Warmth of ‘White Gold’
Cotton in Uzbekistan
Every home around the world has something made of cotton: a shirt, a towel, etc. People mostly try to buy clothes with tags saying ‘Cotton 100%’, which means the best material to wear.
There are a lot of technologies of making various artificial textiles. Synthetics are undoubtedly worn longer, washed better and they do not crumple easily. However, they lack what our bodies enjoy - naturalness. Cotton clothes breathe and absorb sweat better than synthetics, which pleases human skin. And, maybe, cotton fabrics are given some unperceivable warmth while they are being made to become ‘a thing that human soul was put into’ as people say?
The world’s leading cotton fiber manufacturers are India, China, Uzbekistan, the USA and Pakistan. Uzbekistan is among the largest exporters of raw cotton shipped to the countries of the eastern hemisphere. Cotton is considered the natural national wealth of Uzbekistan, together with gold. That was why they call it oq oltyn - ‘white gold’.
Cotton is planted with machines. A cotton brush grows to the average height of 70 centimeters; it blossoms and then produces seed capsules - bolls. When the bolls are almost ripe, farmers stop watering the brushes and let them dry. Owing to hot air - the temperature in some Uzbekistan regions reaches +40°C in September when they start harvesting cotton - the bolls crack, open and let white balls of cotton fiber look out. A cotton ball is in the form of a peeled orange; it is dazzling white and four times as big as a boll.
If the cotton boll opening is videoed, its fast playback will show it resembles the process of making popcorn - except that a cotton boll opens more neatly, forming a four-sepal calyx cup. Curving out, they look like a jewelry setting with a soft white gem inside. If you have not seen cotton growing ripe, come to Uzbekistan in autumn - it is fascinating!
Cotton picking by hand is probably the most laborious and yet exciting stage of cotton textile production. Cotton pickers go to the fields early in the morning, while it is not hot yet. They put on special bags tied at the back and take their ridges. A cotton picker usually moves along a furrow and picks cotton from two ridges on either side. Cotton fiber leaves the cups easily and is thrown into the bag.
If you are lucky to get to a cotton field during cotton picking season for a few days and contribute to harvesting, a local farmer will certainly provide you with a bed in his home. It is especially enjoyable to sit at night at a fire of burning dry cotton stalks under the black velvety sky with myriads of stars, watch the sparks flying up and listen to a meditative Uzbek melody played on the national string instrument rubob by some of the farmers. Some companies gathered around a fire also play the guitar.
Overwhelmed with the warmth of the sun by day and of the fire by night, cotton pickers share it with the cotton fiber they pick up. And when someone a long way from Uzbekistan puts on a cotton shirt and feels its warmth, it comes from them too.
Photos of the tour:
Our video gallery:
Cuisine of Central Asia
Pilafs in Tashkent
Wine-Making in Uzbekistan
Uzbek Fruit and Vegetables
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