Isfand is a dry grassy herb that seems to have even more
properties attributed to it than garlic does in Europe. It is said to
ward off the evil eye and is most potent when burnt, giving off a pungent
smoke. The Soviets were unable to prohibit its use and so declared it
profitable for killing microbes. As a result of these two variations on
a theme, it is common to see gypsies going door to door or around the
bus stations and bazaars wafting a smoking pan of isfand at people and
demanding money for their spiritual protection. It is also common for
lab coated school nurses to bring smoking pans of isfand into each classroom
during the winter to disinfect the children.
Enter the bazaar early in the morning and you may well be the first customer to purchase an item from one of the stalls. At this point the stall owner will take your money and slap it on all or most of the other produce. The luck which your money has given will then be transferred onto the other produce, ensuring that they will be speedily sold.
Give a woman a fright and she may well gasp in surprise
and then spit down the neck of her dress. A popular tradition in Khiva
is that if the heart is given any major stress from shock or fright, then
it should be cooled with water. As a result many women will spit, or pretend
to spit on their hearts if in shock. Hysterical women may well need more
than spit and are sometimes dowsed with water to cool their hearts.
Traditionally the youngest ‘kelin’ or daughter in law
of the household should sweep the outside of the house and street before
sunrise in order to catch a blessing for the house for that day. However,
brooms must never be left standing or propped against a wall when not
in use as spirits are considered to enter into them. Instead, brooms are
left flat on the ground.
Fried diamonds of borsok
If a person has narrowly escaped disaster, whether a non fatal car crash, a domestic fire caught in time, or a speedy recovery from sickness, it is common to practice the ‘Houdoyol’ or ‘God’s way’ ceremony. ‘Borsok’, diamond shaped piece of deep fried dough, are cooked and then distributed amongst neighbours, friends and even passers by. This is in acknowledgement and gratitude of God’s blessing. Sometimes the ceremony is also practised to ward off potential disaster. If someone has a premonition of disaster they may attempt to avert it with a thanksgiving offering.