I have been getting more questions about things like what do Turkmens wear, what do they eat, how do they live, and so on and so forth. Obviously it’s a wee bit difficult to sum up an entire country and its culture in a few paragraphs. But I’ll take a swing at a few topics, just to fill in some of the blanks.
A lot of what I read online before I came I have found to be quite right on the money. Talking to a few of my fellow volunteers here, it seems we all tuned in to the same information before we came: current and past volunteers blogs. The random stuff I remember reading, like for instance, how they play the Star Wars theme song on the radio before every news broadcast, or how every car is actually a functioning taxi, is indeed true. Fact: I now listen to the star wars theme song on a daily basis, and can now humm it by memory. Fact: I can walk out my front door, into the street, stick out my hand, and pretty much the next car that stops, if they’re headed my way, I hop in and for 10,000 manats (about 75 cents) they’ll drop me wherever I need to go, no questions asked. Why is this ok? Everybody’s out to make a bit of extra cash, so what’s the problem with utilizing those empty seats? And due to the Soviet Union being here for so long, everybody’s still got a good taste of not wanting to be in trouble with “the law”. So the bottom line is: no funny business. You get in, you get dropped off, its that simple. Not that crime isn’t unheard of here, but comparatively speaking, Turkmenistan one of the safest countries in the world. Still don’t believe this is a completely tame country? How about that one of the biggest symbols of the country is called the Arch of Nutrality, which is this impressive robot looking statue in the center of the capital city. It looks kind of like a huge rocket ship straddling a few roads, covered in changing colored lights, and topped with a moving golden statue of a past president with a flowing cape It is set so that the statue is always following the rotation of the sun, which you can tell by how the cape is flowing behind him. The golden statues job, you ask? To remain neutral ladies and gentleman. Notice a theme?
Food; always a fun topic of conversation. I had heard the food was not figure friendly here, Oily, heavy, bread by the ton, and no veggies. First impression, ok…a little bit true. Turkmen LOVE their bread. And their cotton seed oil. And Potatoes are just damn cheap, so why not eat them for breakfast? Soup, or Chorba, as it called here, is a big staple of Turkmen diet. I have soup at least once a day, although often it is two times a day. One of their National dishes is something called Dograma, which they eating at parties and weddings, and is a soup with bread broken up in a broth of chicken and onions. Mixed reviews on this one. Another National dish is called Palov –pronounced pall-ow-which literally translated to rice pilaf. It is rice boiled in cottonseed oil with lots of fried carrots and a few pieces of whatever meat is handy tossed in. I like this one, although I try not to think about the three cups of oil that is in it. Another popular national dish is called Unash, which is another soup with beans and homemade boiled noodles mixed in. They serve it with a side of camel yogurt, so you take a spoonful of yogurt, mix it to taste, and voila, creamy noodle soup stuff. This one is allright to, all though I think I like it mostly because it is one of the only meals that has milk in it, hence one of my only sources of calcium now.
I have already noticed in the last two weeks veggies have pretty much disappeared from our food tables. When we arrived there were cucumbers and tomatoes coming out our ears. Now however, the green has mostly disappeared from the table, and I think we’re looking at a long winter of potatoes. Exporting and importing seasonal veggies in this area of the world is too expensive, so when the growing season is over, that’s the show folks-wait until spring comes back. Although in the last week or so I’ve had a good amount-my mom will appreciate this- Kimshee. It’s a Korean dish of pretty much any vegetable soaked in a Vinegar-like mixture and some spice. But even Kimshee is starting to become rare on the table. I have a feeling in a few weeks my veggies are going to consist of canned tomatoes and pickles for the next 5 months. If anyone wants to try and air mail me some cucumbers…lets just say if the box made it, you would be my bestest new friend ever. On the other side, I’m suppose going to have to develop a better relationship with potatoes and utilize those Billie Blanks disks I brought I suppose…
Well, I think that covers a few things. I’m going to try and attach some fotos I took, with a trick one of my techno savy volunteer pals showed me, so hopefully it works. One is a picture of Anew, where I live now, with the long windy dirt road. I walk home on this road every day. Theres also a picture of some of the houses around where I live, which I took from my room. Theres one of some friends and I in front of a BIG mosque-which is where the old president is buried, right outside the capital, and supposedly the largest mosque in Central Asia. Also a foto of my four training site mates and I-these are the folks I spend pretty much all my waking hours with. Good people. And another foto of my family baking bread in the Tamdyr-a holy oven Turkmens soley for their chorek, or bread. Its holy for them so there’s a whole set of rules on how to treat the bread and its oven. Some general bread rules:
1. Never swear or tell lies around the bread. Bad karma and VERY disrespectful. This keeps mealtime conversation very tame.
2. Never step OVER or in front of the bread. Also bad karma.
3. Do not lean, dirty, or break the Tamdyr.
4. Do not put the bread face down. The small designs pressed on the top of the bread must always face Allah, or the sky.
5. When you tear a piece of bread for yourself, you must tear the bread by holding it evenly with both hands so that it doesn’t touch the ground when you eat.
6. Finish the bread piece that you tore for yourself. No crumbs left behind, people. There’s some good history to this one: when times were tough, bread was all people had, so if you do not finish your bread, you are not respecting the hardship that your ancestors went through in times of hunger.
Just one set of table manners to live by. Until next time, ya'll