to health, to liberty, to wilderness!   Leave a comment

There are two flights of stairs that run strait up the Köpetdag. They are steep, uneven, cement, and they divide into thirds the mountainous ecosystem surrounding Ashgabat. On our recent hike of the eight kilometer “Health Way”, it was my duty to rescue the sand colored lizard in our path. The thing was trying his best to clear the curb, but this particular species was not selected for its vertical. We trapped him with our feet; I picked him up by the tail. He swung back and bit me on the forefinger; I flung him into the wild, somewhat more forcefully than I had intended. But he was free. Free to find his friends, his babies, his mate, his food, his dreams. He just lied there, blinking.

At least he was free.

It was our own last day of freedom. Tomorrow meant back to school after two and a half weeks away. Two and a half beautiful weeks of discos, mosques, hotels, bazaar food, real coffee at the office. It’d soon be back to stale bread, instant coffee, greasy soups and the quest to find a free classroom and my teaching counterpart. So here we were. We had flung ourselves into the wild, the wildest wild one can find near Ashgabat. Having downed some sandwiches and damned-good pears, we were ready to do this thing, the eight kilometer stretch, equipped with one and a half liters of water, three cans of beer and a liter of Fanta.


Kilometers one and two were difficult, more difficult than they had been four months ago. Stairs upward and no relief – unless you count the golden domed gazebo with the benches at every half kilometer. Or all the times I stopped to pretend to take photos.

It’s possible that six months of greasy soup and limited physical activity takes its toll on a body.

My self-image plummeted when I realized I still hadn’t caught up to the couple “bein’ all kissy” (fellow volunteer Jason’s words, not mine). They stopped more frequently, for longer, yet they were always just out of reach. To have the breath for that kind of pace and at that altitude.
So much for endurance: some time after the second kilometer we passed them for good. The spacing between gazebos and kilometer markers stopped making sense. There were stretches of non-stairs, statues of the wildlife we wouldn’t see in real life. It had started to feel like we were actually in the mountains.

By the time we reached the fourth kilometer, the ascent had steadied and Ak Şäherim Aşgabat, “My White City Ashgabat” was beneath us in its own white smog cloud. A sight to see. And cause for a can of warm beer. This, a fun-size Snickers and a bite of bread propelled us forward. It took a Turkmen, though, plastic shopping bag in hand, cutting through our path and bounding down the side of the mountain via goat path to get us off the Cement Way. We wandered freely among the bronzed statues of birds and mammals, looking toward the sublime, the snow capped mountains of Iran, until, at the eighth kilometer, we had no choice but to take the stairs down to the parking lot. We had made it.

We watched the last bus leave without us.

Only construction workers loitered near their truck, labeled ADAMLAR, “PEOPLE”. They pointed toward the city, told us to walk.

We walked.

Two hundred yards later, they were insisting we become a part of their cargo. We piled in the back with the group of them squatting in mud, their shoes still shining, cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. They shared a loaf of bread. Music played from someone’s phone. We were off, toward the city and the smog, toward the confines of the work week. Peering back at the mountains, we saw a lone live fox. He was rooting around the rocks arranged to read “TÜRKMENISTAN 2017” beneath Olympic Rings.

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Posted April 1, 2011 by turkmenlaura in Uncategorized

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