on the streets, where I live   Leave a comment


I offered peanut butter cookies to the three remaining fifth graders who had stamina enough to make it to the final English club meeting. They stared at me, shaking their heads. Each one said, “I will not eat,” with a wave of the hand. I instisted. The three of them shared a single cookie, in nibbles.

If you can’t win your students over with cookies, what else is there?

Nothing. The school year is coming to an end, and there is nothing that will entice anyone to spend an extra hour in that old building. I include myself in this statement – I’ll take my cookies elsewhere. The weather is too beautiful, and there is too much tea to drink, too many picnics to be had.

In the evenings the neighbor kids roll around on one rollerblade, it’s pair on a friend’s foot. They toss around a soccer ball. Everyone’s out with the mosquitos, walking the streets, visiting their extended families.

I paid a special visit to my paternal grandfather, who lives with his youngest son and family. I’d been over before, to sit with the women on cushions in their drive, to tell them that “Laura” doesn’t actually mean light and stars, but I was glad they liked the name, to tell them that I do indeed say, “Hello, hello,” to my mother on the telephone.

I’d even met the family dog.

On this special visit the family was celebrating the birthday of their deceased grandmother, and her second coming in the form of my host sister Ziýnet. Ziýnet, age seven, was born shortly after the grandmother’s death, and is her namesake. When the cousins don’t do what she wants, she scolds them by saying, “You’d better listen! This is my second life, and I know better than you. You didn’t listen to me the first time around.”

Now Ziýnet and the younger kids were racing from light pole to light pole. The older boys were washing the car. The older girls and the women were in and out of the kitchen with plates and trays. The dog was sleeping undisturbed in a far corner. The men had large dusty logs in their hands and were slamming them against the curb for the fire, chips flying.

Once there was a satisfactory number of smaller wood to be had and the fire was going, Grandfather brought out a large metal rod with small holes. His son connected this to a rubber hose and disappeared into the bathroom with the other end. As he stuck the rod beneath the fire, Grandfather chuckled and said, “Gas is free in Turkmenistan.” The fire shot up, two feet above our heads. He looked up, shook his head at the orange above him, chuckled again. “The President says gas won’t be free in 2030. But now there is much.”

I was standing near the fire, preparing my own vegetables to be barbequed in the stead of their chicken and meat patties, innocent to the dog who had woken and crept up from behind me. There was a sharp pierce at the back of my knee and I felt something thicker than sweat trickle down my leg. I turned around, dropped a piece of onion on the dog’s head, bent over to examine the wound, and said, “Fucking hell, you stupid fuck!”

I was wronged, trangressed, and I wanted to vomit.

My host mother ran to me. “Are you bleeding? We must put vodka – and kill the microbes.” I said it was alright, I’d clean it with soap and water, but I had to call Peace Corps. “Oh no, do not call them. It is alright. This dog bites everyone. Now you are introduced.”

Another woman chimed in, “The dog bit my sister on the hand – and it bit Aýgul’s mother! Everyone is okay!”

Someone else, “Drink vodka, you will feel nothing!”

“It’s just policy,” I said. “I will call Peace Corps.” It took three separate calls to arrange for Peace Corps to come to me, rather than the other way around, as all the people who knew how to drive the freshly cleaned car had had several shots of vodka by then. She arrived with her medical kit, treated the wound with many sighs, warned the family not to kill the dog but observe it. I assured her there was no risk of the family following Turkmen law and giving it its just deserts. A nod, “Yes. To them it is a joke. It bites everyone to say hello!” I asked her if it was the polite thing to do to bite back. She paused before saying, “You must look at the bite before bed and take your temperature. Come to see me on Monday.”

Monday. I’d have plenty of time before that to wander out of school and into the neighborhood looking for stray animals, tea and vodka.

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Posted May 22, 2011 by turkmenlaura in Uncategorized

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