Tambov

Tambov

There’s this catchy Brazilian song that a Kazak covered and retitled “the boy who wants to go to Tambov.” It’s pretty famous. I am not that boy, but I did want to go to Tambov. It is a small Russian town known for its black soil, tasty potatoes and mafia. It turns out there is a tourist souvenir that shows this curious boy on one side, with a bruised and battered version on the back, beneath which it says, “the boy that left tambov.” Duly warned, my strategy for learning about the mafia was a trip to the local cemetery to see what kind of tombstones the Russian mobsters pick out. I did not expect to find an ostrich farm nearby.

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The Persistence of Pirs

The Persistence of Pirs

These are the markings of a pir, a holy site usually associated with the grave of a holy person. While the tradition predates Islam, the pirs in Azerbaijan have grown rapidly since the collapse of the Soviet Union in both the Sunni north and Shiite communities in the rest of the country. Religious scholars say their popularity is as much a product of the country’s secular orientation as they are monuments of faith.

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