Being the Change for Peace

Abby’s Peace Corps Adventure

Sag Bol Turkmenistan December 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — beingthechange4peace @ 12:30 pm

Sorry this has been a bit lapsed, but I had to wait for my computer to be fixed before I could post it. Anyways, here’s my last post written in Turkmenistan…

Wow what a week/month it’s been. As of about 30 mins ago I officially completed my Peace Corps Service in Turkmenistan. Now some of you who might have been following my blogs for a while may be asking yourselves “Wait a minute, Abby! I thought you were extending for another year in Turkmenistan?” To give you the short version of a very long and sad story, I was intending on extending and probably still would if they asked me to, Peace Corps endorsed the extension, but unfortunately my visa extension was denied so I had to what we PCVs call “COS” (close of service). If you see me and want the long story I’ll gladly tell it, but this isn’t the time and place for it. I am leaving on a happy and good note.

The month was a month of goodbyes. Goodbyes with my American friends, my Turkmen friends, counterparts, students, family, and Peace Corps Staff. I took the time to visit all of my close friends one last time and we reflected on our friendship together, it was sad, but good at the same time. My school threw a huge party for me complete with all of my favorite Turkmen food, a beautiful Turkmen Yangsyz (a coat) and dress, my favorite students and teachers. I gave one final demonstrative lesson for all of the teachers in my district and my favorite class put on a wonderful play complete with poems, Santa Claus, and a joyous round of “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish you a Merry Christmas.” I was so proud of their progress over the past two years. Despite what the Russian Teacher thinks, we defied her and played one last round of Hangman. We took traditional pictures with a Turkmen carpet, the flag, and a picture of the President. Everyone wished me safe travels and was so thankful for my service to their country, I could truly feel their appreciation.  I had my last meal with my host mom and sister, Merjen and we cried as we embraced for the last time. They had truly become my family. Then on my last day in my village as I was leaving with all of my worldly possessions something happened for the first time in my service. Every day for the past two years my students would yell in English “Hello Abby Teacher!” but on this day all I heard was “Goodbye Abby Teacher, Thank You!”  I’ll never forget these people, they left an impression on my heart and I on theirs.

I can’t really describe the work that I’ve done here and how it all has changed me, but I know that it has. I feel as though I’ve learned to embrace a different culture and accept a different way of life. I have learned to be more tolerant and patient. I’ve grown spiritually and find myself being open to other ways of worship simple conversations with others, appreciating nature, and simply slowing down your life to stop and think about just what God is doing in the moment. I’ve also learned a lot about simplicity, Turkmen people live very simply… not a lot of stuff. There is a saying in Turkmen that says “If I have bread then I am blessed” (or something along those lines). That’s an amazing mentality to have. I’ve learned so much here and I feel as though I now have two motherlands, the USA and Turkmenistan.

Thank you for those of you who have followed me in this part of my journey. I hope to continue to update as I re-integrate. Until then all I can say is “Sog Bol Turkmenistan, menin ikinji watanym!”



3 Days, 5 Celebrations, 1 Beautiful Turkmen Wedding October 8, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — beingthechange4peace @ 7:05 am

So if you’ve been following along with my blog you know that I’ve talked a lot about the Turkmen wedding process. As I mentioned previously (in case you forget) I’ve been privileged to see the dating, engagement, and now wedding process and ceremonies first hand because my host brother just got married. Today I’m going to talk about the 5 celebrations that go along with the wedding. First off I want to apologize, I miss spoke in my last post about the engagement, the Turkmen name for the ceremony where the boys family fulfills the dowry is called the “Halat” not the “At Guluk” as I previously mentioned. The 5 ceremonies last over 3 days and take place in various locations. We’ll start from the beginning and go from there, fair warning this will be a long post as there are a lot of traditions for all of the ceremonies, but I promise you it’s all very interesting! So let’s get it started!

