A sudden round of applause from passengers woke me up from my eleven hour plane ride, and I realized my mother and I were the only Uzbeks present, surrounded by Arabs, Kazahks, Russians, and a few others of different countries. After going down the plane steps, my mother and I carried our bags into Tashkent Airport. Ever since 1999, I had been separated from my relatives and home until the summer of 2007. That summer, along with my mother, I relived the old Uzbek life I once had before immigrating to the US and I learned that the only way to keep a culture alive is to be with family.
Squeezed tight into a large group and pressed against the airport walls were my huge number of relatives. Soon, a wave of screams was sent throughout the airport, our names repeatedly being called out for a good hour. “Welcome to my family,” I would say to passers-by, showing my proud yet deeply embarassed condition. What was more surprising and unbelievable than the scream wave was the number of cameramen at every corner of the group, capturing the most detailed moments at the airport. However, as I became more and more tangled between sixty excited people and responded to every peck and hug, the cameras suddenly seemed less eye catching than the multiple crying faces I was standing next to.
During the next two weeks, I cried and laughed and whined, slowly consuming the rather quick shift from my American lifestyle. The one thing that was noteably the hardest to consume was the food. In Uzbekistan, the number one way to impress a visitor is by cooking them a large feast that leaves a certain taste on the tongue. I tried hard to stay away from six meals a day, but in the end, I had to surrender to the massive amount of dishes I was served.
For the third time in my life, I watched a lamb get skinned and cut for a traditional soup I eventually had to escape from. Following the lamb, I closed my eyes while a rooster and chicken were getting their small miserable heads chopped off by my hungry uncles. Next up was a fresh cow head, ready for my younger cousins to disect and search for edible parts. All of them proved to be extraordinary, but at the time, I had to turn away due to my sick stomach!
After a difficult cultural transition, my daily schedule for the next four weeks was mostly packed with attending to’ys (Uzbek for ”wedding”) and mexmons (the event of visiting another’s family) while leaving some down time for myself to tour the city. Besides the big airport greeting, to’ys are the most exciting and yet exhausting events I have found myself in. To’ys traditionally take up to three whole days – the first being the osh, Islamic gathering of men; the next being the actual to’y, when rings are given; and finally the challa, where the families of both the bride and groom meet and exchange gifts. I attended five traditional Uzbek to’ys and an Islamic to’y, along with several mexmons with my relatives.
After being constantly reminded to mind my manners and speak in appropriate Uzbek, I finally saw the last day in Tashkent coming to a close as I reseated myself on a plane. Realizing this type of cultural treatment was not available to me in America, I felt unique and less self-conscious of my Uzbek background, enough to be unashamed infront of others unlike before.
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