Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Personal Accomplishment

I just finished knitting this blanket as a wedding gift for my friends (who got married back in April). It has taken me over two years to make the silly thing. In fact, I started it before this couple were even dating, and decided to give it to them much later. I hope they appreciate it, all the work it took to knit each square with a different pattern. Since they won't be back in this country for another month or so, I am currently using it to keep myself warm.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Police in the Wrong Place

Thursday night was interesting for both my roommate and I. I was home alone getting caught up on some emailing and stuff when someone knocked on my door. As I went to answer it I noticed police lights flashing out front our window. With this is mind I opened the door cautiously. Sure enough it was a policeman. He riped the door out of my hand and marched into the house shutting the door behind him. Now you have to remember, that I live in a Muslim community and this sort of behaviour is inappropriate. A man should never enter a single woman's house without another person present. He started by asking questions about how many of us lived in the house... and where my roommate was. When I mentioned she was out watching Uyghur dancing, he then proceeded to invite me to go dancing... or out for lunch or whatever. This is the same policeman who jokingly told me a few months ago he likes Canadian girls. I evaded all of his invitations and very politely shooed him out the door. But my heart was still pounding. The police car, the lights, his feeling entitled to just walk into my house, all of it was intimidating.

Meanwhile my roommate and her sister (who was here visiting last week) were walking home from the restaurant after watching the dance performance. Her sister had her camera in her hand and was taking shots of the city. As is common around here a thief saw the camera as an opportunity and boldly grabbed it right out of her hand. My roommate tried hitting the guy and yelling for help in Uyghur, but the thief and his buddy took off down a dark ally.

They needed a police officer to help catch the thief, but instead I was the one having to deal with an officer in my house. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Saying "I Do" is Cool

Last weekend I was invited to one of my friend's weddings. This in and of itself is not an unusual thing, but I was rather surprised by the time on the invitation. Normally local weddings start in the morning, and there are events at both the bride's and the groom's mosques, and a whole day long celebration. This friend however invited me to come to a hotel at 5 p.m.

Once I got there, I found out that earlier in the day they had done the traditional ceremonial wedding stuff, and that I had been invited to the party for their friends and co workers. Now you have to understand that the girl who was getting married is very trendy... she has learned English and thinks anything western is cool. It was obvious by her sleeveless, strapless, white wedding dress that she showed up in. Something tells me that was not what she was wearing to the mosque earlier in the day.
She and her husband followed two little kids (the ring bearer and flower girl) as they walked into the room to our ever so traditional tune 'here comes the bride'. Their friend who was acting as the receptions MC then asked them... in a some what mocking voice if they promised to "love, honor, and cherish each other in sickness and in health as long as they both shall live" they both said "I Do". Following which the ring bearer presented them with rings to exchange. The next thing I knew the MC was doing karaoke and cracking jokes.

It was a weird night to see such a scared ceremony being taken as a cool, trendy, cultural symbol.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Not Yet!

Today we had our first snow of the year. It seems so early considering it is not even November yet. I really hate snow and ice, thankfully todays snow melted as soon as it hit the ground, but the temperature did drop considerably. The good news is that last week, on October 15th, the heat finally came on. So at least it is nice and warm inside.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I’ve got gas

Right after coming back from our trip my roommate and I set to working on cooking Western food. After a week of Uyghur noodles it is nice to make something from home. We turned on our stove, only to have it beep at us. Since this having my own apartment out here is all new to me, I guessed we must be out of gas. I hunted for the card that the landlord had given me when I signed the contract, and took it next door to ask my neighbour where I could add money. My closest neighbours are from the majority people group, and my skills in that language are not that good. However, I did understand that she thought this was the old gas system, and that we should pay to have someone come in and update to what she uses. That was more info than I needed.

The next day I asked my teacher where I could add money to my gas card. She told me I had to take the gas card over to the bank by the Russian market. I walked into one bank and was informed I was in the wrong place, the second bank was no better, the third place I tried was a hotel… and then finally I found it. I next had to find out how much money I should be paying. Here you put an amount of money on your card ahead of time instead of paying a bill afterwards. I asked the people in line ahead of me, how much they were adding, and on average how long would that amount of money last.

I went home feeling pretty good about a job well done. I stuck the card into the gas meter and then tested out the stove… NO GAS.

The next day back in class I asked my teacher what I did wrong, why we still didn’t have any gas? She asked me what kind of noise the meter made… was it a beep, beep beep or more of a beeeeeep beeeeep? Sadly I couldn’t really remember. She suggested that maybe it was the batteries. But when I went home I couldn’t find the slot for the life of me. This time however I decided to go to a Uyghur neighbour's house to inquire about the batteries. My Uyghur grandmother told me her son always changes them for her, but she thought the slot was somewhere on the top.

It took a lot of climbing and searching, but I finally found it on the top, near the back. I changed the batteries and tried the stove again…. still NO GAS.

This time I called a friend on my phone, she suggested that I re-insert the newly paid up card. It worked… I’ve got GAS ( I bet you have never heard anyone say that with quite as much excitement as I just did).

This whole exercise did teach me the importance of turning to my local friends for help. So many times we come into this culture with our western ways and western solutions, trying to help the local people. But it is equally important (if not more so) to come into those relationships with humility seeking help, and letting them lead in even the simplest daily tasks, like getting gas.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Foreign Front and Back

Last week when we were on our trip we did all we could to fit in with the local culture. We wore the long skirts and long sleeves; we put on head scarves, even my figure nails were dyed red with henna, yet despite all our attempts people could still pick us out from a distance. It struck me most when the people behind us started talking about the foreigners. They hadn’t even got a glimpse at our faces, how could they tell we weren’t from around here.

