Monthly Archives: April 2012

On the road

On the Road

Tajik university students performed The First Thanksgiving and Cinderella, sang American pop songs and danced to hip hop music to standing room only crowds of public school children around the Sugd District in March and early April.

Our friend Dildora Toshmatova taught a class on American Culture and Folklore at Khujand State University, Faculty of Foreign Languages, and the students prepared skits, musical numbers and audience participation activities that they took on the road. The class and theater production was made possible through a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Khujand, the second largest city in the country, is the largest city in the northern district, the Sugd District.

Dildora developed her interest in US folk traditions and culture when she was able to study for a semester at Penn State Harrisburg on a US grant for “junior teachers” at Tajik universities.

The 90-minute production included two skits (The First Thanksgiving and Cinderella) as well as a performance of a medley of pop songs, a hip hop dance number, poetry recitations, and games and quizzes for the audience to participate in. Below you will find a video of the highlights, as well as the complete performances of the two musical numbers.

The students took the show on the road, performing at five schools in the area on Saturdays in March and April. Saturday is a regular school day in Tajikistan. The schools are comprehensive – elementary through high school. They included:

  •  March 3 — Rumon Village, B. Gafurov District, School No. 26
  • March 10 – Kistakuz Village, B. Gafurov District, School No. 5
  • March 17 – Kairakum School No. 1
  • March 31 – Patar Village, Kanibadam District, School No. 20
  • April 7 – Khujand School No. 24

In addition, the students gave a command performance to their teachers, deans and peers at Khujand State University on April  11, at which time they were given their certificates for completing the class and also the special gift of having the final exam for that class waived.

David and I were able to attend the performances in Kistakuz and Patar Village, and the photos and videos are from those performances. I was also able to be at the performance at the university.

Here is the highlight video of the performance.

Here is the hip hop dance in its entirety.

Here is Farzona’s solo in its entirety. This video may be blocked in the US and other countries because of copyright. An abbreviated version is below. Please let me know if you were able to access this video in the US.

Here is the abbreviated version of Farzona’s solo. Please let me know if you were not able to access this video.

And last, here are some random photos and moments that I wanted to share in Before, During and After. The music is Joe Deranne’s Reel performed by De Dannan.

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Sugd District Historical Museum in Khuhand

David filmed several of his students from Khujand State University while they gave us a tour of the museum on Sunday, April 15. He made a video to share with his students and colleagues at the American Language Institute, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio. The video was more than 19 minutes long, so he had to break it into Part 1 and Part 2. In some parts of the museum, the lighting was not good. You can’t always see the face of the students, but don’t worry — they pop up again. And if you check out the videos, you will also see Shaboz, who was our guide in Khujand on Navruz, and Kaykhusrav, who was our guide in Istaravshan.

I wanted to post a couple of photos with these videos, but I keep getting the message “http error.” So, I guess my troubles with nancystan are not over — but hopefully I will take care of them soon.

As usual, if you have trouble with these videos, please let me know.

Part 1

Part 2

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Off the Grid

Most Tajiks who live in cities have access to electricity and running water – some have it all day (barring outages), some have it for specific hours during the day, some have it for only a couple of hours a day. People living in towns and some of the larger villages usually have it for at least a couple of hours a day. But there are some, including those who live near towns, that do not have it at all. One such family is related to our friend Dildor, and when her student mobile theater group performed in Patar Village, next to the town of Kanibadam, her uncle graciously had the cast and guests [David, Rukiya (another Khujand State University English teacher) and me] come to their house for lunch after the performance.

Dildor’s uncle name is Alisher. He is often in Russia working because he can make more money there than in Tajikistan, but this means long separations from his family. Citizens of the former soviets of the Soviet Union, such as Tajikistan, can travel to and work in Russia without visas, and are a supply of cheap labor. His home is typically middle class, but without the amenities of electricity or running water.

Here is a “filmstrip” illustrating their house. The song is Apeainen by the Finnish group Kardemimmit. I took the photos and produced the video.


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Dear friends and family: If you cannot access this YouTube video, please let me know.

High school senior Zarina and her cousin, university freshman Farangiz, volunteered to take me shopping for traditional Tajik clothes on March 30. We went to the large “Chinese” market outside of the city-proper on the way to the airport. I was told I would see a lot of Chinese people, but I didn’t. That’s because I was looking for the majority Chinese ethnic group, Han. Later I found out that the Chinese in this market are Uyghurs from the far Western province of China, Xinjiang, which borders Tajikistan. Uyghurs are a Turkic people and are more closely related to Tajiks than they are to Han Chinese.

The following slide show was built from a few photos I took on this shopping trip. It is an experiment to see if I could do it technologically. I will be working on a longer, more coherent and complicated slide show for another posting about Khujand State University’s student mobile theater project on American culture.

Here’s a photo of me wearing one of the two outfits I bought that day — along with several students and teachers from Patar Village school, in Kanibadam District, where the student mobile theater performed. But more on that later.

