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'Street-Sweeping' Dushanbe Teen Unmoved By 'Atlas Of Beauty' Fuss

  • Farangis Najibullah
  • Zarangez Navruzshoh

It was this photograph of Munira Mirzoeva by Romanian photogapher Mihaela Noroc that started it all.

It was this photograph of Munira Mirzoeva by Romanian photogapher Mihaela Noroc that started it all.

It took just one photo to turn 19-year-old Munira Mirzoeva from an unknown Dushanbe gardener into a Central Asian web sensation.

Mirzoeva was put on the map -- specifically, the so-called Atlas Of Beauty -- by Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc, who travels around the world to capture "the natural beauty around the world showing the diversity of our planet through portraits of women."

Noroc's photograph -- showing Mirzoeva in a colorful national dress underneath a high-visibility traffic vest -- was initially published on Noroc's Facebook page on August 18.

It was "liked" thousands of times within a few days, with dozens of Facebook users extolling Mirzoeva's "natural beauty, winning smile, and elegance."

The story soon grabbed the attention of local and regional media, ranging from Russian-language Cosmopolitan to major Central Asian news websites (here, here, and here) and RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Radio Ozodi.

But every fairy tale needs a hitch. And Mirzoeva's was that the photographer described her as "a beautiful street cleaner" from Dushanbe.

Mirzoeva doesn't appear to mind the mistake, however, putting it down to the similarity of her bright orange vest to those of Dushanbe's street sweepers.

WATCH: An interview with Munira Mirzoeva

She is equally unmoved by the newfound celebrity status that has headlines dubbing her "The Most Beautiful Street Sweeper In The World" and a "beauty queen."

"My life revolves around my family, my home, and my work," Mirzoeva tells RFE/RL's Tajik Service, adding that "this shovel and trowel" are at hand even in her spare time.

"My closest friends are my fellow gardeners," she says.

"I also do lots of housework," she adds.

Mirzoeva is the eldest of seven children from a close-knit, working-class family. She is a key breadwinner, with a monthly salary of about $110 and occasional bonuses of up to twice that much.

Wages for state-sector employees like Mirzoeva remain low in Tajikistan, where schoolteachers earn around $200 a month.

She grew up in Dushanbe's Shohmansur district -- a bustling area known for its traditional bazaars and busy roads that separate a leafy quarter of luxurious villas from slumlike hilltop neighborhoods.

"I used to dream of becoming a doctor," Mirzoeva tells RFE/RL. But she says university tuition was beyond the family's means and Mirzoeva had to settle for "tending to flowers" in Dushanbe's streets.

"You have to stretch your legs to the length of your blanket," Mirzoeva says, quoting a Tajik proverb that translates roughly as, "Live within your means."

But Mirzoeva says the fame the photo has brought her isn't going to change her life.

She doesn't see herself participating in a beauty contest abroad, as suggested by some commenters on social media.

"I don't think my parents would let me to go anywhere," she says, shaking her head. "My parents are afraid to let me go anywhere far away, even for a short trip. They would get worried about me. They would wonder, 'Is she coming back or not? When she is coming back?'"

"But if it was up to me, I would definitely want to take part in a beauty contest abroad," Mirzoeva adds.

Meanwhile, Tajik Facebook users have launched a fund-raising effort to collect money for Mirzoeva to fulfill her dream of studying medicine.

She wasn't yet aware of the initiative when she spoke to RFE/RL.

There's also no indication that she's aware of the growing ranks of Facebook admirers to have inquired in the Atlas Of Beauty thread about her telephone number.

And that's just as well.

Adds the young beauty: "I am going to get married soon."

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on an interview by RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Zarangez Navruzshoh