Day 25 – The Pulse of the Maternal Heart

25rac2.gifThere are few female drummers, Evelyn Glennie takes on a male world almost alone. I can’t ever remember seeing female drummers in Africa. For the last couple of days we have been entertained by five women doira players from Kokand. There’s something about the pulse, the heartbeat of the drum that seems close to the maternal spirit, why are there not more female drummers? Rakhimahon Mazokhidova lives her life to a strong rhythm, our interpreter Matluba described her as an entrepreneur worthy of support from BWAK (see day 23). When we met Rakhimahon again in the courtyard of her home, surrounded by children and wild birds, she suggested she sang us a lullaby. No drums just a dignified grandmother singing to an imagined child as many of her real charges now formed an adult audience. I sat spellbound by this charismatic Uzbek star.

25rack.gifAs long as mothers sing to children there’s hope for this world, I hope her many pupils take up this complement to the rattling doira.

We set out on an early morning journey from Kokand to Andijan across the valley to track down a lady called Malika Askarova. She had been recommended to us by our music advisor Dr. Razia Sultanova who was born in the area. We had limited time to find her – with a deadline to get across the border into Kyrgyzstan. Our driver Bahadir took the quest into his own hands. At first we did not mind this, it was his last day with us. He thought the town we were looking for was near Fergana. He then repeated a similar pattern of question, answer, drive: 1 Screech to a halt next to someone who looks ‘intelligent’ 2 Shout politely at them for directions to a village they have never heard of. 3 Go whichever way they suggest and finally 4 At the very next junction, usually 3 minutes later, repeat the loop. After two hours of this we had had enough and gave up.25stat01.gifBy mistake we found ourselves at the village of Durtor. One feature aroused the curiousity of the team. A circular, mud encased building stood bizarrely in the centre of the square. Balanced on top of this hollow mound was a tree complete with roots, precariously balanced. Strangest of all were the carvings on the top – three swan/dragon-like creatures all in motion, facing the same way. I walked inside and saw Arabic inscriptions carved deep into the ceiling, ‘Allah Askadu’ (Allah is Unique). The locals didn’t know the building’s real purpose but said it had been built during the last war, though it looked pretty new.

A man stood quietly next to a roundabout “Do you know the town Durdur”, “Yes” he replied and continued knowingly, “I know Malika, she’s my neighbour. I’ll take you there”. Later he said Allah had placed him there so he could take us to her. Who knows?

25mal02.gifMalika Askarova looks in her forties. She has an expressive and beautiful face which smiles easily. She’s naturally a humble person and could not believe for sometime that we had come to see her. Before long the Uzbek hospitality was bringing us all together and friends and family were gathering to see what was going on. We must have seemed like aliens suddenly arriving out of nowhere in our shiny ‘Nomadmobile’ full of equipment.

25mal01.gifMalika is an Otin-Oy or female Sufi. She reads Arabic and studies the ‘old books’ including the works of Ahmad Yasavi – see day 20. She’s called upon for occasions such as weddings and funerals and reads from these old texts in a strong and beautiful voice. She also composes her own songs. When we asked what they were about she explained that she had often been alone in her life, losing her husband when still young. These songs she sang ‘from her heart’ about her life. Malika takes several minutes to prepare herself before singing. Even without understanding the words we could tell they were delivered with considerable emotional force, several of the women present were moved to tears.

We played some recordings to the gathering, Shaykh Kuskarov?s mantra and the Zikr from Kokand. The mantra aroused some curiosity but didn’t seem familiar, however the Zikr induced nods and smiles of recognition. We were told that Malika also performs this Zikr.25boys.gifShe became interested in spiritual matters when she was fourteen. Her spiritual mentor was an old woman from the village who also taught her Arabic. Malika’s role is similar to the Kokand women that we met recently. Even though our meeting came about in a strange and unexpected way it seemed quite natural. She has an openness about her that makes you feel welcome and we were all sad to leave.

As the sun slowly falls behind the approaching peaks, we head across the border to Osh.

Tomorrow a mammoth 15 hour journey across Kyrgyzstan to Biskek. We will send a report en-route

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