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Apricot Blossom Time

View from the school window in Patar Village, in the Kanibadam District: Apricot blossoms frame a window. Photo by Nancy

David writes about our stay in Tajikistan for his own email list. Sometimes I crib a thought or two, but this time I wanted to repost in its entirety. We both took the photographs. As to the writing, I put in the paragraphs. Otherwise, the following narrative is David’s. The photos follow.

Navruz really has ushered in the spring. For 35 miles or more along the road south of the Kairakum Reservoir, apricot trees are lavishly blooming in orchards that straddle the road and stretch down to the reservoir in the north and back sometimes almost to the mountains in the south. And they vie with each other like weeds for every patch of spare ground in the villages.

Dependent now on a water table fed by runoff from the mountains, in Soviet times, the trees were irrigated by means of electric pumping stations and miles and miles of concrete aqueducts. Now the aqueducts are broken and tumbled and the pumping stations frozen up with rust because there’s no longer enough electricity.

In every village and town, on both sides of every residential street, natural gas pipes with about a two-inch diameter run along the walls that enclose the houses. You can reach up about a foot or so over your head and touch them. They rest on metal struts secured to the ground. When the pipes reach an intersection, they bend up, cross the street and bend back down in a serious of right angles that provide a passageway for cars, vans, and busses. Smaller pipes diverge from these larger ones and run into each house along the street.

I wouldn’t call this delivery system safe because any vehicle could ram and destroy the supporting struts. And a suicidal vandal with a hammer and a match could unleash the furies. But in Soviet times it got the gas to where it needed to be, and I’ve seen on the Russian documentary channel the same system today in rural Russia. But now since the Uzbeks have closed the gas valves, the pipes scale and buckle and sunder and would need to be replaced from square one if the Tajiks and Uzbeks should ever strike a deal.

Thus as the wave of empire recedes, it leaves a technological jetsam and a cultural vacuum. So Hadrian’s Wall stands abandoned and crumbling at the high water mark of Roman expansion. And when Rome could no longer afford to maintain its legions in Britain, the Britons were abandoned to defend themselves against the pesky Picts as best they could.

And thus as economies wither, cultural beacons retreat from the far-flung corners they once illuminated and settle back toward the centers of contracting wealth and waning power from which they emerged. So the libraries of Khotan and Bukhara and a thousand others, past, present, and future, fall prey to the worms when taxation and ordered authority can no longer nourish them. So the flourishing entrepôts of the Silk Road vanished under the sands, and the empty shopping malls of northwest Ohio wax weedy and crooked as fingers are sacrificed to the cold when blood is needed at the heart.

Apricot orchards line the road, from the Kairakum Reservoir on the north to the mountains in the south. Photo by Nancy

Apricot blossoms, March 31, 2012, near Kanibadam, Tajikistan. Photo by Nancy

Apricot orchard near Kanibadam, Tajikistan on March 31, 2012. Photo by David.

Boys working in an apricot orchard along the road near Kanibadam, Tajikistan, on March 31, 2012. Photo by David.

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March Books

Another productive month of reading. This set includes two fat classics and two Man Booker Prize winners.

Dorothy Gish as Tess and William Powell as Tito in the 1924 movie Romola.

Romola by George Elliot (serialized 1862-63).    I thought this was the last of the George Elliot novels yet to read, it has set on our book shelf for about a decade. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The 1924 movie starring Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, William Powell and Ronald Coleman was a melodrama, and not a very satisfying one. However, the novel is much richer, with lots of explanation for character development and not very subtle psychology. The book ends differently from the movie, as well, which I welcomed. Many contemporary reviewers did not like this novel. Because it is historical (set in Florence during the late 15th century and Savonarola plays a large part), Elliot did a lot of homework into the era and the book was considered too scholarly. But, some of the characters, in particular the heroine Rom0la, seemed too 19th century. Plus, many reviewers seemed to miss Elliot’s main point, a comparison between Florence at that time when a liberal culture was in battle with a renewal of fundamentalist religion and Britain in its contemporary time.

Clearly, this was not her best novel, in fact, I would rank it last among the seven that I have read. But still, it was an interesting read and deserved better treatment in film. I have learned that she wrote one more novel, “Impressions of Theophrastus Such” – her last and her most “experimental.” I have downloaded it onto the iPad, but it may take another decade before I get to it.

Martin Chuzzelwit by Charles Dickens (1884)    Can’t go wrong with Dickens. Even those that are not his best are an enjoyable read. And that’s a good thing as this was more than 1100 pages long. But who is the title character? The elder Martin Chuzzlewit is the spine of the tale as many act in reaction to him, and he has a change in character by the end. But his grandson is one of the main actors, goes off to America and returns a changed man as well. Perhaps Dickens was referring to both.