Day 1 At Guluk
The first ceremony that takes place at the groom’s house is a prayer celebration on the first day of the wedding. It’s where the groom’s family sacrifices a goat to Allah and shares it with their family, friends, and neighbors. The guests will all come with some sort of a gift for the bride and groom and will also give a congratulatory gift to his mother and father and they will congratulate everyone. For the mother they will usually bring material for a new dress or a headscarf and for the father they will bring a prayer hat (takeya) or a new shirt. The bride and groom will usually receive a new blanket, scarves, or some baby clothes in hopes that they will soon have children. The blankets, scarves, and clothes are then tied onto a long post that stretches across the room (see picture below). The scarves will be used the next day to tie onto the windows of cars for a different ceremony. The name “At Guluk” literally means “horse’s ear” and it symbolizes in traditional times when the family would tie scarves to the ears of horses and process to the girl’s home to take her away, a ceremony that happens on day 2. After everyone gives their gifts they all eat traditional prayer food of dograma, which is essentially goat meat, bread, and onions boiled in a very oily soup. Finally, after lunch everyone gets ready for the bride’s wedding in the evening and the groom, his sisters, and his mother go to the girl’s house to get her for the official wedding service with the Mullah (Muslim priest).
The official ceremony is very small and I actually wasn’t able to attend it, it’s only for the bride, groom, and one or two witnesses. After that ceremony though they are officially married in the eyes of God.

Night 1 Brides Wedding Reception
Turkmen really like to party for their wedding receptions so there are always two wedding receptions. The first reception is the Bride’s reception and it is usually more modern and very similar to our wedding receptions. In the Ashgabat area it’s usually held at a restaurant in the city. The bride wears a puffy western styled white dress and the groom a suit. The guests are generally segregated into groups and the groups take turns giving toasts of congratulations to the couple. My oldest sister for example gave a toast for all of the guests who were there for my brother. The bride’s family, friends, and parent’s colleagues also give toasts. After each toast is given that group is allowed to dance, if your group didn’t toast and you’re not a guest of the bride you should not dance. The evening mostly proceeds like that, but there are a few pauses in the dancing for traditions. For example they cut the cake, the bride and groom have their first dance, and the throw the bouquet to the unmarried girls. There is also one Turkmen Traditional dance that the bride and groom perform called the Lizingka. During the Lizingka the bride and groom take turns showing off their fancy footwork before the come together and dance together.

Day 2 Gelinjek
The next day has the most interesting and traditional ceremony: the “Gelinjek” or “Taking of the bride”. During this ceremony the groom’s family will take the bride from her home and take her to the groom’s home where she will live. Everyone meets at the groom’s house and dances outside with a three-piece band consisting of a drum, an accordion, and a clarinet, that has been hired to go around with the group. After the dancing everyone comes together for a prayer ceremony and then they divide into cars that have been decorated with scarves on side mirrors and outside the windows (these scarves are actually pretty important for when they are driving because it let’s them drive crazy without getting pulled over). Then the groups take off and drive like maniacs to the bride’s house swerving in and out of lanes, speeding up really fast and then slowing down really fast, and honking horns like crazy. Now, as a passenger from a western country this process is terrifying because there are no seatbelts in Turkmen cars, most of them come from Russia or Dubai and the seatbelts have been cut out. I was fortunately with a very good driver, my brother-in-law, but that still didn’t take away the fear.
After many “Hail Mary’s” on the road we finally arrived safely at the bride’s house. Now the groom rides in a very nicely decorated car, which is the main car in the procession, he however is not allowed at the girl’s house and must wait on the side of the road for our family to take his wife. When we got to the bride’s house we danced again to the band and all of the bride’s aunts were standing outside of the front door guarding it. They started to say, “No, we won’t let you take her!” This is a very traditional process. The men from our family must beg them and bribe them with money until they finally agree and let us open the door. The bride and her mother meanwhile are sitting inside and crying because the bride will be leaving home. The groom’s mother goes in and comforts her and tells her that everything will be ok and finally the bride emerges from the house wearing a large coat, metal armor, and a “kejebe” coat with a white curtain to symbolize the traditional camel basket seat that the bride would ride on to the groom’s house. The whole outfit weighs 36 kilograms or 80 pounds! She has to walk the rest of the day in this heavy, awkward outfit for the rest of the procession. Imagine having a 3rd grader on your head (not your shoulders) for about 3 hours, obviously she needed some help to walk. She knelt down outside and again her aunts said that we were not allowed to take her and our men had to pay them more money. Finally they relented and our family celebrated by throwing little toys, coins, and paper money into the air and the Gelin was taken away.
After we picked up the bride we picked up the groom and again took off like bats out of hell in the cars. Again after many Hail Mary’s we arrived at a famous statue in Ashgabat to take wedding pictures. Everyone in the procession took turns posing with the bride and groom in front of the monument. After the pictures it was time to go home.
When we back at our house there were a few more ceremonies that needed to take place. First the bride was cleansed with holy burning grasses and had a large Allahjan with a blue eye attached to it hung around her curtain. An Allahjan is a rope that is woven out of camel hair and yarn, the camel hair and blue eye are considered holy and protect the wearer from the “Evil Eye” (a common custom for Muslims). After blessing the bride she was led inside the house where she again knelt and had her hand dipped into a pile of flour and a bowl of goat fat to symbolize that she will always be taken care of in the new family. Then she was led to her new bedroom where the another woman was knelling. This woman was the last woman to be married into the family and it was her time to give her place to the new bride. Before she gave up her place though my host mom had to give her a new piece of material to make a new dress. Then the “old” bride and the new bride changed places, like a changing of the guard. My new sister-in-law will have that place until another woman marries into our family (the next eldest boy is 3 so she’ll be there a while, but the last woman was apparently there for 10 years). After the changing of the guard, as I like to call it the new bride was again blessed by our family and friends and finally left alone to rest and get out of her extremely heavy and hot outfit. Thus the Gelinjek was concluded!

