Hojagala village, Balkan region: the Appalachia of Turkmenistan
This small quintessential Turkmen village in the flatlands of the Western Balkan Mountains has many similarities to regions of the United States known as Appalachia in the great states of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Here are just a few:
- Guns and Religion
- Population per square kilometer
- Teeth per capita
- Births per capita
- Inbreeding per capita
- Hojagala: Where Gossip is news and news is toilet paper!
Reasons to visit: There is an American living there. A very intellectually-starved American who will show you the finer points of Turkmen hospitality in exchange for news of the outside world. Lots of carpets and carpet making! ExperienceHiking in the mountains! Foxes, leopards, hedgehogs, turtles and antelope!! Anthropological study? Genetic study? Mental health study? To see if your tough enough to brave my toilet? Just come.
Travel tips: The water is not vegetarian. All kinds of creatures love to live in or around uncovered toilets including lizards, giant beetles and birds (yes, we found this one out the hard way!) Also it is advisable to bring extra sunscreen for it is entirely possible to get sunburned on your precious buns while feeling the effects of the living water. There’s no such thing as “where the sun don’t shine” out here. Bring your own satellite phone. When you need to use the village’s one phone the most it is likely to not be working. Blame the narcomen for cutting our wires! Popping squats anywhere at night is better than braving the toilet, you just may need to change your socks more frequently. When people say “til the cows come home” they are referring to around 8:30 which is when the cows actually do come home.
How to Find Wild Mushrooms:
1. Immediately after it rains or when its still raining if its been raining for a day or so go out to flat meydans (plains) where mushrooms grow. You can follow the other mushroom hunters or ask someone where they found them last year.
2. Find a friend to go hunt for the sneaky fungi with you. It will help pass the time (you’ll be there for at least a few hours if you want to fill a whole grocery bag) and help you catch the ones you missed.
3. Get a big packette to put your mushrooms in and make it your goal to fill it. Don’t drink too much tea before hand, as there is no real brush cover on the meydans and with other hunters it will be hard to be discreet.
4. When you arrive at the meydan search for greener areas of interspersed dirt and brush clumps. That’s where the shrooms like to generate.
5. Search these areas by scanning the earth for areas where the ground is broken and looks like something is about to erupt from the soil underneath like an alien embryo or crusty pimple, but much more appetizing. The real “gelin komelek” – bride mushrooms- the ones that are good to eat- do not usually show much above the surface and are white-topped with brown undersides and fat stalks. If they do and are yellow or black topped with skinny stalks they are the “yilan komelek”- snake mushrooms- which are no good, apparently.
6. With your hand or knife (use knife if you are squeamish of earwigs or baby scorpions since they tend to like to chill near the mushroom stumps) remove dirt layer and reach under mushroom cap and pull on stump.
7. Continue til your bag is full or your head is spinning from scrutinizing dirt patches for hours.
8. Wash and clean. The Turkmen remove the spore gill area but I think its tasty.
9. Cook or not and enjoy your tasty toadstool. They are a limited time treat so make as many mantys (Turkmen steamed dumplings) and omelettes as you can tolerate while you can.
Poem of the oba
The wind sweeps down over the folds of the parched plateaus
into this tender earthen bowl
firmly cupping white-washed stone and mud-packed blocks
surrounded by scratches of barbed wire and salvaged metal scraps to guard precious foliage from hungry mouths.
the landscape peppered with course, furry dots shifting on the green sprouting meydans
that bear witness to the fallen rain.
Song birds whistle and call, trilling and dipping between homes and grazing cattle
their voices indistinguishable from school boys tending their flocks and passing time.
The sun slips non-chalantly behind the sloping shoulder of the western mountains.
It pays no heed to the sleepy crumbling buildings or their histories.
It does not tell of the petty rivalries, runaway brides or children lost. Nor the scarcity and abundance of seasons past.
It ticks out its patterns, rhythmically counting
row by row, set by set
as steadily as the young women pack their rows of colored yarn closer together,
beating out a familiar tempo with their fork-like combs:
red, red, black, red, white, red, black,
blacks of green and indigo hues and saffron orange
red, red, red, black
tie one and leave two
pull through and tighten rows.
Pixelled shapes take form from unwritten patterns,
A girl leaves her cushion empty, runs away to a new life
her darak does not sit motionless for long, new hands find the rhythm,
Images blossom beneath the nimble, scarred fingertips
holding the stories of their lives, handed down,