One evening between dinner courses, our host, Aziz, stands to welcome my traveling companions to his home and announce that the children of the neighborhood have been preparing for this moment for some time. A concert awaits.
I'm in the Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan, dining under apricot trees in the courtyard of a family compound where Aziz lives with his wife and children, his parents, sister, brother, and their families. The homemade salads of farm-to-table tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, potatoes and herbs have been savored, a hot delicious mushroom soup, the ubiquitous yeasty bread. I am hoping the meal is complete, so abundant and beautiful it is already, but have a hunch we are just beginning. Kebabs are surely on their way.
The neighbor's 14 year old takes the mic, arms rising with the poise of a great performer, and begins to let loose the ululations of shashmaqam, haunting historic music of Central Asia. I am immediately quieted, riveted, in fact, by this voice, spilling like a waterfall over the moon-lit courtyard. Quickly, then, the host's daughter takes up an instrument I do not recognize and makes of it her own poignant song. His sons recite poetry from memory. Tiny neighbors put elbow to opposite wrist and wave their saucy hands dancing . . . but that is not enough. A girl is tugging at my hand - there is no choice but to rise and join the dance floor, as all guests eventually do. The night is alive with music and children and family dancing under the sky of Margilan, and in that dancing, there is something as tangible as the homemade food. It is nothing short of joy.
Reviewing my time in Uzbekistan, I find myself talking a lot about the happiness factor. The people I met there are at home in their skin; they seem happy. I think it has to do with this: that the people I met are creating. Bread, music, weavings, embroidery, dance, block-printing, ceramics, paper, felting, fashion, song, whatever. And they are creating out of their own lives, out of their long layered history but also out of their own heart, so that what they create is a extension of who they are and what they love.
I've begun to think that is the secret ingredient in the happiness factor. That when we spin out of our lives a thread that is somehow our own, that when we take the essence of our experience and distill it into a thing in the world - a word, a note, a taste, a fiber - that in and of itself satisfies a ravenous human hunger and holds the makings of joy.
It's a sad day when we are identified not by what we create but by what we consume. When we think music comes from iTunes, rather than pounding out a tune of our own. When we buy labels rather than putting together our own style; when we buy pizza instead of getting our fingers sticky kneading dough, when we buy expensive travel but miss the adventure. It takes more courage, but happiness, I am more and more convinced, is in the making of something that grows from my heart. And then making another thing. And another. Which, in the end, is the making of life. And a happy one, at that.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker