Reads: 258

~~Hello again and welcome to this new edition. Lately the weather has really heated up to scorching proportions, so find a spot in the shade, pick up a cool Fanta, and sit awhile with me here, Under The Turkmen Sky.
 The beginning of the month had me traveling to Ashgabat for English Teacher Committee meeting and peer support training. Unfortunately I had to arrange my own transportation. Here that involves three options. The first is to travel by plane, which is fast and affordable. The flight is fifty minutes long and only forty thousand manat (roughly $1.50). The drawback to this method is that the ticket line at the airport is a mad house and you have to have mastered some ever changing formula to discover the exact route for acquiring a ticket. As best I have discerned it works like this; first you go eight days prior to your flight in the evening to put your name on a list. Second you return at 6 am the next day to confirm your name on the list. Third you return at 9 am when they start selling tickets and push and yell your way through the people as you constantly try to track your place on the list and keep people from cutting the line. So you as you can see it doesn’t quite fit into the schedule of one who does not wish to be convicted of international homicide to go through this process. The second route is to take a 6-7 hour taxi ride. The draw back to this is that at 130-150 thousand Manat (roughly $6-7) it can be quite expensive. The third route is the 10-12 hour train ride. This is usually a good route since a train ticket costs about the same as a plane ticket, without all the craziness in buying it. This route is often practical since the train travels through the night, so that you leave around 6 pm in the evening and arrive between 6-8 am the next day, and you can lie down and sleep on the train. The only drawback there was this time, was that the weather had grown hot, and not only are the trains not air conditioned, but the window in the passenger compartment does not open either. So I found myself in my own traveling easy back oven trying to sleep my way to well done. Fortunately I was able to pass out for most of the ride and did not drown in the pool of sweat that I had pruned away into. The meetings went well and after a bout of mandatory Ashgabat intestinal affliction, and seeing some neat dragonflies that loved the camera, I sprung the extra money and took the taxi back.
 Life here tends to have its interesting quirks. For instance the part of town I live in is called Davarets Himick. This translated from Russian into English renders The Chemical Palace. How debonair and chic to think that I live in the Chemical Palace, however the charm is spent on the name as it is derived from the agricultural chemical plant nearby which incessantly puffs out billows of smoke into sky.
 This month I had a chance to attend a Sadaka or also known as Houday Yoly. Both are a general term for a religiously based lunch. They will throw a Sadaka when someone dies, gets back from military service, a baby is born, or just for health in general. Sometimes they are held at a cemetery which makes it especially interesting. In general they are rather painless and only require about an hour of one’s time. The one I attended this past month was especially interesting as I got to see the blending of Islam with ancient pagan tradition from the area.  In many places they have shrine sites. At the shrine site I visited for this particular Sadaka rested the tomb of someone who was supposed to have been a prominent religious figure and a sacred tree. The people would circle the tomb three times while touching their hands to the tomb and then to their faces. After this they would circle the tree, which had pieces of cloth tied to its branches representing wishes, three times doing the same as before. From here they went to take a drink from a special well. After the visit to the tomb, wishing tree, and well, everyone then sat down for lunch, ate and left.
 With the scorching heat I put my sewing skills and knowledge of the foreign legion into action to fashion a cap to keep the sun out of my eyes and off my neck and ears. It has been quite effective in fighting the sun and really confusing people as to where I am from. I got from France to Saudi Arabia. So thus the cap has proven ingenious on a myriad of levels. It was well used when I went on a picnic with two of my students’ family. We drove out near a river and rice paddies and had a relaxing picnic with French fries and friend lamb. It was great. The most interesting part was the tea. Now the Turkmen love their tea. No matter what the occasion or weather, tea has got to be there. So how does one make tea out on a picnic, well I am glad you asked. They find wood and start a fire which seems dangerously close to other shrubberies and stick a metal pitcher in it. Somehow the whole place doesn’t burn down, and they end up with nice piping hot tea to match the nice piping hot day. Overall it was a very pleasant experience. I even got to see people throwing the rice seeds out in the paddies, and take a lengthy stroll to the Amu Darya River and get my feet mud soaked.
 The crowning event of this month was my trip to the Mary region. I went to visit another volunteer and visit an archeological site. When I first arrived the volunteer was going to coach a baseball team, so I went along. Since they were down a couple people and for lack of coordination, I played as the all time, underhand pitcher. I thought of the strange odds and circumstances that brought me to a play a game that I next to never played back in the US, here in this remote region of the earth. Either way it was a lot of fun. A small group of little children sat quietly on the side acting as a fan section. At first I tried to be as neutral as possible and not field balls, but then fearing that the game would last all night I made it my goal to get both teams out as quickly as possible. The next morning we headed out to Margush, an archeological site which besides rivaling Chichen Itza as the archeological site with the most fun name to say, has to be one of the oldest places I’ve been to. Perhaps the best part in Margush was getting there. It is about a two hour ride from the city, with the last half hour being a winding, bumpy, up and down ride where Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride meets Laurence of Arabia. When three members of your party vomit along the way, you know it’s gotta be good. After the delightful trip to the desert we arrived at the partially excavated ruins of a Bronze Age site known as Margush. The site itself is rather drab and not very awe inspiring in appearance. It is believed to be a birthplace of Zoroastrianism and housing what are believed to be many ovens, and a fire temple. However little is know about the inhabitants since no written records have been found. I did get to see and touch a four thousand year old jar, and all in all it was fascinating to walk, eat, and throw watermelon rinds where people had done the same things centuries earlier. The last day of my trip to Mary we went swimming in a little lake called clean water, which closely enough lives up to its name. It felt great to go swimming again and felt odd to think that it has been about seven months since the last time I had been swimming. It was well worth the sun burn that followed.
 So life goes on here. Each day is a new adventure. For under the Turkmen Sky this is James say, “I don’t think this Turkey is quite done, let it ride the train a little longer.” May the Lord bless and keep you.


Submitted: May 17, 2015

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