The latest news from Sharon Sugarek in Ashgabat.
Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving. Here in Ashgabat this year, the
Ambassador invited a bunch of us over for turkey and everyone brought
a favorite dish to share. It was a lovely day with warm weather in the
afternoon so we were able to sit our on the patio until the sun went
down. Then it got a little cool. All in all, a very pleasant holiday.
We had a wonderful Swearing In ceremony for the newest group of 56
Volunteers on November 14th. We had more than 500 people attend the
ceremony and received a letter of congratulations from the President
of Turkmenistan. It was an exciting time for the new Volunteers and
for the staff as well. So now, the Volunteers have all gone off to
their work sites and the staff is recovering from the intensive
training period we just completed with them. What a fine group of
people they are. Guess that's what makes this job so rewarding.
I had originally planned to go to Istanbul in November and would have
been there about the time they bombed the British Consulate and the
Jewish Synagogues there. Would have been in a different part of town
but it still makes one pause! It is really a shame these crazy people
are running around blowing up things. Anyway, I hope it calms down
there. It is a lovely city with lots of history.
I am very excited about my upcoming trip to Thailand. I have wanted to
visit there for many years but never had the opportunity. But on
December 7th I will be going for two weeks. The plan is to spend about
10 days on the beach in Koh Lantajust south of Phukett and 4 days in
Bangkok. I hope that the place we are staying is nice. I'm looking
forward to good Thai and Indian food and some rest and relaxation.
Seems that when I am in country, I am on call 24 hours a day seven
days a week, especially during training periods. So two weeks with no
one to be responsible for except myself sounds appealing!
Had a great time putting up my Christmas tree yesterday. I bought a
fake tree last year and have managed to find assorted things to
decorate it with in addition to the stuff I brought with me. Somehow,
I'm not quite in the Christmas spirit yet but baking cookies will
probably help. It has been sort of a tradition here to send little
Christmas packages to the Volunteers. The packages usually include
home baked cookies as well as assorted other goodies. This year they
will have bars of Ivory soap since I was able to buy a bunch from an
American leaving the country. We usually include some American candy
and a pen or marker as well. The staff has a good time putting them
together and the Volunteers enjoy their treats. But this year we have
92 Volunteers here, so we have a lot of cookies to bake!!
I'm afraid this update is not too exciting. There is not a lot going
on that I can tell you about. The situation here continues to get more
and more difficult. This puts a constant strain on the Volunteers who
are trying to do their work and on the staff who are trying to work
with the authorities to remove barriers, when new ones are thrown up
every day. There was an interesting report issued by the International
Crisis Group recently that talked about the Youth in Crisis in Central
Asia. I've included some of the information from their press release
below. It gives you some insight into why we keep trying to make a
small difference every day. (Those of you who have decent Internet
speed can probably download the whole report. I'm working on that as I
type this document.)
Central Asian Youth In Crisis, Group Warns
UN Wire, Tuesday, November 4, 2003
The poverty, illiteracy, drug use and despair that plague Central
Asia's huge population of young people could foment serious trouble
in the future without focused national and international attention,
the International Crisis Group <http://www.intl-crisis-group.org
In a new report, Youth in Central Asia: Losing the New Generation
, ICG said struggling economies and crisis-riddled education systems
that have suffered since post-Soviet independence have left young
people with few job prospects and little hope, a state of affairs that
has left an opening for escapism through drug use, crime or membership
in radical Islamist or Christian groups. The HIV infection rate is
soaring and many young people are emigrating from the region.
ICG advises the governments of Central Asia to raise education
spending to pre-independence levels, retrain teachers and encourage
critical thinking rather than rote learning. The report says
Turkmenistan's education system in particular seems to be geared to
"produce a generation of automatons who know nothing but state
It is a matter of great concern since there are lots of bright,
talented young people here.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because the idea is to stop and
give thanks for all that we have. The thing I am most thankful for is
that my ancestors got on the boat and came to America. From my
previous experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer I also added hot
showers and drinkable milk to the list of things I am thankful for
every day. And from my current Peace Corps experience I will add
personal freedom and the support of family and friends to the list of
things that I won't take for granted any more. We Americans are so
I'll close now with good wishes to you and your family for a wonderful
holiday season and a happy New Year.