September 18, 2006

40 Days and 1001 Nights

September 18, 2006
      Grapes, grapes, everywhere. grapevines grew over streets, cafes, performing stages, and served as tourist attractions. I've never seen so many grapes in my life! Farmers give away armloads of grapes. Roadside vendors sell dozens of dried varieties, from rose scented red raisins to "Scent of a Woman", "Scent of a man", "Raisin King", and "Mares nipple", to name a few. There were tiny ones made from what we call champagne grapes, and long ones, golden, brown and very dark. One gets grape and raisin overload fairly quickly, but it subsides enough to start eating them again the next morning.
     We went to a birthday party and a circumcision. Uyghurs have their celebrations in big halls and restaurants, serving dozens of dishes on a lazy susan. You never have to pass the dishes.Sometimes there are so many things to eat that they don't all fit on the lazy susan and they have to stack the plates.
    Boys get circumcised at the age of seven. In this case, the mother was dressed in a fluffy white dress with poofs and sequins, with her hair done in a hard mass of curls and glitter.Her sisters dressed likewise in light green, flanking her on either side as she greeted the guests. A keyboard player plays the local cover tunes and everyone dances. Men and women can dance together, but it's not proper to dance with the same man three times unless you're married. If the hostess likes someone's dancing, the men are given traditional hats and the women receive scarves.  
    Yesterday, we visited "Toyuq", an Islamic pilgrimage site that is very intense. You go into a tomb, which is of the first Uyghur to embrace Islam. Nearby are ancient Buddhist caves, from before the area was Islamic. Men chant while everyone prays, their palms toward their faces. We went into a cavelike opening in the tomb where the praying continued with such emotion that all the women were crying. You must back out and down the stairs, then wait your turn to be hit with a cloth covered stick. There was much we didn't understand, but the energy could be felt by all. 

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