Night 2 The Groom’s Wedding Reception
The Groom’s reception is typically more traditional and occasionally is also held at a restaurant, but often times in the village at his family’s house. Ours was at our house and in my opinion village weddings are more fun than restaurant weddings because literally everyone from the neighborhood can come, eat and drink as much as they want, dance and go crazy, and not have to worry about driving home drunk. It honestly felt like a huge block party because the entire street was shut down with two big semi-truck trailers one that held the bride and groom’s table and one for the singer and his band.
For the Groom’s wedding the bride wears a white or red traditional silk dress and a crown. She also has a scarf to cover her mouth during the ceremony. The groom wears a suit again, or in my brother’s case a tux. They process into the yard from the house with sparklers, what was adorable about our wedding was that my niece Enesh and my little cousin Atajan processed in in front of my brother and sister-in-law. It was adorable because Enesh (2 ½) was wearing an adorable yellow dress (made by our new sister-in-law) and Atajan (4) was wearing little tux with a bow tie, it was an adorable hopeful portrayal of the future.
Then much like at the Bride’s reception, different groups took turns congratulating the bride and groom and dancing. I also gave a toast where I toasted in both Turkmen and in English; everyone was impressed with my mad language skills. As the evening wound down there was one last tradition to be preformed to test to see how good of a wife the new bride would be. My brother’s friends gave him a dong, a long coat that older men wear, and a talpak, a sheep skin hat, and tied a rope around his waist in a tight-knot. The bride had to untie the rope belt from him, if she could she would be a good wife: strong and hard working. After she was successful she gave the rope to my brother and he proceeded to beat his friends away because they were threatening to interrupt their first night together. Being the good protecting husband that he is my brother successfully beat off his friends and they didn’t have any interruptions on their honeymoon. Thus closing the Groom’s wedding reception.

Day 3 Bash Salmek
The last tradition for Turkmen wedding ceremonies takes place the day after the wedding night it’s called the “Bash Salmek” or “Pretend Fight”. First off, someone needs to check to make sure that the new bride was pure before the wedding night so someone must check the sheets that the couple slept on, this is performed by the groom’s eldest married sister. If for some reason the bride was not a virgin the family could take her back to her family in shame and sadly this does happen, but not with our family. After her virginity was confirmed she bride is taken outside for my favorite tradition in Turkmen culture: The fight between the girls and women! The bride comes out again in her hood and curtain and knells on a carpet outside the house. All of our female relatives and neighbors come over to participate in the fight for the new bride between the girls and married women. The girls form a wall around the bride and start taunting the married women saying that they can’t take her and make her a women, they won’t let her go! The women obviously don’t take the taunting very well and they start to fight with the girls and try to break through the wall to get the new bride. Sometimes this can get very intense with a lot of pushing and hair pulling, but ours was pretty low key, the girls didn’t stand a chance against some of our older and bigger women.
After the pushing fight between the girls and women the men hold a wrestling contest for the women and girls. The women will actually wrestle against the girls one on one for a prize of 50,000 manat (roughly $3)! I don’t think I can explain accurately in words just how awesome and hilarious this is, but the women essentially throw one another around until one of them falls over. My personal favorite was the match between the two dayzas (older married women) because it was literally like a sumo match!
Thus, the wedding ceremonies and traditions come to an end, but there is still one more thing left for me to write about in this process that I will have for you next time. Thanks again for reading and I hope you enjoyed about the Turkmen marriage process! Until next time, sog bol!



