19 September 2006

Smelling Kyrgyzstan

I stumbled on this old post while sorting through things the last week. I've been trying to decide if there is any smell that I associate with Kyrgyzstan:

Last night I opened a package of fresh mint to add to my marinade for some chicken kebabs. When the package popped open, I was surprised by the memories that came back. It took me to my garden on late summer nights, and also to Nazareth. Lisa had a great post a while ago about ten scents that can change her, and, since I love to garden, I starting thinking about some herbs and spices that take me to different places.

Like I mentioned, mint takes me to Nazareth. We wandered around there one afternoon, and, after visiting a church and a mosque, went out to the hills near the mosque and chatted with a shepherd there. I gathered herbs there, including mint.

Oregano is Sinai. We had hiked up Sinai in the evening and spent a cold night on top (the old Scout sleeping bags just didn't cut it). After watching the sunrise, we climbed down the steps. I got down faster than most of the group and sat on a rock to wait. Sinai is pretty barren, but there was a little oregano plant tucked next to the rock. I can still smell the scent on my fingers.

Rosemary is Jerusalem. The BYU Jerusalem Center has many rosemary plants. I would sit out on the balconies overlooking the city and run my hand over the rosemary.

Cumin is for the markets in any Middle Eastern city. Cumin is sold and also commonly used in the food, so that scent was very prevalent.

Garlic reminds me of Arab homes. There was usually a garlic scent in every house we went to, and I love the flavor and taste of garlic after having it very rarely as a child (I think I was the first one to buy garlic powder at my house, much less a fresh head).

And finally, hyssop is Hebron. We had gone to a pottery factory and I wandered out the back door. We were on the edge of town and there was a scent in the air that I couldn't place, but that I loved. After I came home, I happened to smell some hyssop at a nursery and knew that was Hebron.

The best thing about all these is that I can grow them myself (well, not the cumin). My herb garden is my reminder of the Middle East.

I can't really think of any herb that particularly reminds me of Kyrgyzstan; there are so few herbs and spices that are used there. One of my favorite smells from there is bread baking. Since we lived right next to two tandoor bakeries, I could often smell bread baking through my window. I liked to go to Ak Emir and get flatbread with onions on it. One of the best days for scents was Nooruz when there were lots of street vendors selling plov and kebabs. But I smelled similar things in the Middle East all the time, so those smells aren't unique to Kyrgyzstan. (There was one place on the way to a friend's house that smelled like a sewer; that definitely reminded me of the Middle East.)

China had a lot more scents though. Everywhere you went you smelled something new and wonderful. I still can't see a plate of sesame chicken without thinking of Xi'an and the feeling of finally eating something wonderful. Garlic, green onions, all sorts of herbs and spices. Thank you, China.

It's odd though that I can't really think of many smells that remind me of Kyrgyzstan. That makes me sad.

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