Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Last Saturday, the spring equinox, all of Central Asia celebrated Nooruz. English club students had talked about this holiday all year, families had been preparing for this day all month and while all this was taking place, I had been trying to figure out what the hell this day is about. Every time I inquired, I received a different answer; some would say it is a Muslim holiday, others would tell me it is a Central Asian holiday and many didn’t even know what the holiday was about!
Eventually I gave up on asking people and researched the holiday myself. From what I have read, Nooruz is an ancient holiday that dates back to Zoroastrian traditions and is celebrated all over Central Asia. Over time it has been adopted into shamanistic practices and the Islamic religion to celebrate the coming of spring. During the Soviet period not only was the holiday discouraged but at one point it was officially banned. But now the Kyrgyz celebrate the holiday proudly with family and friends over pots of samolok at home or at games of Ulak tartysh.

For the evening of Nooruz I was in Osh with Ian. Tired from a day of walking around the city, we were hesitant when his former host family called us to join them for a Nooruz celebration at the last minute. But curiosity and love for his family dragged us off the couch and to his family’s house. As we walked through the gates we were greeted by a host of children and his family who led us to a huge pot of boiling goo called Samolok. It is made up of five ingredients; wheat, flour, water, oil and rocks!

Yeah, that’s right rocks! According to the legend, once upon time in the land of Kyrgyzstan a poor mother was desperate to feed her children a special dish for the holiday but all she had was water and stones. So that night she boiled the stones in water and the next morning she woke to a pot of sweet soup, Samolok.

Since then a few ingredients have been added to the recipe but the tradition has held and every year the rock soup is made. This year, Ian and I were invited to stir the samolok. I really appreciated being included, plus as you stir you get to make a wish! Because the samolok is suppose to cook all night long and we were not able to spend the night we were given a spoonful that evening. It had a sweet but subtle taste to it, not something I could eat a whole bowl of but it was an enjoyable spoonful!

Next year I’m hoping that I’ll have the opportunity to watch a game of Ulak tartysh, a competition played throughout Central Asia. The game originated long ago when shepherds would be watching their herd on horseback and would defend their livestock from wolves. Now instead of knocking out a wolf, a group of men will get together and attempt to throw a headless goat carcass into a goal. I can only hope that during my time in Kyrgyzstan I will have an opportunity to watch this game.

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