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On A Cloud of Nine

(by Zilola Melieva)

Talking to my mom while cooking is my favorite thing; it even helps to make food more delicious.

I am from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Most of the Uzbek people come from the Muslim culture, although there are differences from other Muslim countries. Twice a year, we have an Eid holiday—a festival to mark the breaking of the Ramadan fast. Each Eid Eve, we need to do a general cleaning up at home and prepare certain foods: various sweets as well as plov, our national dish of rice that has hundreds of variations. (An old saying goes: There are as many kinds of plov as there are cities in the Muslim world.) On this evening, if you visit an Uzbek family, you’ll notice the aroma of plov on the streets of the neighborhood. The most interesting part of this tradition is that people exchange some portion of the plov they make with their neighbors and relatives. So on each table, you may see small portions of various plovs gathered from the people who shared their food.

One Eid Eve when I was 22 years old, my mom said, “It is time for you to prepare plov. Let’s show your ability in cooking for your family and friends.” I got nervous because it’s usually the mother’s job to prepare the plov, and it was not for an ordinary day. I knew how to make plov, but never for a special holiday. I said this to my mom, but she refused my excuse. “You will see,” she said, “this day will become a treasured memory for you.”

Encouraging me to have confidence in myself is typical of my mom. She never shows weakness and always strives to overcome life’s barriers with huge strength—like when my grandfather passed away, she did not forget to take care of us even though she was full of pain. When I decided to leave my family and my country to study in Europe, she supported me chasing my dreams. I had second thoughts as my flight got close, but her words helped me get on the plane: “We trust in you.”

Despite my nervousness about making the plov, I started cleaning the necessary vegetables—onions and both orange and yellow carrots, cut into thin slices. As I worked, I asked a question: “Mom, why do we share some portion of plov on this day?”

“There have always been people who do not have enough to eat,” she explained. “They may be too shy to ask for help. So genuine and generous people found an interesting way to give them food. They started leaving some portion of their food for the needy on Eid Eve. Over the years, the tradition expanded to share food with neighbors and relatives. Plov was considered to be very fancy food in those days, and it keeps you full so you do not get hungry again so fast.”