Filed under: Uncategorized — beingthechange4peace @ 8:40 am


Part I: Amsterdam and Istanbul

Yes, it took us five different flights to get to Turkmenistan. After leaving Detroit, we had stops in Chicago and Minneapolis, followed by the nine hour flight to Amsterdam. Arriving in the morning, we didn’t even know what happened to Tuesday – it disappeared. After checking in the the hotel in Amsterdam, we made our way to the downtown area on the tram. What a lovely city. We were very impressed with the bicycle lanes and the cleanliness. The day we were there, we toured the Van Gogh museum and the Anne Frank museum. The Van Gogh museum included over 150 paintings by the famous artist. The Anne Frank museum was quit impressive. We really didn’t know that the hideout was in Amsterdam. We thought it was in Germany. The hideout was much larger than we envisioned. Rather than being cramped into a small area, the hideout included two floors and about seven rooms. There was plenty of room, but little daylight. It’s hard to believe the family hid out for two years. We were able to walk up the same stairway, behind the bookcase, that the family used. It was a wonderful experience. One suggestion for anyone going – purchase your tickets on line. We were taken to the front of the line (the line was about two blocks long). Same suggestion for the Van Gogh museum. On our second day in Amsterdam, we toured the around the city in a boat. Almost every street in Amsterdam is on a man-made canal. The canals were not very wide, and there were many old bridges to pass through. Before leaving the city center, we had a wonderful dinner outside on the street, and listened to the street musicians. These are things we can’t experience in Montrose! That evening, we boarded another plane to go to Istanbul.

Arriving in Istanbul around midnight, we hired a driver to take us to our hotel. The hotel was located about two blocks from the “blue masque” and other very old historical buildings. When we arrived at the hotel, the clerk had a funny look on his face. He stated that there was a problem with our reservation, and that they didn’t have a room for us. That was the bad news. The good news was that he had us a room across the street. He was very apologetic, and offered us a free breakfast the following morning. The room was fantastic. After walking around the street (and getting lost), we finally retired about 3:30 am. The street was very busy at this hour, as there were many people at the bars and restaurants. The next morning we ate our free breakfast on the roof of the hotel, where we could see a panoramic view of the area. The waterway was fantastic, with lots of freighters. We toured the Blue Masque and the Sultan grounds. The Sultan grounds and palace were ancient structures, that included many buildings from the 12th – 18th century. After showering, we were driven back to the airport, where we continued on our trip to Turkmenistan. In just a few hours, we would see our beautiful daughter. We were very tired, but were very excited. Not many American’s have even heard of Turkmenistan, and we were three hours away from being there.

We had another full day in Amsterdam on our way home. This time, we felt that we knew exactly where we were going. The Saturday we were there, was a special day. This is the day where the women dress as guys, and the guys dress as women. The street was packed and there were many more “women” then “men”. It was a very interesting day, with lots of pictures. As most people know, prostitution and drugs are legal in Amsterdam. The “XXX” moniker on the city flag has nothing to do with the sex industry. It has more to do with a 15th century church symbol.

Part II: Asgabat

When we arrived in Ashgabat at 2:30 am, we were whisked through customs and there she was. What a lovely sight and a fantastic welcome. Abby was there holding a sign that said “Welcome to Turkmenistan”. After hugs and kisses, we ventured to the car and were driven to our hotel. After a little conversation, we all slept well. Turkmenistan offered us the opportunity to see many things. Below are some of our collective thoughts.

Asgabat is a beautiful city with numerous monuments and parks. There are many high rise buildings (reminding us of the condo’s in Florida’s coast). Construction was ongoing. Although there were many buildings, there weren’t many people. Safety was never an issue. Throughout the entire stay in Turkmenistan, we always felt safe. The local people are very friendly. Many times when they knew we were from America, they had many questions for Abby. Abby was the official translator. It was very interesting to hear her converse with the locals in their native Turkman language. The museums in Ashgabat are awesome looking, but unfriendly to tourists. After trying to visit the National Carpet Museum, we decided to not get ripped off by paying a high price. The one museum we did go into (in Mary), we were the only people in the museum. It appeared to us that the museums were for show only. Our trip to the bazaar outside of Asgabat was a challenging cultural experience. The bus ride was interesting – it was an oven. There were about 60 people on the bus with 20 seats. The bus was a very old bus. Dad dripped sweat all over the cute 12 year old girl sitting in the seat below. She was very friendly, offering him her school notebook as a fan. The day we went was about 110 degrees. At the bazaar, we saw many animals for sale (including camels). You could purchase anything, including clothes (including underwear), carpets, animals, food, household items, and appliances. The bazaar was located on the sand outside of town on about 20 acres. The “merchants” would lay down their carpet and sit on them on the ground with their wares. Abby and Judy bargained for the best deal on multiple scarves.
During our stay in Asgabat, we had the opportunity to have dinner with Abby’s school counterpart, Sedar and his family. They welcomed us like we were old friends. Mike tried the camel milk (don’t try it). Sedar and his wife made us a fantastic dinner. We enjoyed their hospitality.

