they were in at the time.
Another thing about the performance that caught our attention was the one character who scripted in such a way as to come off very stereotypically homosexual. They had him dressed in a flaming pink shirt, tight pants, he spoke in a high pitched voice and was constantly waving his hands around in over dramatized fashion. This very modern and public display seemed miles removed for our trip to the village just weeks ago. In a culture where at least on the surface the aim is often to be viewed as a more spiritual or pious follower of Islam, this blatant display seemed abnormal to us. In fact there was a very traditional couple sitting just a row in front of us, after a number of rather subtle sexual references they jumped up from their seats and left. The rest of the audience continued to roar with laughter as the main character tangled himself in his web of deceit.
The look at modern urban Uyghur Youth culture, the excellent language practice, and the amount my roommate and I felt we were part of the shared life of those around us won us over. Our workmates, taxi drives and teachers all had all either seen the play or knew it was showing. We were able to reference current humor and happens. We have decided from now on we are theater goes, and already have tickets for our next outing.