Trouble, In-Transit   1 comment

The trouble was I’d lost my ticket. It was somewhere between Siemreap and Chiangmai – a distance of about 800 kilometers. I wasn’t going to find it again. Turkmen Air officials told me repeatedly that it didn’t matter that I had my passport or that my name was on their list. The one in the lavender button-down gave a red and green ticket a few shakes in my direction, his eyes wide, mouth open. I had to have the physical ticket in hand, he told me, to board that plane back to Ashgabat.

They didn’t “do” e-tickets, and I didn’t “do” paying 700 USD in cash for a new one. I had paid less than half that for my two-way ticket to Bangkok and back. I asked Peace Corps Thailand if they could send me home, to America, from there. They said no.

That did it, though. Peace Corps Turkmenistan was notified firstly that I was stuck in Bangkok, and secondly that I wanted to resign. Then I had Bangkok to myself for a week while I waited for my plane ticket to arrive from Ashgabat. I saw every stop on the sky train, every stop on the orange line of the Chao Phraya River Express. I knew which bus I could take to where and for how much. I ate more papaya salad and pad thai, more aloo matar and Dunkin’ Donuts than I should be proud of.

When I finally arrived in Ashgabat, I was greeted by the Country Director with, “Um. We need to talk.”

Maybe the trouble wasn’t that I didn’t want to pay 700 USD for a plane ticket. It could’ve been that for the few days I spent in Siemreap, Cambodia, all I could say – as I stood by the river in the shade of a banyan tree, as I read stories about the outside world published in an English-language newspaper, as I bought books off Khmer Rouge survivors, as I ate everything any street vendor could offer me – was, “Turkmenistan sucks.”

That wasn’t quite it, either, though being accosted by this strange universe where there were things to do and see didn’t help. I didn’t hate Turkmenistan. The real trouble may have been that for the past eleven months, I’d taught only a handful of classes, very few of them being with my teaching counterparts. I’d taught the same set of three lessons to a rotating group of club kids. I’d been to one wedding, one hudaýoly, one open classroom and one goodbye party. And I wasn’t sure what I had done in the mean time.

I wrote a lot of letters. Drew a lot of pictures. Read quite a few books. I knew Ruhabat’s every road and every asset – I’d walked it (I had tried biking it, but my bicycle needed a new everything each time it emerged from our black steel gates). I had tried to start a yoga class and a cooking class. I had tried to build a tri-lingual library and an afterschool program. I tried to have an art club and a music club. I tried to have a cleanup day. I tried to be friends with everyone.

I tried. A lot.

The TEFL Program Manager at Peace Corps told me he knew my skills weren’t being used, that he’d told my teaching counterpart the same. Maybe we could get a schedule written up for me – I’d feel better if I filled a little more of my time. I reminded him that we’d tried that before, that having a schedule on paper didn’t mean having a schedule in real time. After talking to my counterpart about it myself, I knew that it wasn’t going to get any better. She was sweet, sorry she hadn’t been of much help, but she didn’t know how to turn things around, as she was only sometimes interested in potential projects. School politics got in the way all the other times.

It was a sad parting, but I assured her the trouble wasn’t with her.

The trouble was everything. So, I was put on that next flight to Lincoln, via Baku, via Frankfurt, via Chicago, sent away to find something that would let me use my skills, and if nothing else, feel just a little more like things were possible again.

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Posted September 1, 2011 by turkmenlaura in Uncategorized

One response to “Trouble, In-Transit

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  1. Dear Laura,

    I’ll miss reading about your adventures in Turkmenistan. Though, I look forward to hearing more about them in person. Welcome home.

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