One day, the carpet maker picked us up and we went to his house for lunch. His wife made a wonderful Turkman lunch with all the fixings. After lunch we went to the carpet store. Judy had been saving for her carpet for over a year. Today was the day. After much discussion, she selected a fine rug for the dining room and another one for the bedroom. Again, the hospitality of the Turkman people shined.
Leaving the beautiful city of Asgabat took us to a the village where Abby lives and teaches. It was like a step back in time. Abby’s host family is a simple, loving gracious family. They reminded Judy of her childhood, where there was a large family meal, then dad going off to work. At one point, mom went out back to milk the cow. There were chickens in the yard. We were made to feel as we were part of the family. When the vodka came out, Abby translated a toast. Judy enjoyed teaching the little kids some American nursery rhymes. Mike did his juggling act. It was a wonderful visit. We are truly great full for this family taking Abby in and making their home, hers.

There were stark differences between the “city” life and the “village” life. In the city, there are numerous fountains. In the village, there is no running water (yes – water is drawn from the well with a bucket and rope). The city has beautiful buildings and fantastic paved streets and roads. The village has buildings and dirt roads with many potholes. Even though there was the noticeable extremes, the village people appear to be very happy. The simple way of life, where the family sleeps together on a a raised platform (due to the extreme hot weather), appears to be embraced by the people. There was not one hint of negativity due to their living circumstances.

Part III: Mary

Onto the desert. The six hour trip to Mary was quite an experience. Some would call it the “road of death”. We can see why. There is no road in Genesee County that compares. Although our driver was very competent, we thank God for being with us on that road. At times we traveled 80 miles per hour, only to slow to 30 mph. The pavement and shoulders of the road were not very developed. It appeared that it really didn’t matter what side of the road we traveled on, as long as no one was coming and we would win the race. Mike continued to look for his driver education brake! They normally don’t wear seat belts in the back seat. Not Judy, she demanded to have seat belts. The driver quickly found them.
One thing stands out. The further out of the main cities of Ashgabat and Mary we were, the more primitive the transportation. At one point, we passed a donkey cart with a young boy controlling the reigns. As he was “driving” the cart, he was texting on his cell phone. Would have made for a very interesting picture.
It was amazing to see many of the ruins of the ancient cities of Merv and Mary. Some of the ruins dated to 2300 BC. After traveling six hours the previous day, we had another three hours into the desert. Once we turned on the “road”, all we could see was a “sand” road. For the last 25 miles, we saw no people. Mike was worried what would happen if we got stuck. It was only 125 degrees out. Although most of the time the heat was tolerable (no humidity and slight breeze), this day was hot. Mike had to go back to the shade about half way through the tour.
It was in Mary (day 4-5 in T-stan) that our stomachs began to disagree with us. The food was fantastic (lamb and chicken) and the beer was cold. For the last five days of our trip we couldn’t venture too far from the bathroom. It took us almost a week after we got home before we could keep food in us.

On one of the tours of ancient ruins, we ran into a group of teenage Turkmenistan girls (probably high school age). They were quite curious about us. After Abby started a conversation and they realized we were from America, they wanted pictures. All they could say in English was “Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Mike was then known as Arnold to them.
Part IV: Conclusion

The anticipation of our trip gave way to the realities of the travel. The trip home included four planes (Ashbabat to Amsterdam to Minneapolis to Detroit). Nine planes in thirteen days.
The Peace Corps staff and PVC’s were awesome. A group of wonderful, competent young adults making a difference in the world. I’m sure we speak for all PCV parents that we are honored to have these young adults representing our families. Our thanks to Earl and staff for watching over them.

