home concepts   6 comments

Ruhabat is my home. I’ve walked it countless times, now.
Only once did I purchase anything from our small bazaar. I bought a half kilo of persimmons months ago, and the ladies still take their hands from the warmth of the fire to wave at me as I pass.
At one and at six, as the two shifts let out of school, girls in green whom I have never met before greet me, “Hello, Laura.” They ask me where am I going and where have I come from, what did I do there and what will I do now.
Every other day in the mid afternoon, a young man leaves his house and returns with two loaves of Russian bread for his mother. If his mother is with him, she scolds him for greeting me.
There is the shepherd on the southwestern skirt of town, near the pipe factory in the evenings. He watches me with one curious eye while the other watches his dog and herd. His herd noses the ground for edible vegetation among the thorns, dust and plastic.
I’ve walked Ruhabat, though I still lose myself in the dark now and then. I’ll stumble along on the narrow dirt paths toward where I sense the Köpet Dag to be, only to find the paths turn one way then another. Then I find myself closed in by the rough cement of people’s homes or the rusting metal of their chicken coops. Nights like these, it occurs to me that I could have had the taxi driver drop me off on my own street instead of the nearest bus stop, but I prefer the walk.
Dogs are the only imposing danger, and I have a few techniques for scaring them off. Anyway, there’s usually an old woman about who will bellow at the poor thing in my defense.

On a Saturday evening when I wind up at the steel gate outside my home, when I slip off my shoes at the door and enter the low light and smothering heat of the living room, I find all my family crowded onto the one couch near the stairs. My host mother Guljahan looks up from her phone to greet me. “Ah, Laura, you came. We’ve waited for you. Come, we drink tea.”
Of course drinking tea doesn’t ever mean just drinking tea. We all move to the floor, where there is bread and palow and sugared lemons. Then there’s my host father Abdul Satar lining up his pistachios and almonds to illustrate the economics of living in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Jennet will soon move to a chair and fall asleep with her text messaging. Jemile and Melike are chewing, swaying, staring at the television. I look Muhamet in the eye and he leaves his soggy bread to slap me on the back or the shoulder or the face. His head reared back, he screams, “Oýnamok!” Which, translates roughly as, “I ain’t playin’.”
“I ain’t playin’ either,” I assure him in either English or Turkmen, however the mood strikes. Guljahan assures me that “bu boys: problem.” Then she tells the boy who my father is a very big man, and he’s a doctor in America. That’s the kind of thing you don’t play with.
I take comfort in these domestic evenings.

One afternoon, I entered the secretary’s office to inquire after one of my teaching counterparts. It had been a particularly frustrating week, as no one seemed to be where they were supposed to be,and I was left not knowing what to do with myself. The school director happened to be there, though Maya wasn’t in.
“You will get a new family tomorrow,” she told me.
“Tomorrow? A new family? Really?”
“Yes, it is a good family. Peace Corps didn’t call you? Tomorrow you will live with a new family.”
“No, Peace Corps did not call. Tomorrow? Why?”
“It is difficult for your family.”
I said okay. I left before I caused a scene.
Not to be dramatic, but it was. I was being torn away from my family, and my one comfort. I didn’t know why.
I came into the Peace Corps office and found out that I would have to find a new place to live, but I had two months to do it. Something about my host father not being a Turkmen citizen and having to renew his visa every six months. As a foreigner he could only have another foreigner stay with him for three months at a time.
In a matter of time then, I will be resettling, looking for that one thing of comfort. It’s a familiar task, one that’s made me reconsider what home is.

At the start of my journey to Turkmenistan, I was aboard the plane from Lincoln to Chicago, flying over the Kawasaki plant we passed on the way to school everyday. I wondered why I felt compelled to say good-bye to a building I had never been inside.
It is because home is the familiar, the routine, the constant. It is those people, those things which take their own individual significance in my life. One place, one person never replaces another. Instead I grow to appreciate their differences.
In a few months, ask me if I’ve found a new home.

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Posted January 30, 2011 by turkmenlaura in Uncategorized

6 responses to “home concepts

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  1. What a beautiful reflection, Laura. I mean, I knew you could write, but this reads like an article in the New Yorker or National Geographic Traveler. Keep them coming!

    Also, I am hoping/praying your “home” situation will unfold peacefully for you.

  2. This reminds me of our discussions about “place.” I’ve wondered if you thought about it.

    I’m also sorry you have to change your family, since you’ve grown to feel so comfortable.

    • I am preoccupied with place–and space, as it were–and I think about our discussions all the time. Was there a website that you gave me as a resource on the topic? I wish that I brought my copy (heavily annotated, you’ll remember) of Poetics with me – I certainly have the time to re-read it!

  3. Ah, Laura. I’m sorry for the inconsistency that’s happening with your home life. I’m thinking about you and praying you find a wonderful place that you’ll treasure, too. :)
    Will they help you find a place? The Peace Corps, I mean?

    • Thanks, Tabatha. Peace Corps actually had another family lined up to put me with originally (for some reason they chose to put me with this one short term). So I can live with them if I don’t find one myself. It’s probably best if I find my own family, so that I get what I am most comfortable.

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