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Welcome to a new journey. Time to experience something that many Americans think about, most know little of, and few actually embark upon, the life of a Peace Corps volunteer. Along with this we’ll experience a land that few of us can pronounce let alone spot on a map, the Land of Turkmenistan. So, welcome on this our Journey Under the Turkmen Sky.

After saying my last goodbyes, ready or not, I checked in my duffle bag, and carried aboard travel bag, and though wow, here is the next 2.25 years of my life. It’s nice having the next couple years well within flight weight restrictions and easily carried to and fro. The first leg of my journey began on an unnamed airline, which I will only refer to as Un-American Airlines. I mean c’mon a two hour flight and no in flight entertainment at all, not even armrest music. What type of crazy, sadistic, airline executive thought of that? What did they think, hey, you know the backs of the chairs are so cool, people could stare at them for hours, let’s see how it works out. After the zombie flight, I made it to DC for the “Staging” event. Basically this was the welcome to the Peace Corps and this is what’s expected of you in the next couple years. They threw a good amount of cash at us for our expenses in DC, so it was time to order the most expensive thing on the menu. It was also fun becoming acquainted with the rest of the volunteers. There is a good mix. 39 of us total going to Turkmenistan, of which a little over fifty percent are female, here are two married couples, and two ladies over fifty. The majority of the volunteers are not surprisingly of the more left side of the political spectrum, which is nice. Since I can get along with most of them and say hey I have been to these places and it’s not that bad. The funniest part of the two day staging event was when we had to do a type of skit to portray a point that we had learned about during the event. My group did a living picture about how safety comes through acceptance in ones community. So we painted the picture of a volunteer with bad guys with knives and guns on one side and their foreign host family pulling them away from the danger by way of the host country flag. So I portrayed the part if the volunteer, with a backpack and the volunteer handbook in my hand, and struck the kooky pose. The comments, that’s great you look like a Mormon missionary. I said that’s funny, “Been there, done that.” Finally the day came to leave for Turkmenistan. It was funny because before we left they went over the flight info, and droned on about the weight restrictions, and others started freaking out. I put it into perspective for those around me. If you flew here with it, then you’ll be able to fly there with it. So We headed to the airport. At the airport I had semi-celebrity encounter. As I sat with some of the other volunteers, we saw an older man, dressed in a crazy colored shirt and tie, with MC Hammer type pants on and half his hair dyed blue. One of the other volunteers said that he is the actual Patch Adams, who was portrayed by Robin Williams in the film of the aforementioned name. I thought wow, he seemed really cool in the movie, so I’ll go talk with him and get my picture with him. It turns out he is nothing like guy in the movie. As we got to where he was sitting, someone else was yelling at him and walking off. I said, “Excuse me Dr Adams, can I get my picture taken with you, I am a big fan of the movie.” He said, no, and then tried to lecture me on how all humans will be extinct in 150 years, and the US government is corrupt, and children are dying all over the world. Through my own personal experiences I told him that everything wasn’t as bad as he said, and stumped him a few times. When that happened he changed the subject. It was funny to then see that after all the complaining he did and talking about how people need to get up and do something to end world hunger, and poverty, and suffering, he then got up and boarded onto the airplane where he sat in first class. The other volunteer then relayed to me how he spoke at her school, and how he had insisted that he be put up in a luxury suite, and tried to charge forty thousand dollars. Because the money used in excess of a coach ticket or regular hotel rooms sure couldn’t be used to help alleviate suffering. It was a bit disappointing since the movie was good. I guess it just shows the magic of Hollywood. So we boarded our Lufthansa flight, and commenced on our first leg for Frankfurt. I sat next to the nicest couple. The husband is American, coast guard retired, and the wife Greek of Italian decent. We had a great conversation, interrupted by the one in-flight movie, and 7 hour flight went by in no time. They were so nice I gave them my 5,000 manat (20 cents) bill that we were given before we left. We then had a four hour layover in Frankfurt. With it raining outside, I decided to stay in the airport, get a bratwurst and Kinder Egg, and chill with some of the other volunteers, until it was time to head for leg two, one movie of the Devil Wears Prada (which was more entertaining than I thought it would be), and Ashgabat. We arrived in Ashgabat at about midnight local time. Surprisingly we went through customs pretty quickly and efficiently, and arrived at the hotel an hour later. The first four days we stayed at a hotel in Ashgabat, which has all the amenities of a Western hotel. During these days we had a lot of classes on health, staying healthy and peace corps policy. After a while I just wanted to shout, “Put down the stick, the horse is dead already stop beating it.” On the up side we began language lessons and had a field trip to the Bazaar and a trip to the ruins of Nissa, which dates back to the 3rd century BC. They don’t know if it was a Parthian Palace or Temple, but is always an amazing experience to walk in an ancient place. On the fourth day we met our host families, and packed up our belongings and headed to our 3 month Pre Service Training Host family homes and villages. I am in the village of Bekrewe with two other volunteers. We each live with a host family and meet together each day for classes. The food is great, and my host mom is a great cook. The first night we had Plow which is a type of fried rice dish, with a little meat and veggies. For breakfast I eat a fried egg, bread and a couple cookies. The other day for lunch we had a dish that reminded me a lot of jiaozi, otherwise known as pot stickers, made with pumpkin. It was nice, for a moment I felt like I was having dinner back in Fuyang with my Chinese family. My room at my host family is huge. It’s like kung fu studio huge. It has two large rugs, a thin mattress on the floor that I sleep on, a table two chairs, and my water filter, which produces some water that has an aftertaste. The two things that will take some getting used to are the bucket bath and the hole in the concrete restroom (with included smell). It’s crazy to think this is where I am. I am someplace most people have never even heard of and this is my life for a little over the next two years. In some moments the road seems very long, but I know somehow the end will be worth it. So this is the first taste of life under the Turkmen Sky. The food is delicious. The living is a bit austere, but I have been blessed with health and strength and a very kind host family. Until the next time we meet, this is James saying, “Mmmmm Turkmenistani jiaozi.” May the Lord Bless and keep you.


Submitted: May 17, 2015

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