The latest from Sharon Sugarek in Turkmenistan. Sharon goes shopping.
April 4, 2004
For many months, every time I have thought about something I wanted to
do or see here, I`ve always thought, "It's okay. I have plenty of
time." Well, it turns out that there are many things to do and
see and time is running out. So I am making a concerted effort to do
some of the things I keep saying I want to do.
I may never make to the Camel Market in Peshwar (India) but today I
went to the Camel Market at Tolkuchka! As many of you know, Tolkuchka
is the big, big market in the desert, just outside of Ashgabat. (If
you look up Turkmenistan in the book, "1000 Places to See Before
You Die" you will find Tolkuchka described there.) The main market
day is Sunday although the market is also open on Thursday and
But Sunday is the day to buy livestock and automobiles! So this
morning I got up at 6 am and picked up Enesh, who works for Peace
Corps as a receptionist, and is my friend and shopping buddy for
Tolkuchka! (Enesh and I have been talking about going to the camel
market for at least six months. She has never been either, although
she has lived all her life in Turkmenistan.) Ruth Wheeler, our Admin
Officer, also joined us on this adventure. Enesh and I have made many
a trip out to the desert in search of treasures at the market. But
this morning we were on a mission.
So off we went in search of the Tolkuchka livestock market. Luckily as
we were driving towards Tolkuchka amid all the buses, cars and trucks,
we landed behind a truck bearing two adult camels and two baby camels.
Enesh suggested that we follow the truck since surely it was going to
the market and we were not really sure exactly which road to turn off
on to get to it. Great suggestion as he led us directly into the
livestock market although I'm sure the fellow driving the truck
wondered why some women in a big green Jeep and a Land Cruiser were
following him to the back of the camel market. We obviously did not
have any animals to sell. (I'll explain about why we were in two
later.) After carefully selecting parking places where we thought we
would not be blocked in, we set off to walk through the livestock
market. Ruth remarked that it reminded her a bit of the state fair
back home and it did. Certainly smelled similar!
First we encountered the sheep and goats in rather nice pens. Since it
is lambing season there were lots of baby sheep and goats. For those
of you who have never been around baby goats and sheep, they are
absolutely adorable. I am particularly fond of the solid black lambs
and kids and really wanted to take home a cute little solid black
Persian lamb with me. Ruth took a great picture of me holding the cute
little thing who was only 210,000 manat which is about $10. Of course
they do grow up and then what would I do with him?
After shooting a few photos in the area we spied the camels and made
our way to that section of the market. What an experience. Since it
is baby season for camels, there were lots of momma camels with babies
for sale at the market. Turns out camels are pretty big creatures,
even the babies! I had never been quite that close beforeat
without something between me and the camel, like a car! There were
probably about 50 or more adult camels for sale and most had babies
with them. So here were all these people standing around holding one
or two camels, looking to find a buyer. We found out you can buy a
mother camel and baby for around 9 million manats which is around
$425. And while we were there we saw several deals being struck.
Happily there were a number of Turkmen women in the market so we were
not the only women there. And although everyone stared at us, they
were very nice to us, allowing us to take pictures and answering our
questions. We happened to be able to watch one Turkmen women buying a
camel! She was so happy with her purchase! Meanwhile it turns out
both Ruth and I had spent time on farms growing up and were fairly
comfortable in this market, but Enesh had never been around much big
livestock and was somewhat nervous as we dragged her around to look at
all the animals. But she was a good sport and asked questions for us
and only made us move a couple of times when she thought the camels
were getting too close! (We did encounter a couple of camels who did
not want to be there and were making it known to their owner.) Turns
out the camels market was rather noisy because camels like to talk to
each other! I would guess that with so many babies, that would make
the noisy level go up too. We probably spent at least 30-45 minutes
just watching the camels and taking photos of the whole process going
on in the market.
After that we wandered over to another section of the livestock market
where we encountered lots and lots of trucks full of sheep and goats.
Guess these were the slots for people with fewer animals to sell than
those in the pens. Walking over to that section we encountered a man
who had some interesting wooden bowls he was selling. These bowls are
apparently an indigenous craft, but I have no idea what kind of wood
he uses. Ruth and I each bought a bowl from him. He told us we have to
oil the bowls every day to seal them. So we'll see how that goes.
told us to come back next week when he will have the carved and
decorated wooden soupspoons. While we were talking with him this
fellow comes up and says hello to us. Turns out it is Ali, the Vet who
treats Lulu, my dog, and Serkformerly my cat and now Ruth's
Seems he works at Tolkuchka on Sundays checking the animals as they
come into the market to be sure they are healthy. He also owns a horse
farm or something like that outside of town. He has invited us to come
out and ride when the weather gets nice. The Ahal-Tekke Horses are an
indigenous breed and are quite famous in the region. They are
beautiful horses. Something to look forward to! He has also invited us
to go to the horse races here too. So next month when they start we
are going to take him up on his offer. He said he will take back where
the horses are to meet the owners and see the inside of the racetrack.
Should be very interesting. No official betting here, but I hear
wagers are made on the side.
After chatting for a few minutes, Ali went back to the gate and we
wandered through the row of sheep and goat trucks, spotting one truck
that had about 8 little black and white baby goats, along with about
two dozen older goats. They were very cute and I thought Enesh might
take one homeexcept she lives in apartment so it wouldn't
work out! .
We learned that an adult sheep cost about $20 more or less. But we
didn't buy any. Then it was on to the cattle. Lots of cattle,
just standing around holding themincluding a number of Turkmen
But as we wandered through, I saw several nice year-old cows but did
not ask how much they cost. I have to admit that after the camel
market, the cattle section was rather anticlimactic! We also learned
that sometimes there are horses at the market, but not this week.
So off we went to retrieve our cars to go to the main market which is
maybe a half mile or so away. And of course when we get back to our
cars we find that they have become the back row and we are blocked in!
But there is a small boy sitting in one of the cars so we send him to
find his father to move the car. The father comes and a conversation
ensues between him and Enesh in Turkmen. The man is teasing her
(maybe), saying that since we are only women he does not have to move
the car. Enesh tells him that we are foreigners and visitors and he
should be nice to us. He says okay and moves the car and we all say
"thank you" and wave goodbye. What an interesting exchange.
Now you might be wondering why three women need two big cars to go to
the market. But there is a very simple reason. We had two missions
todaynot just one. Our second mission was to buy top jon
our top jons. You might recall that a top jon is a wooden platform
with sides that is placed outside usually in the shade. This is the
place where everyone sits, and often where they eat and sleep when it
is hot outside. Usually you put a rug down on the surface and then
place flat cushions to lie on and round pillows for your back if you
are sitting against the sideor for your head if you are lying
We figured that because we needed so many cushions, they would not all
fit on one carand we were correct. The lady we bought from was so
happy. We made her day. She made a really good sale. Now when it gets
warm, we are ready!
The rest of the market was fun too. We had several other things on our
shopping listcheesecloth, unbleached muslin, fabric for a
(everyone here changes out of their good work clothes when they get
home), fabric for curtains for the Volunteer sick room, a door mat for
the outside door, etc. So we wandered all around the market. It was
lovely to see the fresh green onions, mint, spinach and cabbage.
Spring is coming. I met a very nice lady selling prayer rugs and
learned that you are not supposed to bargain when you buy prayer rugs,
at least not here. She had some lovely ones and one came home with me!
The market was bustling and we really enjoyed our day out there. I
have some nice photos as well and some day will get them somewhere
were others can see them.
So I hope you had a lovely day, too.