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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Where the Women Are All Beautiful and Lovely

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Wednesday morning in Dushanbe, I received an SMS from Babilon, my Tajik cell phone company: "Our women are beautiful and lovely! Congratulations on the March 8 holiday, and we wish you luck and love."

Indeed, minivans full of beautiful and lovely Tajik women had been arriving at my labyrinthine former Intourist hotel all week, milling around the reception, filing in and out of the third-floor bar, getting their hair done at the salon. They wore gorgeous homemade dresses, shiny with gold sparkles or patterned with bright designs. So many women came that a colleague and I were awakened and kicked out of our rooms early Sunday morning, and told to share a room or leave the hotel.

The women were arriving from the farthest reaches of this remote country, including the Pamir Mountains in Badakhshan, known as the "Rooftop of the World." On Tuesday, a handicraft and cooking exposition kicked off uptown, at a national gallery. Descending the grand marble staircase into the open arena, I had the curious feeling of being one of only a handful of men among hundreds of carefully composed women.

The women showed off carpets and fabrics, lovely and bright. On one wall, a yellow rug with decorative Persian script was hung proudly. Tables overflowed with dozens of varieties of bread, including meter-wide lepyoshki, intricately perforated for easy tearing. One proud matriarch displayed fist-sized dumplings, died in the tricolor of the Tajik flag. Another sat behind two skinned and roasted animals -- one sheep and another goat, I learned -- whose necks were twisted around and mouths open to greet passers-by.

At one table, a young woman was dressed in mixed elements of Kyrgyz national dress: a conical hat and a dress with embroidered shapes typical of shyrdaks, traditional shepherds' felt rugs. The Kyrgyz have dozens of national symbols. The woman's green earrings, which hung 20 centimeters below her ears, were shaped like the leather bags used by horsemen centuries ago to carry kumiss. Sure enough, she was Kyrgyz, but lived in the Tajik Pamirs. Around her, 15 or 20 statuesque young women showed off as many different styles -- Pamiri, Uzbek, Ukrainian and so on.

I heard that the Tajik president would make an appearance Wednesday, but the organizers said they would not let foreign journalists in without a week's notice.

So, emboldened by the inviting SMS, I set out into the city. Dozens of florists lined the streets, offloading their wares to young men in black leather jackets. The women did indeed look beautiful and lovely today, their Persian eyes drawn out by black henna eyebrow liner.

Ethan Wilensky-Lanford is a freelance journalist in Central Asia.