This June, I was introduced to a sleeping city, hibernating beneath a thick summer swealt, unquenched thirst, and fatigue. In what circumstance other than Ramadan could one imagine successfully asking millions of people to voluntarily refrain from food and water for 30+ days? Around the globe, Muslims partaking in the holiday fast both in solidarity with the poor, and to cleanse oneself of temptation, over-indulgence, and impulse. Routinely interacting with my lively students, I initially overlooked just how quiet the city was for a national capital. Only in the collective euphoria of Eid did I realize that I’d only seen Dushanbe asleep.
The end of Ramadan, three days known as “Eid,” acts is a functioning awakening, calling to life an entire populace which had formerly receded beneath the burden of fasting from 2:30 in the morning until 8:00 pm the following evening during the hottest month of the year. On the last lesson before Eid, my second class invited me to their homes— all of them. After the lesson, the circled and organized (*very seriously), before Sarolbeker, a high school student taking the course with his younger cousin, emerged from the group saying simply, “10:00. It’s ok? “ I wrote my Tajik phone number on the whiteboard, and arrived Wednesday with another teacher at the agreed upon corner.
Wednesday morning we found just one of my students, Manuchehr, on the corner alone waiting for us. Maybe the others hadn’t been interested after all? He asked us if neighbor children had knocked on our door around 5 am this morning to collect small chocolate, bubble gum, and hard boiled eggs (the kids were often too excited to wait until later in the morning). To our surprise, he lead us not to his home, but to Azim’s, his classmate’s. The others hadn’t forgotten. They were waiting for us. Knowing it would have been near impossible for us to find them otherwise, Manuchehr had volunteered to be our “guide” for the day. He stayed with us for the first 7 hours, and it was possibly one of the most generous gestures of any of my students.
At each home we sat, usually on the floor in a traditional living room, with the student, their family (and extended family). At each home, two traditional bowls of soup were served, the meat after the vegetable, accompanied by naan (circular loaves of bread), Simosas (meat and onion filled pastries), appetizer-like samplings numbering anywhere between 30-100 little saucers of salads, nuts, crackers, chocolates, Tajik baklavas and innumerable other dishes. It posed a beautiful, if not overwhelming display. All of this was then followed by layered honey frosting cake (which was most often proudly baked by someone’s sister who would emerge from out of nowhere to grace her handiwork), pistachios, sugared almonds, watermelon, melon, peaches, grapes, and lastly, green tea. I thought about one of our flat-mates with a stomach bug who was visiting another part of the city. For her sake, I hoped that she’d managed to find a way to gracefully decline the heartfelt insistence to eat from all the mothers, fathers aunt’s, uncles, grandfathers, grandmothers, and extended family that would surely be focusing their attentions on making their guests feel as welcome and stuffed as possible.
In total, we sat with seven families: making it to four (a third) of my morning students’ invitations, the home of a close friend named Servinoz (whom we met in the Korbon market our second weekend here), the best friend of a student, and last but not least, one of my students in the afternoon presentation tutoring session. I arrived home after 13 straight hours of visiting, having eaten so much that I never wanted to look at another soup, pastry, or round naan loaf for the rest of the summer. (Who knows how long and the day would have been had I not canceled about four other sit-in invitations)!
The celebratory atmosphere of Eid comes less from the act of eating, but from the tradition of offering, of genuinely spending time with people, and to commemorate a month of fasting. All doors are open— to family, friends, and even, strangers alike. It is one of the most harmonious atmosphere’s I have ever witnessed. This July, I watched a Dushanbe awaken.