Photo Essay – Central Asia

Vast expanses, sparse populations, multiple languages and great hospitality characterize much of Central Asia. This Middle Ground is a place where the ideals of the Soviet past and traditional culture meet the modern age and an increasingly global marketplace.

Take a moment to check out a photo essay from a Pioneers field worker and photographer as he learns about Turkic peoples and their unique cultures.

In many parts of Central Asia it is customary to offer guests a piece of bread on arrival. As a guest, even if you stop in only briefly, tradition obliges you to partake.

Father and son clean up following the slaughter of a sheep. The meat will be boiled and served with noodles as part of a Beshbarmak, literally a five fingered meal as it is eaten with ones hands.

According to an ancient proverb, horses are the wings of the people. They are treasured possessions, and horsemanship is a much-prized skill.

Plov is a Central Asian dish consisting of fried pieces of meat mixed with fried, shredded carrots, garlic cloves and cooked rice. Shirin paloo is a vegetarian alternative in which the meat is replaced with dried fruit like apricots and raisins.

This Muslim woman is praying at Sulayman Rock, where Sulayman (Solomon—a prophet in the Qur’an) is said to be buried. Women who ascend to the top and slide across a holy rock will, according to legend, give birth to healthy children.

Ornate Muslim tombs serve as time capsules in rural areas. Under Soviet rule, the nomadic lifestyle of the people was curtailed. They moved from venerating nature to embracing Islam. Prior to the 19th century, many tombs were simply marked with antlers or stones. Collections of elaborate memorials and monuments indicated that people became increasingly settled geographically.

The collapse of the Soviet Union opened the door to dramatic change in Central Asia. Pray this little one will be found to be good soil where through perseverance eternal fruit is produced.

Central Asians have experienced temporary bans on different forms of entertainment—opera, ballet and billiards. The ban on billiards clubs came as a result of the belief that they systematically flouted regulations for entertainment establishments to close by midnight.

A wet market is a market selling fresh meat and produce, distinguished from dry markets which sell durable goods such as fabric and electronics. Some wet markets in rural environments also feature the sale of live animals and poultry.

Many local markets illustrate continuing ethnic diversity as Russians and Turkic peoples work and shop alongside one another. Still, the ethnically Russian population continues to fall as perceived instability and nationalism rises.

This little fellow lives in a yurt deep in rural Central Asia. Looking into his eyes I can see his face as a young man and as an old man. Pray with me that the lines that one day crease his face come from smiles and joy in knowing his Creator.

The scene struck me as being familiar to most any American town—an older car on blocks, various parts and tools scattered about and a greasy-handed owner doing his best to make repairs—but in Central Asia they use the metric system.

While under Soviet rule, spare tractor parts were nearly impossible to come by for this Central Asian man. He sold his car to buy equipment for a machine shop so that he could manufacture his own and keep his family and extended family fed.

A minaret, or “lighthouse” in Arabic, is a distinctive architectural structure akin to a tower. They are typically found adjacent to mosques and used to provide a visual focal point. Traditionally they are used as the broadcast point for the Muslim call to prayer.

A mother and daughter stand outside of their yurt, a portable round tent made with skins and felt. In the bowl is kumis, a thick drink of fermented mares milk.

See more from Central Asia in our Middle Ground video series.

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