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Isfand burning

‘The herb is an essential purchase at the bazaar for most people’

Isfand produces an acrid smoke

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.
If you visit a local family and complain of flu like symptoms, you may well find yourself ‘isfanded’, as your host wafts a burning pan around you, ensuring that your clothes will smell of isfand long after you have left Khiva.

It is used both outside the house...

...and inside

Money Slapping

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.

Heart Spitting

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.

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