Post Pre-Service Training   2 comments

I write this first post from the comfort of my new room at permanent site, just 10 km west of Aşgabat. My eight year old host sister Melike is reading each word aloud as I type. For all practical purposes (at least as I understand them), I am still essentially living in the capital city—which means internet access won’t be too difficult to come by. Now, what to say? It’s been nearly three months of limited contact with the world outside of Turkmenistan. I feel I have been stripped from all context. Three months haven’t felt like three months. It’s the thirteenth of December. That’s what my watch says, but I don’t know what it means. It doesn’t quite mean the end of a semester. It doesn’t quite mean cold weather and impending snow. It doesn’t quite mean it’s about time to head home for the holiday.

Tuesday I will begin my work, slowly. But this has little to do with the time of year and more to do with the completion of Pre-Service Training. Our Swearing-In Ceremony was three days ago. By raising my right hand and swearing to defend the Constitution and fight off enemies, both domestic and foreign, I was made a legitimate volunteer. All the while, I was wearing a fancy silver paisley-ed köynek made especially for me. Though, you wouldn’t have known by its fit as Turkmen seamstresses don’t seem to know what to do with me. All my new dresses hug the chest and hang from the middle like drapes, as Ayna (my host sister from training site) was kind enough to point out. Maybe you’ve heard of her: she’s that girl from Änew with the abrasive personality. “Not good,” she said, pulling at what should have been the waist of my dress. Never mind that the fit of this dress was far better than the two she herself had made for me. Our parting was tearful—tearful and with great relief.

During our three months together, Ayna enjoyed speaking to me with such complicated and quick moving speech that I inevitably would stare at the ceiling, arms limp at my side, waiting for another family member to interpret. All this when, “bring the çal* from the refrigerator,” was all she needed to say. Then she’d laugh her sharp laugh and bring the corners of her mouth up to accentuate the sharpness of her nose and say to anyone present, “Laura doesn’t know Turkmen. She never understands. Why don’t you know Turkmen, Laura?”

Then one evening at tea, her burly mother replied to this in a scurrilous tone, “Ayna, first, you don’t know Russian. Second, you really don’t know English.” Ayna was quieted for that evening. Only for that evening.

It was a fortunate occurrence that Ayna was often out of the house. I can only assume that she was out making poorly fitting dresses for a third of the girls in Änew. Most evenings were spent with my host mother, her two small grandchildren and her daughter-in-law Gullendam. We’d prepare and eat dinner. I’d do the dishes. Then we’d watch Turkish television with tea until it was time to sleep.

My host mother rarely spoke with me, but I’d hear her telling guests about me. I was her third daughter. I was from America, the town Lincoln. I wasn’t married, but I had a family at home: a mother, a father, a brother, a sister. I had a computer and a camera but no telephone. On cold nights she’d offer me some space on the floor in the living room to sleep with everyone else. When I declined she would tell me the offer was always good, that there was a heater in the bathroom I could use.

Gullendam regarded my poor Turkmen with the same tolerance, the same patient smile with which she dealt with the three year old. She’d let Aygul bring the potty chair right up to the dinner mat so we could all watch while she went. She’d let me stumble around until I made some approximate statement about what time I’d be home, or what ingredients I needed to make an apple pie.

This is the family I regret leaving in Änew.

This, and the family of volunteers I’ve come to love over the past three months. There were eight of us in Änew, twenty-eight in all, after, sadly, one trainee decided it was best for her to head back home. Now that we’ve shared toilet paper, bus fare, peanut butter, sweaters, vodka, ideas, frustrations, we must go to our separate sites, and do our own work. But we have the whole of this shared experience—the next two years—to look forward to. This is just the beginning after all.

*Çal is fermented camel’s milk—it has a delicious bite to it. I love the stuff.

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Posted December 13, 2010 by turkmenlaura in Uncategorized

2 responses to “Post Pre-Service Training

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  1. Hey, glad to hear your doing well! I was beginning to wonder if they had the interweb in Turkmen. I’m going to write you a letter and fill you in on all life has been throwing us here in Nebraska. I hope you settle in nicely to your new home! Merry Christmas, I think of you often.
    Drew

  2. Absolutely wonderful to hear from you!!!
    Wow, what an amazing adventure you are on and I can’t wait to hear more and see more pictures over the next years.
    I LOVE YOU and wish you all the best!

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