Thursday, September 29, 2011

That's Not Why They're Staring

It is common practice for Muslim women in our province to trade in their headscarves and long skirts for more revealing clothes when they come into the city. So when my friend, who was dressed like a western college student, told me that her mom was faithful in doing the five-times-a-day prayers and wearing very traditional Muslim clothes, I wasn’t at all surprised.

“But I’m sure when you go back to the countryside, you dress more conservatively, right?” I asked, eyeing her skin-tight jeans.

My friend nodded. “Yes, of course. But I still don’t wear the scarf; it makes my head itch.”

“You don’t wear a headscarf?” I couldn’t keep the shock out of my voice. “Everyone in the countryside wears a scarf! That’s just what you do. Even I wear a scarf when I go there, and I’m a foreigner.”

Now is was my friend’s turn to be surprised. “You wear a scarf? Why?”

“Because that’s just what you do. I mean, I wouldn’t run around the city without a bra on; it would be totally inappropriate. Everyone would stare at me. The same with not wearing a scarf in the countryside.”

She tilted her head to the side slightly. “They would be staring at you because you’re a foreigner, not because you’re missing an item of clothing,” she said, finally.

In the city you see jeans and t-shirts, arms, legs and faces. Trendy Modern Uyghur women

In the country side it's all about long skirts, long sleeves, head scarves, and no skin

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sounds Just Like Me

The following was recently posted by my roommate… making me the personality changing roommate in the story

More recently, my roommate and I had several groups of friends come by our apartment in quick succession. Again, we found ourselves switching from one language to another, depending on the needs of the group. I was amused to see my roommate’s personality go through several drastic variations as we switched languages – she became more playful, childlike, or sarcastic depending on the language being spoken. She was more than happy to point out the same kinds of variations in my communication styles.

After everyone had gone home, we thought about the possible reasons for our communication schizophrenia – was it that each language has a preferred style of communication? Were we mimicking our favorite teachers? Were our own insecurities leading us to act or speak in ways we wouldn’t in our native language?

It’s something that I continue to ponder as I tutor several local students in English. It’s possible that the tone and style of English that I teach them will reflect my personality more than theirs – that they will come across as shy, or cautious, or indirect because of my style of communication, when in their own language, they wouldn’t choose to speak that way at all. And of course, it’s also quite possible that the person I think I’m getting to know in English isn’t the real person at all; just layers and layers of learned vocabulary and grammar habits.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pick Pocket on the Bus

What would you do if you saw the guy next to you on the bus have things stolen right out of his pocket? Do you turn a blind eye? Scream? Slap the hand of the thief? Make a scene? Play Robinhood and try to steal the money back when he is not looking, so that you can be the hero and give it to the first guy?

This is a question all of us expats have had to ask ourselves at one time or another. My friend uses his imposing six foot stature to step into the middle of the proceeding. He will actually become a wall between the crook and his target. While glaring down at the robber with such a menacing stare he will try to connive them of their sinfully ways and call them to repeat all in one look.

Considering most of the pickpockets carry knives in their pockets I try to be carefully doing anything that will draw attention to them or make them angry. My favorite trick is to stomp on the foot of the person who is in the midst of having their belongings taken. Sometimes as they squirm around in pain, from a good foot tramping, they move in such a way as to make their pocket unreachable to the eager hand.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Parsley and Tomato Cake

My Uyghur friend treated me to a piece of cake at a local bakery the other day. This friend works at one of the American owned restaurants. Her place of employment has the best cake in town, (so good it would have your grandmother re-evaluating her family recipe). After working there for a while I was sure my friend had good taste in cake.

But the sweet set in front of me had more icing in the whole creation than there was any really cake. The icing was decorated all fancy will colourful swirls and such. The top of the creation displayed a thoughtfully placed piece of parsley and half of a cherry tomato.

My friend split the treats by eating the tomato and insisting that I enjoy the Parsley. I grew up being taught you are never supposed to eat the garnish. But the real question was: What was parsley doing on my cake in the first place?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Just Take it and Let’s Get out of here!

Our bus pulled into the station after a wearisome 11 and half hour journey it was dark and late and well past my bedtime. My travelling companion and I grabbed our bags and headed for the gate to find a taxi. Behind us came an explosion of people yelling in a variety of languages:


“Come back here.”

“You can’t leave yet”

“What about your medicine?”

One of the guards came running forward to block the gate and keep us from exiting , while another man in a while lab coat, presumably a doctor, started waving papers under my nose and pointing to the line. That was when I noticed that every one of our fellow passengers had dutifully disembarked the bus and were standing in line to receive whatever medical treatment the local physician deemed necessary.

