Archive for March 2011

half a year   3 comments

March is almost up. I’ve been living in Ashgabat for half a year now. Some days it feels like there may not be anything going on on the outside. Is there?
Some updates on my life here: It’s spring break. I’ve moved in with my new host family. There’s a visual update below. And a link to Peace Corps Turkmenistan’s 50th anniversary celebration, as shown on Turkmen national television.


Posted March 25, 2011 by turkmenlaura in Uncategorized

early spring   2 comments

“Ashgabat descends from the hills in an amphitheater fashion, facing towards the Garagum desert. The city is especially beautiful against violet spurs of the Kopetdag Mountains in early spring when millions of flowers enfold the fruit trees in a pale pink bridal veil and the city’s courtyards are adorned in semi-transparent gauze of tended young leaves.” –taken from the English10 textbook

Early spring. It’s a tease. One day it is seventeen degrees centigrade, the next it’s snowing. Turns out, here is no different from anywhere else I’ve wintered.
My students change with the weather. The day of the big snow, only three of my seventh graders showed for English club. We were huddled in Abadan’s dank classroom, peeping out of our scarves to discuss family photos.
“Her name is Gulşat. She is 22.”
“His name is Meýlis. He is 3.”
The rest of the student body was throwing snowballs in the courtyard. One of my tenth graders caught me between classes. With one stubby, pink hand he grabbed my shoulder; with the other he smeared a handful of snow in my face. I hadn’t yet developed my strategy for dealing appropriately with such happenings. I thought first to bring my knee to his balls, but I was wearing a Turkmen dress. They limit leg movement. Then I thought to impress everyone with the use of a few choice words. They’d know my knowledge of the Turkmen language is not limited to the classroom. Teachers talk about having their students respect them, you know? I walked away instead. Everyone laughed at me. I still haven’t developed that strategy.
Anyway, I can’t stick to one strategy – I need a new one at least every two weeks. Sometimes daily. My schedule changes this often. It took me a month and a half to set one for myself, just because I could never figure out who was free when, when which classes met where. When I did, the schedule was changed for the new term. I adapted to this. Two weeks later it changed. It may have been because it was raining. For a week half the school was closed to paint the floors. The following week, the other half was closed. You can’t paint just one half of a school’s floors, not for a visit from Berdimuhamedov himself, the Second President of Turkmenistan.
All I know is that I never saw the President. I am never in the right place at the right time.
This is how it is: some sunny day I came to school having prepared a lesson on direct and reported speech. Maya greeted me with, “You are late. Tenth form went.”
“Um, 10 ‘D’ is at one, right?”
“It was – yesterday it changed. Now they have a history lesson.”
Having nothing else to do, I went to sit with the secretary. She was making name cards, typing one letter at time, printing one card at a time. She asked me if I was waiting. “Again,” I said, “I do not find my students.” She nodded, told me to continue sitting, then. When the School Director saw me, she told me I should answer the phone if I was going to be where I was. If I had known the Turkmen word for useful, I’d have told her that all I wanted was to be thus.
The next time I locate 10 ‘D’, the weather has changed, and they have moved on to something unrelated to reported speech. Maya asked me, “Do you want to do an activity?” Oh, sure, I did. I’d tired of saying things like, “I am not prepared to work with them on this Ashgabat-text. It is too difficult for them.” I’d tired of wondering which of the Kopetdag’s spurs are supposed to be violet. Or what I would do if one of my students were to describe anything with such superfluity as the city being “adorned in semi-transparent gauze of tended young leaves”. I might’ve been content to have one tell me, “Ashgabat is near mountains,” and not forget that vital little “to be” verb. So, we did an activity. We reviewed the verb “to be” again, or the past simple tense with tic-tac-toe. The students were paying more attention to my boots thick with mud than the chalkboard. I excused myself by saying, “I found a dirty way,” and we all laughed. I continued on: it’s an X or an O for every correct conjugation. They didn’t stop staring at my boots.
I seem to be the only person in this country who can’t keep her shoes shining.
The snow was falling heavily as I arrived to school one day. My teaching materials were wet because there is no space for me to leave them at school. My hands were so cold that I could not grasp the stub of chalk. I had dropped my gloves in the mud and to wear them would have been maskata. I suffered through. By the time my students arrived, I had illustrated when to use the in, at and on prepositions on the chalkboard. We were promptly kicked out of the classroom by one of my teaching counterparts. Her ninth graders needed a place to sit, she said. Fifteen minutes later I had found another classroom, and my fingers had thawed enough to write it all again.

I can’t say much for my work or the weather. But this evening, the snow is falling softly, and the sky is violet behind the darkening grey spurs of the Kopetdag, and there are buds on all the trees. Spring may just be on its way.

Posted March 11, 2011 by turkmenlaura in Uncategorized