Everyone is a caricature, as is Dickens’ style, with delightful names and idiosyncratic quirks to their speech and personality. Only the “good girls” are boring. Some of my favorite characters were Mr. Pecksniff, who is so unctuous and hypocritical he believes his own lies; Mark Tapley, born to be helpful and jolly, but he keeps seeking circumstances that are difficult so he can get some credit for it; and Tom Pinch, with the least pinched of hearts and souls.

This book is full of coincidences, reconciliations, comeuppances, revenge and happy couples – all part of Dickens’ popularity and lasting appeal. He writes silly but appealing stories with a virtuous moral message and delightful (albeit, could use some editing) prose. But my first Dickens, The Tale of Two Cities, is still my favorite.

The cover of Oscar and Lucinda, before the 1998 movie was made.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (1988)     This novel won the Man Booker Prize in 1988, and like many other of those winners that I have read (my goal is to read them all), it is odd.

The cover of the book has Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett as they starred in the 1998 movie based on the book, and I cannot think of better casting. If the movie had been made in the 1960s (which would have been impossible considering when the book was written), Peter O’Toole fresh out of Lawrence of Arabia would have been the spot-on Oscar. In an even earlier period, young Kate Hepburn (if she could muster an Australian accent) would be dead-on for Lucinda.

The theme is how two misfits in England and then Sydney find each other and almost accomplish the impossible. He’s a crazy Christian who gambles and she is a proto-feminist in the 1860s. The book is full of good stories, interesting characters and the misfits are particularly well drawn, and despite (or because of?) their lack of social graces quite likeable. It was a romantic novel, except it does not have a typical ending for a romantic novel. In fact, I really disliked the ending and can think of dozens of better endings for these two deserving characters. I hope when I eventually get to see the film, they change the ending. Despite this the first 378 pages of the 432-page book makes for fine reading and I highly recommend it.



The Sea by John Banville (2005)  Winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize. Oscar and Lucinda, another Booker winner, had big action, in that it covered a lot of land geographically and a lot of time. This book has almost no action and all the drama is internal. The narrator has come to the Irish seaside, where he spent his summers as a child, after his wife dies. At about 60, he is reeling from her recent death and also remembering his first love at 11 and the traumatic events of that summer. The sea, as one can guess, figures heavily in a symbolic way. The details of the climax of his 11th summer are kept from the reader until the end (unless you read ahead) and that was part of why I read this book quickly and deep into the night. Also, Banville really cares about words, individual words, and has a huge vocabulary. By the end, I didn’t like the character of the narrator, or for that matter, many of the other characters, but that was O.K. At least he knew his own shortcomings.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome Klapka Jerome (1889)    A jolly good read of three men (supposedly still relatively young) and a terrier taking a holiday by boating up the Thames in order to escape the hustle and bustle of London life. The narrator is full of wry comments, self-deprecatory humor, and historical information of the places they pass, and always has his tongue (or pen) in cheek. I believe it was as much my mood as the book itself that resulted in me not being particularly amused. On another day (and it can easily be read in a day or two), the book would have appealed to my funny bones.

Short Works by Gustave Flaubert, published in 1877

Stain-glass window in the Rouen Cathedral that inspired Flaubert to write The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller. The Dance of Death is a prose poem that starts with Death talking to himself, and then to Satan. Next thing you know, Satan is talking to Nero. Romantic, as in big "R" romantic. Lots of wind and thunder and elemental elements.

The Dance of Death is a prose poem that starts with Death talking to himself, and then to Satan. Next thing you know, Satan is talking to Nero. Romantic, as in big “R” romantic. Lots of wind and thunder and elemental elements.

The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller. Julian loved slaughter – animal or human. He learns of a prophesy that he will kill his mother and father, and so he runs away as a young man. And of course, we all know what happens, which in its turn, transforms him into a saint. The story was inspired by a stained glass window in the Rouen Cathedral.

A Simple Soul.  This is the life story of a servant who wasn’t all that bright and thus was able to be a simple soul. She was able to love fully, even when she was not loved back. A parrot plays a large, symbolic part in this long, short story. Full of loving details about a woman who made no difference in the world, but in that aspect, is probably more like most of us. Lovely to read.

Flaubert’s Herodias was inspired by a bas-relief on the tympanum of the Rouen Cathedral. Notice how she stands on her hands; that was the part of the dance in this short story that I liked the best.




Herodias was also inspired by art  in the Rouen Cathedral, a bas relief. This is Flaubert’s retelling of the beheading of St. John the Baptist. I enjoyed the writing generally and particularly liked the description of Salome’s dance.



Efuru by Flora Nwapa (1966)   Efuru is a Nigerian village woman – beautiful, intelligent, generous and a good business woman. But she is unlucky with marriages and children, which is a problem in a Nigerian village. The book is full of interesting characters and description. It was definitely not written by a European or from the perspective of a Nigerian who has lived abroad too long or is educated to the extent that she is “deracinated,” a term used by the Times Literary Supplement. It almost made me nostalgic for my Senegalese village of Koubanao, almost. Another book sitting too long on our shelves that we brought along. Recommended.

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