Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Weekend in Arslenbob *more pics*

Even before I moved to Jalal Abad I had heard about a mountain village called Arslenbob where there were spectacular views, great hiking and, like a cherry on top, the world’s largest walnut forest! Unfortunately I had not made it up to Arslenbob since I had been to permanent site so when Fritz and Ginger, my neighboring volunteers, invited me to join them for a weekend I gladly accepted.

That Saturday morning, before I left, I told my visiting host sister, who was on the verge of popping out a child, that if the baby came to call me and I would get back as soon as possible. Then Ian, who was visiting for the weekend, and I went to the center of town where we met Fritz and Ginger. Luckily for me, just as we started haggling with the taxi drivers my parents called from the U.S. so I got out of bargaining for taxi prices- thanks guys! Between the three of them they managed to bargain a taxi driver into giving us a three hour ride to Arslenbob for just under 500 com which converts to about $13. While we drove up into the mountains the sun was hidden behind the clouds so we weren’t able to enjoy the view that we had heard so much about. What we did see as we drove higher up was more and more snow on the ground! That was the first time I had seen snow in the country and it was a frosty reminder of how cold it will be over the next three months.

By the time we got to Arslenbob there was probably about 4 inches of snow on the ground. We all piled out of the tiny car that we had squeezed ourselves into and immediately we were greeted by an employee of the CBT Organization. CBT stands for Community Based Tourism and is a group that helps the local community organizes home stays and activities for tourism. This functions to direct money coming into Arslenbob to the community rather than to big hotels and tourism companies. We decided to stay with a local family for a couple of reasons; number one because it is cheaper and secondly it allows tourists to connect with the area that they are visiting. And that it did! As soon as our host picked us up, he informed us that as once we dropped off our bags and had a cup of tea we would be off to a celebration which was being hosted by his brother. When we arrived at the house we did just that, we each had our own cozy little room where we threw down our bags and then stepped into the main house where there was tea and snacks waiting for us.

I still can’t tell you with certainty what the celebration was about but I do know that it was not a wedding and there was a Muslim tradition behind it. At the brother’s house there were probably about a hundred people there with music and food. Arslenbob is 99% Uzbek so there were the same Uzbek horns that I had seen at the Uzbek wedding and tons of osh, their national dish. We sat there for an hour or two, made some toast, were introduced to our host’s family and friends. Eventually we snuck out so we could do some quick sightseeing before dinner. Our host drove us to a small waterfall which had a beautiful view and was a sight where many couples came to pray for fertility. The cliff that the waterfall was flowing off of was covered with icicles and apparently the waterfall itself would freeze within the next month. Afterwards we went back to the house, had a quick nap and then sat down for dinner, because we had eaten so much at the celebration earlier we all just had a bowl of soup and some more tea. Once dinner was over we went back to our room where there was a log stove that was heating the room up nicely and all four of us sat over a bottle of Moldavian red wine and chatted until the power finally went out.

That next morning we woke up to blue skies, a true blessing as we had not had a blue sky since the wedding a week and a half ago. After breakfast we went for a long hike that took us to a cliff where we could see the whole village of Arslenbob. The entire walk was through snow, but with the sun shining it started to warm up and eventually we all took off our coats and enjoyed the beautiful weather. From the mountain cliff the view was absolutely stunning! Gazing down on Arslenbob from that mountain reminded me very much of the small town in Switzerland that my mother grew up in. That thought was interrupted quite quickly when some traditional Uzbek music began blasting from somewhere below us!

We took an alternative route home which led us through a section of the famous walnut forest, an apple orchard and a currant farm. Eventually we swung back around to the small waterfall that we had seen the day before and made our way home. Once we got back, we sat down again for tea and snacks, packed up our things and headed back to Jalal Abad. I guess between the hike and keeping warm I had really worn myself out because we had hardly left Arslenbob before I was asleep in the back of the car.

The entire time that we were up there I did not have phone service, so when I arrived at my house that evening I found out that my host sister had given birth the night before to a little girl. The birth took four hour, but the baby was as healthy as could be and weight a whole 3 kg (6.6 lbs). The new born and her mother were still at the hospital recuperating from the birth and after a few shots of vodka to celebrate we were off to go see the new mother and child. My host family, grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins all went to the hospital, which was actually not a hospital but rather a birthing building where women went to have their babies. We were all standing outside waving to my host sister who was standing at her window when I turned to my host brother and asked if we would be able to see her. He shrugged and said maybe, he then took me to the front entrance, called over one of the midwives, handed her a 50 com note (despite my protests) and we were hurried in. Gulmeria, my host sister, looked tired but happy. It was so good to see her well but I couldn’t help but notice how small she looked without her swollen belly! I didn’t get a chance to see the baby but apparently they will be coming home this evening and there will be more celebration!

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