I AM FROM UZBEKISTAN
an illustrated journey to the heart of the Silk Road
Over the years of living and travelling abroad I met a lot of different people from all over the globe and every time I would introduce myself as someone from Uzbekistan, I’d hear the funniest reactions — almost everyone from almost everywhere didn’t know where — or what — Uzbekistan was — what was this long cumbersome word that few people could pronounce… Many times I had to swear it is indeed a real country ;) And many times people would actually be interested to know more — “so what is it like, U-Z-B-E-K-I-S-T-A-N?”
Inspired by this, I have long wanted to create a simple doodle to introduce and share all the beautiful little things about my home. So I came up with a little character to take you on an adventure to this hidden gem of Central Asia.
Meet al.fergani, the little Uzbek girl :) Of course, this style wouldn’t represent the country’s fashionistas nowadays, but is here to introduce you to our unique cherished traditions.
In Uzbekistan, when we greet people we put our right hand over our heart and say “Assalomu Alaykum”? It literally means “peace be upon you”. And we mean it wholeheartedly.
The legend of Uzbekistan tells that in the beginning of the time when God was dividing land to the people, the Uzbek modestly stood on the side and smilingly let everybody pass first. As he was the last in the line he came up to God to receive his piece of land and God exclaimed “Oh my child, I see you are indeed generous by heart! But what to do, I have no more land left! Well, I guess I’ll have to give you a piece of heaven!”.
This “piece of heaven” lies in the very middle of the biggest continent, tucked in between Black Sand deserts and Heavenly mountains. The land of a thousand legends and millennia of history, it is the home of architectural jewels of the mystical Silk Road — Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva — if you haven’t heard of Uzbekistan, maybe you have heard at least one of these names.
A true fairy tale of the Orient, they say it is the legendary city of Samarkand where Scheherazade told her 1001 tales, and where Aladdin found his magic lamp; it is Bukhara that was home to the quick-witted Sufi dervish Nasreddin Afandi; and it is in the jewel-box city of Khiva, where a local ninth-century mathematician named Al-Khorezmi invented both algebra and another mathematical concept named after him that in Europe became commonly known as “algorithm”…
These picturesque ancient cities and exquisitely patterned mosaics are the cherished heritage of Central Asian Medieval Renaissance. The blue-tiled domes of fairy-tale-like buildings is an image close to heart of every Uzbek, and a reminder of the beautiful blue skies that unites us all together.
If you are lucky to ever visit Central Asia, it is the green lush meadows, white cotton-like clouds and blue peaceful skies of Uzbekistan’s modestly pure nature that will linger in your memory long time after you leave. You probably would not have guessed that it is these beautiful landscapes that symbolically make up the country’s flag palitre.
But still it is the people that make this place a heaven on Earth. The extraordinary hospitality of Uzbeks is what truly wins one’s heart. We love inviting new friends to our hearts and our homes, and we make sure one doesn’t leave without a proper taste of “dastarkhan” — the Central Asian dining ritual of enjoying abundant culinary pleasures in the company of friends and family. Dastarkhan is not dastarkhan without green tea, “plov”, “non”, fresh seasonal fruits and savoury sweets.
Did you know that tea plays a very important role in our culture, and is the embodiment of Uzbek hospitality? Almost everyone you meet will invite you “to have tea” in their home, and you really should never say no. It is so much more than tea: Uzbek “tea” is spiced with friendship, served with warm smiles, and packed with good memories.
When in Uzbekistan, don’t miss trying “non” — a divine miracle of crisp odorous flesh of yeast with crumbs of flavourful sesame. It is baked in special clay ovens — tandir -, which is integral to making it. Since ancient times, Uzbek bread was cooked in a round shape, which had a hidden meaning. The circular disk symbolized the sun, because without bread, as well as without the sun, there is no life on the earth.
Uzbekistan is a unique country that is farthest away from any ocean. Labeled “double-land-locked” by geography books, it is indeed at least two countries away from any sea in all four directions. This distinct climate condition makes for extreme temperature fluctuations throughout the year, and even over a day. It is due to this temperature difference that makes our fruits incredibly sweet and delicious. It is here that you will try melons with a taste and fragrance that you will never be able to forget…
Did you know, by the way, that the blood of an Uzbek person consists of 95% watermelon juice? ;)
Did you also know that “do’ppi” — the traditional Uzbek headdress is one of the symbols of Uzbekistan and an important part of our artistic heritage?
Hand-embroidered do’ppi is not only a beautiful ornament, but also is a powerful amulet that protects its wearer and brings luck. And not only! It’s the source of important information: one could judge about the owner’s social status, age and hometown by the form, patterns and colors of the headdress :)
In 2008 Oscar de la Renta used special Uzbek fabrics for their collection, which was then a big hit. The unusual patterns made it a global trend in fashion and interior design. And almost 10 years later UNESCO just recognized the unique art of Uzbek silk weaving as a global intangible heritage (about time!).
What makes it special is that the threads are dyed first with natural ingredients, and after interesting and complex netting, are weaved into enchanting patterns by hand. This creates a very unique and distinctive colorful shapes on the fabric -abrabandi (“bound cloud”), or internationally known as “ikat”, the mythical heritage of Fergana valley -my hometown. Although ikat weaving has emerged independently from different parts of the world, none have rendered it as richly and intricately as the masters of Fergana valley.
The legend goes that the creator of this fiber art was a poor weaver inspired by observing the reflection of nature in the waters of a lake just when a light breeze caused a ripple in the surface, fusing the colors into a mesmerizing pattern… And that is what this fabric is — the green of rain-washed leaves, the red of tulip petals, the blush of dawn, the blue of the night sky and patches of sunlight on the water, intertwined. It is the natural landscapes of Uzbekistan, the bright character of Uzbek people and our national artistic taste that are weaved in the pattern of this fabric.
The Uzbek New Year, and the people’s most cherished holiday — “Navruz”-, is celebrated on the 21st of March. Taking its roots in Zoroastrian tradition, it is celebrated on the night of the vernal equinox, to mark the time after which day will be longer than nights, and light will symbolically win over darkness. Navruz means literally “New Day” and celebrates the coming of spring, reawakening of nature and new beginnings.
One particular thing that I love about Uzbekistan the most is that "foreigners" and anyone looking differently is lovingly referred to as "mehmon" ("guest") and are treated with much respect and affection. If you come from different backgrounds people generally approach you with genuine curiosity and excitement.
In the rise of racism and ethnic discrimination these days, I really wish the world could learn this one thing from us. Perhaps the world needs more Uzbekistan...
This project was made possible with the generous support of the Creation and Production Grant, Arts Funding Program. I gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the City of Ottawa.