This is one trip we will never forget. Turkmenistan is a beautiful country, with lots to offer. It would be nice to see the improvements to the countryside in about 50 years. Our visits with Sedar and his family, the carpet purchase, and the visit to Abby’s host family were highlights of the trip. We had a WONDERFUL time with our BEAUTIFUL daughter. We cannot say how proud we are of Abby. She has grown to be a fantastic young lady. Thank you Abby for sharing your world with us!


Welcome to the Family: The Continuation of a Turkmen Wedding Story August 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — beingthechange4peace @ 5:31 am

Hello all! So if you remember all the way back to February I told you all about how my host brother was going through the process of getting married. At that time my family had just received the dowry list to begin purchasing items for the new bride. So I’ll pick up where we left off.

Now, I cannot tell you all that was on the list, because frankly I don’t know everything, but to put it into an America prospective it was a lot like having a bridal shower. In the US couples have bridal shower where their friends and family literally will shower them with gifts that they have pre-registered for at department stores. Well, Turkmen dowries are not that different. The bride writes a list of what she would like to receive and the boy’s family must provide her with everything at a party that is held at the girl’s house. The main difference is that the gifts are all provided by the boy’s family, but extended family members help in this process. Our new bride’s dowry included things like dresses, pillows, and a stereo. It also included more traditional items like 5 kilograms of flour, fried bread, and money to purchase a goat that will be sacrificed at her house the week before the wedding.

It took us a long time (about 6 months) to compile everything that she had requested on the list and then we were able to present her with our gifts at a party at her house. This party was only for the women of the families and in Turkmen it is called Ot Guluk. So a few Saturdays ago we called all of our women relatives and neighbors to our house and we had our Ot Guluk. It was quite a festive affair. It started with all of the women dancing and celebrating at our house as the gifts were loaded into the cars. Then we all piled into a bus and drove over to our new bride’s house to present her with the gifts. Upon arrival we got out and our musicians started up the music for us to dance again as the gifts were brought into her house. Then it was time for everyone from our family to meet the new bride (the Gelin in Turkmen) and welcome her to the family. She was sitting at the head of the “table” (there was no actual table as Turkmen eat on the floor) wearing a small gold crown and looking as demur as a Turkmen Gelin should look, she was very beautiful. Then we all proceeded in a procession to present her with a new head scarf for her to wear when she got married. We all came in a line and laid the scarves on her head, a sign of respect and welcoming her into the family. After the food the real show began, by real show I mean it was time for our family to give everything away.

The presentation of the gifts was done in a separate part of the house because the Gelin should not see the new gifts. When you entered the other room you could see the two families divided waiting in anticipation to see what we would present. There were family representatives with their own copies of the Gelin’s list out ready to check off items as they were presented. Our neighbor and Aunt, Lachyn, was our representative. Then the items were read individually as my host mother and Lachyn passed the gifts to her mother. With every gift there was a gasp of awe at the beauty of our offering. Finally, in the end her mother said we had sufficiently provided for her family and we celebrated with the new Gelin in the other room with cake. The cutting of the cake was interesting because it seemed like the Gelin had to feed everyone. She fed my mother, her mother, her grandmother, and all of my sisters. Then my host mother fed her, her mother, and her grandmother. After the cake ceremony we all went outside, with the Gelin, and she danced for the first time with our family. It was fun to see everyone let lose a little bit. Finally after the dancing we loaded onto our bus again and left. Thus ending the Ot Guluk Ceremony.

The next portion in our saga will be a big one; the weddings! Yes that’s right, plural! Both will take place in September so be on the look out for that post then! Stay tuned as next time I will have more guest bloggers. My parents will be taking a 7 day trip to Turkmenistan to see me, meet my family, and get a real taste of Turkmen culture! It should be a good one! Until then, Sog Bol!