My friend and I started to speculate:

1) Our shoes – no matter how long I live here I will still prefer runners to stiletto pumps. Why any woman would try to painfully squish her foot into a high heeled pointy toed shoe is beyond me, yet here everyone does it.

2) Our walk – Westerners are known for walking fast. When we are going somewhere we move with purpose. My teachers are always telling me to slow down when I walk, that we are not in a race ( I think they are scared I will loosen my new knees) Our fast walk not only involves our feet but our hands, we also tend to walk with our heads held high.

3) Our clothing – well yes, it was decent by local standards, it still wasn’t local. My skirt came from Old Navy and was sadly lacking in sparkles and glitter.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ode to the Sleeper Bus Reprise

One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was an ode to the sleeper bus, and after our trip last week in which we spent more than 50 hours over six days not sleeping on the sleeper bus, it felt only fitting to reprise the Ode. Every trip on the bus seems to add to the story.
They do show movies on the bus, and as you can see this time I got one of the four coveted TV beds. The upper bed took up most of the space above my head making it hard to sit up in my bed. The screen was only inches from my face, in fact I think the imagine of Keanuo Reeves, and Sandra Bullock racing through town will forever remain burned into my retina (Yes, for all of you who are concerned with what has been translated into the Uyghur language, you can rest assured that the movie Speed is availed).

On one of our over night trips last week, the driver seemed intent on speed through the desert all night. The consistent swaying of the bus, and jerking stops ( for who knows what reason), kept me awake most of the time. Other times when I have travelled when the bus trip was less than a full night, the driver would pull into the arrival station and let us all stay sleeping on the bus until 7 a.m. I figured this guy must be rushing so that he could get some sleep too. Only when we pulled into our destination the driver flipped on the lights and started yelling at all of us to grab our stuff and get off. It was still dark outside, and I looked at my watch, only to discover it wasn’t even 5 a.m. yet. Everything was closed, even the bus station itself. There wasn’t enough taxis available for all of the weary travellers that stood staring blurred eyed at each other in the parking lot. It was too late into the night to make it worth paying for a hotel, but to early in the day to do anything.

Oh sleeper bus, the good thing is every trip seems to provide its own interesting story.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Come In, Come In (NOT)

One of the down falls to travelling this year over the vacation was not getting to go visiting like I normally do. It is tradition over the Heyt season to spend the day going from house to house catching up with friends and family and eating more food than you can imagine.
This year we really didn’t have any friends in the city where we were staying, but that didn’t stop us from getting invitations to come in. We met these ladies sitting out on the side walk and actually joined them for a while, after twenty minutes of chatting they invited us over to their home. We sat for a little while drinking tea and eating from their full table before politely leaving. However they followed us out of the house and down the street, all the time insisting that we go to the second woman's house. Later that day a woman was walking down the road beside us, guiding her elderly mother. We nodded politely as we passed and said hello. Immediately there was an invitation to join them in their home. They weren't even at home yet, and seemed to be going the opposite direction from where their home was, but they invited us in none the less.

This is pretty normal. My teacher and I will often walk home from class together, as we are walking she will expand on how busy she is and how she is headed straight to the store. Yet when we pass in front of her building she feels obliged to invite me in. The funniest is when she extends the invitation as she continues to walk right by her house on the way to the market. Uyghur culture demands that they invite others in, but a lot of the time they don't really mean it. The other day some of my expat friends and I were sitting around sharing some of the insights we've gleaned over the years as to when it is a really an invite and when it is just lip service.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Time to Dance

Uyghurs have an intriguing dance called the Sama. It’s a dance for men only, and it’s danced only during special occasions, like a wedding or a holiday.

The Muslim month of fasting called Ramadan ended last week with a holiday called Roza Heyt. After the usual morning prayers were finished, everyone eats a big breakfast. If they’ve been fasting, this is the first breakfast after sunrise that they’ve had in a month. Following breakfast, a large crowd gathered in front of the countries largest mosque for music and dancing. The musicians sat on the roof of the mosque as their instruments played out a lively tune. At first everyone just gathered in a circle waiting anxiously for the dance to begin. The young boys called out “Sama, Sama” and occasionally one or two men would start to dance in the center. Before we knew it a kind of free-for-all Sama started taking shape, with men swirling around in a circle, some intent on dancing, others just passing the time of day, all surrounded by a huge crowd of Uyghurs, and interested on lookers. This year I was one of the many watching this fascinating scene.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Where’s Waldo

Can you find the foreigner in this picture of the crowd at the bus station the day we were finally able to buy our tickets to head south. The push of the people was unbelievable. I stood in line for over two hours being knocked, pushed, bumped, hit, squished, crushed, crowded, and shoved. In North America the concept of lining up has so firmly been embedded in us since we were children. I remember being in elementary school and yelling when some one “cut” in front. But here the name of the game is cut off as many people as you can and get to the front of the line as fast as possible.

Half way through the wait, while I was in the thick of the crowd I started to have an emotional break down. My feet and back were aching from the number of times I had been crushed and jostled by the hoard of people. The closer I got to the front of the line the more I felt like cattle being herded. Whenever the lines were no longer visible the security guard would push his way though with a stick that let off shocks to those who got in his way. It was an inhuman experience. I seemed to be the only person out of several hundred of us cramped in this small area that realized how wrong the whole process was. Oh there I am, looking hot, tried, and completely worn.