Sunday, April 24, 2011

Springtime in Quba

So our last significant snowfall hasn't been since March, but the month of April still managed to be quite cold. We've had some beautiful sunny days that give us hope of a warm and prosperous Spring, but sadly they don't outweigh the cold and dreary days.... YET. We're now living in our new home and really getting into the swing of our work here. We're slowyly figuring things out every day, but some things are starting to come into focus a bit better these days.

The biggest development here is that at the beginning of April, we moved into independent housing. This means that we now live in a small duplex-style home with our
landlords, an older couple whose children are in Baku. Mom's a teacher at the school next to my office, and dad's a beekeeper (he was all gussied up in his beekeeping outfit smoking out the bees this afternoon!). We've had an absolute BLAST cooking our own meals and getting creative with local ingredients. The great news is that we're back online, with semi-high speed internet access. (All it took was a couple trips across town, and a sad interaction with some awful salespeople that left Joey close to tears.)

Now that we have internet access, I will rekindle this dusty old blog with some pix and stories about Novruz. We are by no means experts on the event, but as first-time observers and participants,enjoy!

We celebrated the entry into Spring with our first Azerbaijani Novruz celebration. Preparation for the holiday mainly includes cleaning the home from top to bottom, and even our teenage host brothers pitched in for about fifteen minutes each. Otherwise,
there's a lot of cooking traditional dishes and baking a huge amount of pastries, and then eating everything for 3 days straight. There's very little going to the bakery to buy these items, which I would be more accustomed to do back home, yet there is immense pride in the complexity of the food and the pastries. Many people invited us to their homes to celebrate with food, as this holiday is focused around nature and the beginnings of tilling of soil, planting seeds and hoping that the earth will begin to turn green. We felt very welcomed. To encourage the seasons to change, there is also green wheat that is grown in anticipation.

Here's a picture of our Xalcha, which has 7 candles, fruit, nuts, candies, decorated eggs and some pastries in it. It's the traditional platter of goodies found in most Azeri homes during Novruz. (We were surprised to see PAAS-esque Easter egg wrappers too. My special egg was Minnie Mouse.) Did you know there are competitive egg-battles here? It goes like this -- each person takes a decorated egg, and two people slam the eggs together, and whichever one cracks first is the loser. The winner then takes the loser's egg. (But what will you do with a cracked egg?) Joey won a couple of times against a neighboring 7-year-old.

In preparation of the holiday, the young boys build bonfires, called tongal, and you can jump over it (literally jump through or over it) at least 3 times in order to leave the previous worries of last year behind and have a fresh start with Spring's fresh start.

{to the left is our host brother Emin, the tongal master}

I jumped seven times since my host brother said that the extra 4 jumps would make the year extra good! It was really interesting to see the entire street lined with bonfires, with the mountains in the background as the last signs of daylight turned into glowing orange along our road.

To finish out our stay at our host family home, host dad and his friend threw together a quick BBQ. Here in Azerbaijan, anything grilled is known as "kebab." While it is technically POSSIBLE for chicken to be grilled and served, the
real kebab is lamb. Now, our experiences with lamb and sheep meat here have been pretty awful... in Fall, there's a Muslim holiday that centers around slaughtering a sheep, and our home was filled with the stank of boiled sheep for days! (Even worse was the fact that our family insisted on serving up the organs first -- a delicacy known as jizbiz. YIKES!)

But kebab is a whole different story. Tender chunks of lamb are seasoned and put onto metal rods as the wooden chips start to smoke. (Fan the fire with an old piece of cardboard for maximum effectiveness.) When the chips are hot enough, the meat is set down just an inch or so above the fire, so it cooks quickly. Joey took over the grill for a
moment, and flipped the kebabs with expert ease. When the meat was ready, dinner was served for the entire family, and the nice place settings were used. It was a great ending to our time with our host family, and we even made toasts to our life and work in Azerbaijan.

Next up: our death-defying trip to the ancient village of Xinaliq! Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. the lamb looks great!! Hillary what does your work consist of? Glad you guys are warm and have internet :)