Chronicles of a Nowroz spent properly in NYC... Nowroz is New Year for Iranians, Afghans, Kurds, Azeris, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Turkmans, and Uyghurs and it falls on the Spring Equinox.
Last few years have been very busy, too busy for even tradition! But this year, I was lucky and had a great community of friends to help make Nowroz memorable. Also, this year the UN officially recognized "International Day of Nowroz" spring and new year to 300+ million people. Here are some photos from the last two weeks of fire and fruit!
Charshambe Suri (Tuesday the week before Nowroz)
March 16 @ Dias Y Flores Community Garden on 13th street. This was organized by the most generous and creative Aresh Javadi, community activist and gardener.
Sahar lighting the small pyre so we can jump over it.
And the bonfires were lit!
Organizer, Aresh Javadi, whirls and leaps over the fire!
Aresh Javadi nurturing the flames.
Since this was NYC there were two fire dancers!
The embers at the end of the event.
This tradition of fire jumping is not very common or familiar amongst Afghans or other Central Asians. I wasn't familiar with the tradition that spirits of lost relatives come to the bonfires. I get spooked easily, so I felt strangely nervous when I heard that! At today's Uzbek Nowruz party, an Indian NGO worker who spoke lovely Iranian Farsi, set up the small bonfire that the kids and a few of the brave jumped over.
The little song, however, I was able to pick up quickly "Zardeh man as tu, surkheyeh tu as man!" My yellow is yours and your red is mine! Yellow representing the pale and sickly -- the red representing the robust energy of a new year.
The event managed to make it on Al-Jazeera:
The funny thing is that the faces featured as Iranians in the diaspora, were not Iranians at all! The majority of people who showed up to the event, which was a lovely show of solidarity and support, were non-Iranians and non-Afghans. So it was very exciting to share the newness of a tradition that was almost new to me!
More Nowroozian material coming!
Monday, March 22, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Rabia Balkhi was a 10th c. poet, and the first farsi-language woman poet. Her story is quite intense. She falls in love with her Turkish slave, Baktash, and as punishment, her brothers slit her with razors all over her body. She is left in a hamam, a steam bath, to bleed to death! Her last poem to Baktash is written in blood on the walls of the hamam. There have been many paintings of her last poem. She is only in her towel and desperately writing her last poem.
By Rabia Balkhi
I am caught in Love's web so deceitful
None of my endeavors turn fruitful.
I knew not when I rode the high-blooded stead
The harder I pulled its reins the less it would heed.
Love is an ocean with such a vast space
No wise man can swim it in any place.
A true lover should be faithful till the end
And face life's reprobated trend.
When you see things hideous, fancy them neat,
Eat poison, but taste sugar sweet
Now that is turning blood into ink!
Her tomb still exists in Mazar i Sharif. Young couples pray at her tomb in hopes of having their relationship succeed. One who dies for love is a saint in the Muslim tradition. Look at Layla Majnun, Sooni Maywal, and Heer Ranja. All stories of tragic love that elevates the lovers to a mystical/spiritual level. Through intense love of another one discovers love of God.
"In Mazar stands the Tomb of Rabia Balkhi, a beautiful, tragic medieval poetess. She was the first woman of her time to write love poetry in Persian and died tragically after her brother slashed her wrists as punishment for sleeping with a slave lover. She wrote her last poem in her own blood as she lay dying. For centuries young Uzbek girls and boys treated her tomb with saint-like devotion and would pray there for success in their love affairs. After the Taliban captured Mazar, they placed her tomb out of bounds. Love, even for a medieval saint, was now out of bounds."
- from the book Taliban, by Ahmed Rashid
Perhaps it is her story that made me want to become a poet. Her story and the story of Sadi's daughter who out-writes her father. Quite lovely feminist stories my father used to tell me when I was a little girl.
This clip is a song that Baktash sings. The playback singer is Ahmad Wali. I believe this film was made in the late 60s. Hollywood created Afghan Films in 1968, so I imagine it is slightly after that. I am much too lazy to be clicking and researching for you at this late hour. So, you'll have to take my laziness into consideration when doing your research.
The first Afghan film is the story of Rabia Balkhi and Baktash. It's a humble attempt but quite remarkable in telling the story of a woman poet and it was the first film that had an international run.
Lots of firsts in this entry!
Oh yeah, besides being a poet she was also a Queen. Did I forget to mention that little detail?
Here is another image from the film with the Afghan actress Seema playing the Poet Queen:
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Cotton Field in Uzbekistan
A little old Russian lady stopped me on the street (Location: Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn) to ask me if I was Uzbek. I stopped and chatted with her, delighted by her three gold teeth. She told me that Uzbeks were the best at cooking and at housekeeping. No one else in the world like them. Uzbekistan should never have become independent because all they have are good cooks and pakhta -- cotton.
Quite an opinionated little crumpled lady! What did I do? I just smiled and nodded... "Oh, how interesting..." Wondering why this sadistic little lady called me over. Did she need a cook or something? Note to self: Dress up a little more...
Is racism so deep against Uzbeks? I have met many newly immigrated Uzbeks in Brooklyn and I see that people with PhD's from Moscow in Pharmacy are now homecare help for elderly Russian families. So fascinating... how do they cope with the racism? I'm very curious about these dynamics.
Well... after some more of this sidewalk Soviet-Colonial nostalgia, her granddaughter came to fetch her from the beach chair she was sitting in (surrounded by the counsel of powder puff lil old ladies). Turned out that her granddaughter was a former student of mine at XYZ College. The friendly little old lady suddenly turned absolutely indignant that her granddaughter was being sweetly adoring of me. Then bewildered when granddaughter called me professor. (Yes, imagine that I didn't live up to my potential of picking cotton and cooking for you slave master!)
Yes, fuzzy-haired gold-toothed granny, despite my youthful good looks I teach adult kids! And I adore them too.
She was a meanie. I had better babushkas growing up in Sheepshead Bay. They gave me candy and said "Yaxshi!" Who are these newfangled grannies!
Next time I get stopped, I'm coming straight out and telling them I'm descendant of Basmachi.
That may do the trick. Actually forget that -- I'm just going to say Afghanistan and that usually ends all conversations with racists of all kinds (or start screaming matches ha!).
Not to paint Uzbeks as saints of first-time conversations. I met an Uzbek woman at the Dunkin Donuts and she asked me two questions in the first five minutes of greetings (such a big no-no in any culture). 1) Do you have a greencard? 2) Are you married?
Then she went onto state that she had a greencard and was married and in fact, had a little boy. She forgot to mention that she had a gold canine.
I want to adopt this woman as my grannie (bu'eh), she looks Afghan Uzbek (just like me):
I'll love her for her gold teeth and her floral scarves.
"Way to Rome" art by Said Atabekov (2008)
Track suited migrant on the steppe. Dismantled mosque, or some-assembly-required mosque on its way to Rome? Such a powerful image. The sky reminds me of an Emily Dickenson poem, although New England blue sky seems tame in comparison.
This photo makes me dream up a movie of two sisters...
I'm planning in slow baby steps a trip to Uzbekistan.
The one on the left looks Cherokee:
I found these photos online... website long gone yet these photos remained somehow accessible.
I wonder why the women were photographed in pairs...
These are my real maternal aunts in Kabul circa 1973. My aunt Jamila redesigned the traditional ikat fabric (so famous now in fashion) into something more modern. For some reason as a little girl this photo scared me a little... (maybe its the tangle of colors):