Since I am on a regular regiment of medications that are prone to side effects and adverse interactions with unknown drugs I am weary of taking something that I don’t know. I haven’t studied enough medical words, so I didn’t know what disease they were saying had broken out in their area, but I tried valiantly to convince them that I was sure I had been inoculated for it in Canada and that I couldn’t pop their mysterious pill. My arguments fell on deaf ears and were to no avail. The group of one doctor, three nurses and two gate guards ganged up on me and scolded saying “You can’t leave the bus station until you take this”, “No hotel in our city will permit you to stay if you have not had your medicine” “You may get very ill, if you do not listen to us”.

Against my better judgment I blindly grabbed their white tablet and swallowed it, signing my name on the dotted line, and accepting the slip with the red stamp calming that I had received the need medical treatment. I kept that sheet of paper close to me, and sure enough needed to show it again at the airport in order to board a plane and leave the area.

It wasn’t until after I returned to my home that I learned that part of our province was facing an outbreak of polio. My doctor friend was kind enough to reassure me, that while a person on immune suppressant, like myself, should not take a live vaccine she did say that I should be fine since I would have taken a vaccination years ago for the same disease. Her confidence did put my heart at ease.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Just Getting on Long Distant Bus is a Story

A trip that has taken as little as 6 hours in the past dragged on to the 11 and half hour mark before we hit our destination. The main delay occurred when our bus had to leave the paved high and take a detour through small, narrow, village, dirt roads. These roads are barely wide enough for two donkey carts to pass each other without incident. Therefore, when our wide bus tried to squeeze by a five tone truck loaded down with goods travelling the other direction, the inevitable happened. With no shoulder to this laneway, the two side wheels of our vehicle slipped on the soft sand and the bus started to tilt precariously off the side.Our driver quickly came to a halt and encouraged us all too quickly disembark and move off to the side, to stand in the fields with those who were picking cotton. The next two hours were spent trying to get our bus balanced on the road and ready to continue our travels. As we stood around watching them dig out the wheels (which only caused the bus to lean more drastically) and try pilling up rocks to added traction of the inverse side, our group was passed by many other travelers including wagons, other buses and a whole caravan of government SUVs, all of which paused for a moment to chuckle at our plight and drove off without even stopping to offer assistance.

At one point all of the men on our bus decided that maybe if they worked together they could push the bus and force it back on to the road. I couldn’t watched as they rocked the huge metal contraption back and forth, hoping to bounce it into place. I was sure they would topple it over on themselves and I would be left standing there watching several men get squished to death. Instead I turned my back on the whole affair just in time to see a man get run over by a motorcycle. Both the pedestrian and the cyclist were so preoccupied by the bus’s movement they didn’t notice each other. From one horrifying scene to another I stood hoping we would soon be back on our way.

The speed with which they had us going again in under two hours, proved this was not a first for the driver or his crew and that while a bus falling off the road seemed like a mad adventure to me, it was a daily part of their job travelling in the southern part of our province.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Little Girl's Hair

When I use to babysit I loved to play with the little girls hair, brushing out long curls, forming complicated braids, tying ribbons and making her feel pretty. This doesn’t work as a way to reach out to the little kids in my neighbourhood. Most young Uyghur girls have no hair. Their parents shave their heads all through childhood in hopes that will grow in darker and thicker.

My Kazak friend was telling me in her culture they not only shave off all the girls hair, they also believe that the saliva of a cow will further stimulate hair growth. She told me the story of having her head covered in moistened cow feed so that the animal would be enticed to lick her entire bald little head. She still trembled 20 years latter as she told the story and admits that she hates cows.

Even without being cow feed, you can tell the custom of head shaving does lead to thick wonderfully dark long hair.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Father's Love

Some of the tourists that went travelling with me this summer took some great photos of Uyghur men hanging out with and showing love to their children/grandchildren. I love these pictures. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

That's No Tooth Under her Pillow

I love watching Uyghur movies, I am always picking up little cultural things I didn’t know or seeing something unusual that I want to ask my friends about later. The heroin of one of my favourite stories was awakened in the middle of the night with a nightmare. Her mother was quick to come to her comfort by grabbing a knife ( a big sharp one) from the kitchen and placing it under her daughter's pillow.

I asked around and found out this is more of a normal practice than I figured. Some said it was to cut the power the evil spirits had over her sleep. Others said it cut the bad images to pieces and let her sleep in peace. One person even told me it was so that she could protect herself in case the dream came true.