2010 World Cup June 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — beingthechange4peace @ 9:58 am

Hey everyone! I hope you all have had a good relaxing start to your summers. The heat is starting to roll into Turkmenistan and I have a feeling that this summer is going to be a hot one. Just last week the radio said the weather was 50 degrees C, which is 122 degrees F, and it’s only June! While the summer heat is blazing I’ve had a lot of fun with my kids thus far at clubs and I have a feeling that it’s just going to get better. Today I’ld like to share one particularly cool club with all of you specifically designed for summer 2010. I call it the World Cup Football Club (that’s soccer to us yanks)!
If there is one thing I have learned about Turkmen men and boys it’s that they LOVE soccer! With the World Cup now in full swing my host father, brother, neighbors, and boy students can’t get enough of the tournament, it’s constantly on in every household. Seeing as how I knew that my boys would be excited about this tournament and there is no outlet for them to do something constructive during the summer I decided to open up the World Cup Football Club with one of my teachers (who loves soccer and is coincidently a woman, yay for breaking gender barriers!). Seeing as how it’s dedicated to the World Cup we decided that we would not only make it about soccer, but about Geography because unfortunately most of our kids have never seen a world map. Sadly the same can be said for most people here. So twice a week we play at school and on one day a week we have a small Geography lesson where we learn about the 7 continents and some of the countries that are competing in the tournament. The boys are really enjoying the map games we play and are starting to get a little better at it, which is great! After map time we go outside and we play soccer. The boys really love the club and would probably play all night if I let them. What’s also really great about combining it with the international tournament is that by watching the games I can really give the kids some good lessons in sportsmanship. The players in the tournament are these kids’ idols and there have been some moments in the games that have given me some good example to take a share with them about how to be a good sport. And some examples of bad sports too. The lessons in sportsmanship and teamwork are already paying off too as the boys are communicating more effectively and playing like a team. Thus far it’s been a really successful club and I look forward to see what will happen with it in the future.
Also on a personal note I would like to say GO TEAM USA!!! We’ve put up a strong showing in the tournament thus far and I couldn’t be more proud! Looking forward to tonight’s rematch with Ghana!


The Pride and Joy of Turkmenistan May 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — beingthechange4peace @ 5:04 am

Hello all! I’ve got another interesting cultural post for you guys today, but fair warning: it’s a long one! But I think it’s totally worth it. You cannot come to Turkmenistan and experience Turkmen Culture without talking about the pride and joy of Turkmenistan: Turkmen Carpets. As a lot of you may know, the Central Asian region is famous for their carpets. They are prominently displayed in beautiful homes and featured in many movies; you may recall Aladdin and Jasmine flying around on their “Magic Carpet Ride.” Unfortunately, most people are not carpet coinsures so they assume that most beautiful rugs they see are Persian, when in actuality the carpets are probably Afghani, Turkish, or even Turkmen. Since coming to Turkmenistan I have learned a lot about Turkmen carpets and can now identify them whenever I see them in popular media, most interesting Turkmen Carpet spotting for me was in the 2nd Godfather Movie.

So before I talk about how to identify a Turkmen Carpet I need to talk about their significance in Turkmen Culture. As I’ve mentioned the Turkmen were nomadic people so they had to carry all of their possessions whenever they moved. The carpets were important in their traveling process because they insisted on sitting and sleeping on something that was not the desert sand, the carpet was an ideal solution to the problem because it could be folded and carried from location to location. Not only that but the carpets were used for everything from carrying silverware to the door of the yurts. Carpets were also essential to the Turkmen tribes. Each of the five regions and tribes has their own carpet pattern. These five regional designs are called “guls” or flowers and are featured prominently on the left side of the Turkmen flag (see below). While these are the five main designs not all carpets are adorned with these guls. In fact all of the tribes have two or three different styles of guls.

Regional Guls Top to Bottom:

Akhal, Balkan, Mary, Dashoguz, Lebop

Traditional regional guls are very intricate as you can see from the side of the flag. These guls would often make up a pattern on the carpet. Basically, if you know the gul designs you can identify a Turkmen Carpet and what region it most likely came from. A few of the guls will give hints about the region that they came from. The two most famous examples of Turkmen guls are the Balkan Yomut and the Ahal Teke guls. The Balkan Yomuts live along the Caspian Sea and in their gul you can see what looks like ship anchors and fish. The Akhal Teke live in the most fertile region of Turkmenistan and if you look closely at their gul you can see cotton and a horse, coming out of the edge of the flower design. Cotton is the main crop in the Akhal region and the Akhal Teke horses are famous lean racehorses that come from the region. The most interesting regional carpets that I have seen though come from the Lebop region. They come with various animals that you would see roaming in the desert like scorpions and snakes! These animal designs are not traditional though. All traditional Turkmen carpets have a deep red background and all natural colors, silk, and hand crafted. These days you can still find handmade, all natural carpets made of half silk and half cotton fibers; the main difference is that they will probably have a different background color (tan is a very popular background color). Some companies are now producing machine cotton carpets with Turkmen designs (rumor has it that you can find a Akhal Teke style carpet at Ikea in the states… no joke).

