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The International Writers Magazine
:
Vanished Leninabad

Memories of Honey
Natalya Popova


It is very entertaining to watch bees crowding at the entrance to their hives. There is a lot of activity there: some are bringing flower nectar ready to be poured into the honeycomb, others have just delivered and are leaving the nest for the next portion of nectar (or whatever makes nice tasty honey once settled). It is not very dangerous to watch them if you wear the appropriate clothing and do not provoke them trying to interfere with their lives (as with any normal life really).

I was lucky to witness the process of honey making at my dad’s honey farm situated in the Fergana Valley region of Tajikistan many years ago. The place generously produced the most delicious wildflower blossom honey, - free range and organic (in the modern idiom – we didn’t call it that then!). Bee-keeping was my dad’s hobby outside his full time job as Physics lecturer at Leninabad University, a hobby he also combined with photography.

His passion to his bees and to his Zenit camera secured beautiful shots of the area with the honeybees playing the main part in them. There are great pictures of the honeybees in work despite them being quick (bees can out pace a healthy adult runner) and hard-working (they visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their honey stomachs of 70 mg nectar capacity).

Looking through his pictures is something I can do over again and again. Every time I discover new depths, new horizontal lines which lead back into my childhood… Back into places I have not been for ages, and not sure if I'll see them ever again.


One ancient Tajik proverb says – one can not get into the same river twice. When a child I could not grasp its meaning, having thought if I move very-very fast (as a bee) to overtake the stream of our beautiful Syr Daria River, graciously carrying its waters, I could be able to jump into the same river.
However, even if I go to Leninabad now I will not be able to catch up things I missed in 20 year-absence.
No one could.

I will not find that clear and sparkling river…. And that flat I lived in with my parents, those good friends I played with on playground shared between a few house-blocks - many of mates have moved out of the country.
Lots of changes… Even the city is now returned its former name Khudjand after 56 years of having been named after Lenin – Leninabad.

Khudjand or Khudzhand (kh d´jänd) is an oasis surrounded by mountains of the Pamir and positioned on both banks of the River Sir Darya, which are simply called left and right. Situated on the famous Silk Road from the Mediterranean to China it has very interesting history and culture. It is believed to be over 26,000 years old according to not proved facts.

It was once one of the Alexandrias marking the farthest expansion of Alexander the Great, called Alexandria Eskhat (the Outermost Alexandria).
It was plundered (711) by Arabs forces and later (1220) was razed by Genghis Khan. As part of the Kokand khanate (early 19th cent.), it was annexed (1866) by Russia. The city and surrounding area belonged to Uzbekistan from 1924 to 1929. From 1936 to 1992 it was known as Leninabad.
Population 160,000.

The country is different now to what it was when we left it in 1990s, the country I was born in consisting of second generation settlers…

My grandfather went to work to Tajikistan in late 1920s, as many other educated people. He was proud of the positive changes brought into the country in terms of education, medical care, infrastructure and general quality of life. When my grandfather retired he chose to stay in Tajikistan despite being offered a reallocation to anywhere within former Soviet Union. He loved warm Tajik land on which my grandmother and he brought up their children and grandchildren. They both are buried in Dushanbe.

Understandably, my Dad was very reluctant to move to Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but he did so having left his heart behind… He suffered a major heart attack seven years ago following a string of changes to come in terms with. His Russian citizenship was queried not once, even though born in the former USSR (now a mystic country like Atlantis fogged off in history) he had to prove his right to live in Russia. A highly qualified and experienced University lecture he had to learn how to grow cucumbers in the harsh weather conditions of Russia. Since the age of 60 he had moved tons of weigh to sell cucumbers in order to survive in suddenly blossomed wild market economy.
He is still busy as a bee, my Dad.
In me, nostalgia grows gradually..

Recently an eclipse shaped melon bought in an Asian shop of an English resort town where I live now, has brighten up my day. It brought up warm memories of Leninabad bazaar:
The bazaar was (surely is now and will be in the future) the heart of the city - full of smells, noises and unwritten rules which I feel come from depth of history. "Salaam" greeting and shop haggle – are compulsory there. The seller will not respect you, the buyer, unless you haggle well. You come and ask the price, and hum: "Ooohh (compulsory), Bucha (sister), it’s toooo expensive. That girl around the corner has much better tomatoes and one kopeek (less than 1 pence!) cheaper".
Takes a while (this is not a supermarket) but the best price strikes the deal to everyone’s satisfaction.
Literally, a kilo of juicy pink "beef heart" tomatoes cost 10 kopeek.
Bargain, but haggle is a ritual. Having finished with the shopping and relived of cash, it is compulsory to stop at a tea house for a piala (small china cup) of revitalizing green tea.
People do not move fast in hot countries. Time moves slower there. One can not run too fast over melted pavement under 40 degrees heat in summer…

These memories will always stay with me, in my heart, in my soul, as part of my habits.
When is say "thank you", I lift my right arm to my heart, as this is done in Asia.
When I pour green tea into a cup I never fill it up full, just a dash to stretch the experience and to contemplate on it, as this is done in Asia.

With black tea– I fill a mug up to the top as a representation of a life "to the full" - as this is done in Russia.
I love drinking tea with lemon and honey. I love looking through my Dad’s old pictures which remind me of my mixed background retrieving memories of my past.

©  Natalya Popova April 2007
Pictures: by Vasiliy Ivanovich Popov
ferganavalley@hotmail.co.uk>

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