Turkmenistan has lots of lessons to teach, unfortunately most of them are tough lessons about survival. Making it through the harsh summer dust storms, blazing heat and immense boredom is definitely a feat in itself. Then comes the heaven sent melon season and the produce flows through the markets into small villages like mine and life is bearable. Summer is also vacation season for PCVs and my first out-of-country trip took me to Turkey to revisit the beautiful city I glimpsed briefly on my way here and rekindle an old flame. Michael and I spent the first 2 days in the heart of the tourist area of Sultanahmet in a nice B & B type hotel where we made friends with hotel staff who took us out to eat and walk around the city. Then we decided to stay in Taksim, the popular cultural center of the city, for the next few days. Our first day there we saw a protest and despite the fact that I had no idea what was being demonstrated I was deeply touched by the show of citizens participating in their government. The street fairs, open air cafes, Spice Bazaar and live music overwhelmed me with culture and I felt enveloped by the spirit of Istanbul. Later, after our brief encounter with Turkish cop-show actors (you may even catch us in the promos for the new season!) and watching Ice Age 3 in Turkish (lots of squeaks and eeks are pretty universal) we took a night bus 12 hours to the Mediterranean coast town of Fethiye and stayed in a wonderful little place called the Farah Pension, owned by a helpful and friendly Turkish couple. We made day trips to docks where boats were being made and remodeled, explored various beaches (including one that made us feel like we were in a kind of British Pleasure Island) and did some great hiking and biking around, too. We even met up with a Turkish friend from Hospitality club who had shown my friends and I around on my first trip to the city and had some good food, wine and conversation.
The beauty of vacation can sometimes be overshadowed by the typical "post-vacation blues" that a lot of PCVs and other people experience and 10 days seem to fly by. When I arrived back, I could only play the tough guy until I hit the airport and then the smell of Turkmenistan and the bleakness of my mountain village's scenery brought the fact that I had been removed far from the cultural metropolis and excitement of my trip to Istanbul home to me in one fell swoop. The fact that my beloved counter-part was on sabbatical made work even more difficult, but luckily after a few rough days and a visit from Peace Corps staff to try and rework things at my health clinic, I was back to my old self and ready to recommit to the second year of service.
A few days ago we had another surprise and challenge to all of the current PCVs in Turkmenistan's morality- the news that the expected 2009 class of volunteers were not granted permission to come this year, but will have to wait until next year. Things right now are not all that clear and there are lots of ideas flying around about what the future of Peace Corps in Turkmenistan will hold, but we are told to continue working and we will see what next year will bring. For me in the village, it does not change too much, although now there would be the opportunity for me to move to the city if I need to since I would not be taking a new volunteer's position there anymore. For now though, things are going well in my village. My most fulfilling work, of course, is done with the children and there is now a devoted and expanding group of kids who come out for my sports club and health club. The health club barely squeezes into the waiting room area of the maternity section of our clinic, but I am just happy to have any space to work with children. Their excitement and ethusiasm keeps me going. The other day I saw "little Mary", the 6th baby girl of a family whose real name is Altyn Ay (Golden/6th Moon..Alty is 6 and Altyn is gold so its a play on words kind of), but her 5 older sisters all wanted to call her Mary. She is growing prettier everyday, my little namesake. And babies that were born last year when I arrived are starting to toddle around and walk already. Its great to be able to measure my service in terms of other little peoples' lives. In terms of cultural adjustment, language and learning to make work for myself here we PCVs seem to follow a similar, if condense development.
Well, its time for me to get back to my village in time for my counter-part's son's marriage. I'm so happy she'll be back next week and hopefully we will start working on developing materials for birth support partners in Turkmen. That should keep me busy for a bit.
Hope you are all well and enjoying the crispness of fall. We are planning Halloween activities for our students during the Fall Break coming up at the end of the month. There may even be some trick-or-treating going on in this small village in Central Asia, who knows?!