Balkan Yomut (note anchors and fish)

Akhal Teke (look at the black protrusions from the inner design… the three black things are 3 cotton flowers and the horse head is at the top protruding inward towards the cotton, these are a little harder to distinguish)

Now I always have reasons as to why I post these cultural blogs and this week’s reason is because I purchased a Turkmen carpet last weekend! My family (American that is) decided that a carpet would be a wonderful birthday gift for me and gave me the money to purchase my own Turkmen carpet and ship it home. So huge shouts out to my family for helping me get this awesome souvenir! Now onto the story of the carpet that I fell in love with when I saw it (you can see it pictured below). This gul is an Akhal Teke gul, which is the region and the tribe of people that I live and work with. It’s not their famous traditional gul though; this gul’s name is the “Kejebe Gul.”  When the Turkmen lived in yurts they often traveled with camels. Whenever the Teke tribe would welcome a new bride to their tribe they would carry her into the settlement in a basket on top of a camel, this procession was called the Kejebe. Because the trip was usually a far journey through the hot desert the basket would be covered with the carpet to shade the new bride from the blistering heat. So this style of carpet was appropriately named Kejebe and refers to the traditional wedding procession of the bride to her new homeland and tribe.

My Akhal Teke Kejebe Turkmen Carpet

Close Up of the Teke Kejebe Gul

When I was learning about the history of this carpet I learned another interesting fact that I didn’t realize about modern Turkmen culture. After women are married they are paraded around their new in-laws families and neighbors to introduce her to the members of her new “tribe.” We’ve had many new brides presented to our family and we always serve them with a large meal whenever they come to show our hospitality. When the new brides come though they wear huge and heavy tent like structure on their heads, I had never known why until today. The tent is made to symbolize the Kejebe Carpet tent that covered the bride’s camel basket as she traversed the desert. It’s the modern Turkmen’s way of connecting to their beloved traditions and history!

So as you can see, Carpets are truly the pride and joy of Turkmenistan. They even have a holiday to celebrate their beloved carpets (which just so happens to be the last Sunday of May). Everyone that comes here cannot leave without a beautiful carpet, it’s an essential part to the Turkmen cultural experience and I am proud to say that I will be taking such a huge piece of Turkmenistan home with me.


A Turkmen Fairytale May 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — beingthechange4peace @ 3:03 am

So I don’t have any really interesting stories this month and I tough I’ld tell you about a farytale that is centered aroud my village! I may have mentioned before, but I live near one of the Turkmen historical sites. It’s known as the Old Mosque of Anew, but locals call it Sanjemal Edin. Sanjemal Edin in unfortunately now in ruins as it was destroyed in the 1948 earthquake that destroyed Ashgabat and the surrounding areas. Before the earthquake though it was famous because it was the only mosque in the world that was adorned with two entwined Chinese style dragons, no other mosque in the world has animals decorating the outside. So this mosque was very unique. I asked my host family about the dragons last week and my host mom told me an interesting story. Sanjemal Edin is named after the sultan who once lived there, Sanjemal Edin. Sanjemal was a very kind and wise sultan and beloved by everyone who lived in Anew. The people of Anew knew that the mountains near Anew were home to two ferocious dragons and they fear going into the mountains. One day as the dragons were eating their dinner of mountain goats when suddenly one of the dragonsbegan to cough wildly. The horned mountain goat she had been eatingwas stuck in her throat and she was choking! The other dragon wasdistressed because his mate was dying. Not knowing what to do he flewdown to the village to implore the people for help. He pleaded with the people to help him, but they all ran away from the dragon out of fear. Finally he pleaded with Sanjemal Edin to help his mate and he agreed to go with the dragon to the mountain to help his mate. When Sanjemal Edin saw the dragon in pain and unable to breath he knew what the problem was and he climbed in the beast’s mouth and sawed off the horns of the goat so she could breathe again. The dragons were so thankful for Sanjemal Edin that they rewarded him for his kindness by showing him where he could find hoards of gold, silver, and jewels in the mountain! The dragons also promised to protect Sanjemal Edin and his descendents and from that day on there was a beautiful friendship that formed between the dragons and the people of Anew. When Sanjemal Edin was dying and building his mosque he decided to decorate it with the likeness of his two protectors and they stayed there until 1948. While the dragons no longer guard the entryway to the Mosque the people of Anew still remember their faithful protectors.