Sunday, 1 November 2009

Happy Halloween

With halloween rapidly approaching, and it being a handy festival to spend a few days getting excited about during half term, a friend and I had arranged a party for 13 kids at her house. I was to arrange for a mass pumpkin purchase so that everyone could make their own lantern, parties not being complete these days without a craft activity!

The Green Market here is a fantastic place for veggies and there is a pumpkin section where you can buy a bag of ready carved pumpkin for less than  dollar a kilo, so I really did not envisage a problem turning up and ordering 13 whole squashes in one go.

I approached the the pumpkin tables and explained that I needed 13 medium sized orange pumpkins for my kids to make lanterns with, and that I wished for the vendor to remove the seeds and clean them out a bit for me. How many people turn up with an order of this size I don't know, but you would have thought I was asking these women to remove their gold teeth with tweezers the way they rolled their eyes, and muttered "ochin tijolo" several times (which means ooh, very hard work).

As usual in these sort of situations, everyone on the pumpkin section became involved in the discussions. I think even a couple of the dried fruit and nut chaps chipped in from the aisle next door, such is the way of Central Asia.

"Ooh, that is an awful lot of work," they all said.
"Oh come off it," I said, " You carve up pumpkins every single day for eight hours - how hard can it be?"
"Well, you see, we carve them like this (holds up pumpkin and shows me top to bottom slashing action) and emptying them whole, well, that is a totally different game," said one lady.

I sighed, thinking to myself that for people who sit in a freezing market for hours on end, surely the opportunity to earn a days wages in one fell swoop would be incentive enough to make a transaction like this easier for the paying punter? But no. First of all, they cannot agree to do this too early, or I might not over-pay them enough. And secondly, frankly, they cannot be arsed to do the work. So they would rather that I and my wallet wandered off and found the pumpkins elsewhere then they would not have to empty them. Save them the bother.

I took a deep breath.

"Ok, let me put it like this. First of all, I know that it will only take you seconds to prepare each pumpkin. I have done it myself on numerous occasions. I would do it again, except I have a dinner party to prepare for tonight and to tell you the truth, the addition of 13 pumpkins for carving might upset my preparation time plan for the three course dinner. And secondly, I will pay you extra to clean them out. Come on. We both know that you can do this in no time and I will doubtless be paying you more than a local would. Can't you just agree?"

"Well, it is an awful lot of work, I am not sure," said one woman, but I could see her beginning to weaken.
"You don't have to do them now. I can come back tomorrow to collect them," I said.
"Shall I do one today to make sure we are doing it right?" suggested the one woman on the stand who was willing to make the sale (three others were shaking their heads and saying Ochin Tijolo, over and over again like the members of some weird pumpkin carvers trade union). Sure enough, within about two minutes, she had cleaned one out completely.

"See, it took you less than five minutes to do that one," I crowed. "Can't you just do another 12 like that? Please?" And so the deal was done subject to an upfront payment, and I left.

She did a great job, in fact, and kindly presented me with a whole free pumpkin as a bonus offering when we went back to pick up our halloween booty.

Here is a picture of our prototype and Sonia, the pumpkin lady.

On Saturday afternoon we went to a friend's house for the pre-trick or treat party and all 13 kids in attendance were able to make their own lanterns which then glowed and twinkled through the night. Although I say so myself, the pumpkins were a triumph!

I have only really started to enjoy Halloween since living abroad and knowing enough American and Canadian families to be shown how to do it properly. It is such a fun event for kids. And when you have a proper trick or treat scenario set up (we have to do that living in buddhist and muslim countries like Thailand and Kazakhstan where pagan / christian festivals are not exactly de rigeur) in some suitable neighbourhood it makes it just a fantastic night for the kids.

In Almaty there is one compound where several foreign families live and it has become something of a tradition to hold Trick or Treat there, with many other pre-tricking parties being held in different houses until it gets dark.

The week beforehand, participating mothers hand over large bags of sweets which are then distributed among the houses. Then the people in the houses decorate their front steps in scary fashion and are delighted to be called upon by the hordes of witches, demons, grim reapers and fairies that turn up. This year, one guy dressed up entirely as a vampire (think Muppets vampire, not Lost Boys!) and was hilariously in character for all the kids who were there. It was brilliant.


  1. I just love that you can visit an entire section dedicated to pumpkins! That is taking gourd love to a whole new level. Is it a seasonal thing, or can you buy pumpkins in their own secion all year round? Love the carving, btw, most creative and scary. But one question - have you metamorphosised (eh?) into Dracula since moving to the big K?

  2. And can't help it, but GOURD help us! ha ha