A guest post from Audrey Jannin who lives in Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Mahbuba lives near the Zelyoni bazaar. Last year, she was responsible for preparing the sumalak for her mahalla (neighborhood). Sumalak is not just a simple brown wheatgerm soup but a recipe which brings together the whole community. After the coldish winter months, Nowruz—the spring holidays, celebrates the beginning of spring and the renewal of life. Sumalak, made from the first fresh green plants of the year, has the power to cleanse your body of its winter lethargy and prepare it for the coming year.
The wheat is cooked on a wood fire for over 12 hours and is constantly tended by one of the neighbourhood women. Neighbours come back and forth—some bring money, others bring wood for the fire, and some bring gossip. Mahbuba runs everywhere; she brings more hot tea, rearranges the sweets on the tablecloth. Overnight, the women watch the sumalak together. They sing ‘Sumalak dar josh mo kafcha zanem, Digaron dar khob mo doiracha zanem’, which means ‘The sumalak is boiling and we are stirring it, others are asleep and we are playing doira’. Then, everyone tries the sumalak. It is sweet enough…yes. The sumalak is divided between the neighbours, who take it back home in pots to put on the table for Nowruz.
But this year, Mahbuba will marry her older daughter; she does not have the money and the energy to organize the sumalak festivity. Who will take the lead in her mahalla? So far, she doesn’t know.