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Update from Sharon Sugarek in Turkmenistan

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  • chapinr75081 <chapinr@aol.com>
     February 16, 2003 Happy New Year everyone. Lulu and I had a quiet Christmas and New Years. It was great.  Here in Turkmenistan New Years is a very big
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 19, 2003
       February 16, 2003

      Happy New Year everyone. Lulu and I had a quiet Christmas and New
      Years. It was great.  Here in Turkmenistan New Years is a very big
      holiday, with a big family gathering and meal at midnight. The
      younger folks (teenagers and young adults) usually go out after that
      and party.  Frequent loud explosions of fireworks marked the entire
      evening from 8 pm to 1 am. So no "early to bed" that night. And I
      missed Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve broadcast!  But Lulu and I
      had a nice evening watching movies.

      We are so fortunate in the States. Everything's right there and you
      just go do things and get them done.  Here everything is quite a
      hassle and takes four times as long.  For example, shopping. There
      are no grocery stores as we think of them—one Turkish "supermarket"
      and a lot of little shops.  So to find something specific you either
      have to know where it is before you go, or ask someone, or just look
      and look and look. Once inside a shop, there is no organization or
      things –like a cereal shelf. So you just have to look at everything
      on the shelves to see if you can find what you are looking for. And
      if you ever see something you think you might want, buy it then. Next
      time it may not be there.  So shopping is a much more time-consuming
      task here.  The good part is that the fruits and vegetables and the
      meat are very fresh. But they don't keep very well either. Things
      spoil quickly so you have to shop more often. My housekeeper goes
      once a week to the market and I probably go once a week.  (The big
      excitement last week was finding powdered sugar at the Turkish
      supermarket. That is the first time I have seen it here.

      It is also interesting that one spending more time cooking here as
      well. There is not a lot of prepared food available.  There is a
      little bakery around the corner from the office where I can go and
      buy a carryout pizza (complete with pickles) sometimes. But other
      than that either I cook or I have to have someone else cook (which I
      don't do very often.)  There are of course restaurants that have good
      food, so I eat out maybe once every week or two.

      Believe it or not there is a restaurant that prepares something that
      greatly resembles a burrito. It is pretty good. And the last time I
      went there, they had a live band playing. I had brought several
      Volunteers and a couple of my staff to dinner, mainly to get to know
      a new staff member and the Volunteers. We were sitting and talking
      when the band started playing a song that sounded familiar.  It
      was "Cotton Eyed Joe." One of the Volunteers I was with is from
      Houston and of course knows the Cotton Eyed Joe just as well as I do.
      So we decide to get up and dance the Cotton eyed Joe to the amazement
      of the other Volunteers and staff and the people in the restaurant—as
      well as the band! We got a round of applause from everyone at the end
      of the song. (Bear in mind that there are never more than 10 people
      in a restaurant here in Ashgabat so we didn't embarrass ourselves in
      front of too many people.) And it cheered us both up! 

      As I write this, in mid February, today is Valentine's Day and we are
      in the midst of a three-day holiday here called Korum Byaram—a big
      Muslim celebration, complete with the killing of a sheep and the
      sharing of food among friends, family and neighbors. I was fortunate
      to be invited to the home of one of my staff's relatives for lunch on
      Wednesday, the first day of the celebration. We had a lovely lunch,
      complete with mutton, and I meet numerous people.  It seems people
      visit all day and all evening on this day. Anyway, it was fun to
      share in this celebration.

      We are also in the midst of some major repairs to our offices over
      this long weekend. We are closed Friday through Monday and then
      Wednesday is Flag Day in Turkmenistan so most of us will not be in
      the office that day as well.  The repairs include tearing out a
      concrete floor, repairing plumbing, replacing the concrete, repairing
      and painting the walls, fixing the electrical sockets and replacing
      light fixtures, and replacing the main entrance door. I am not
      convinced it will all be done by next Thursday. But, it will be much
      more pleasant when the repairs are done.  The quality of construction
      here is not too good and neither is the quality of repairs. I think
      it has something to do with the poor quality of materials available.
      I try not to think about the fact that we are in an earthquake prone
      area and I inspect my desk regularly to assure myself that it will
      not collapse if we should have a quake during work hours. That's
      where I plan to hide! Guess I need to find an equivalent at home.
      Think my desk there is also pretty sturdy so I guess Lulu and I would
      hide there.

      Had some fun a couple of weekends ago. Went with a couple of local
      friends to the Hundred Fountains Market to buy a DVD/VCR. It's a
      wonderful market and I was successful in getting this new electronic
      gear, which is now connected up, and working!!! So I went last
      weekend to but a couple of DVDs  (in Russian and English!). I am glad
      to have a DVD player although we get lots of VHS tapes here from
      other Americans and the Embassy. Since there are no movies theaters
      here, I do appreciate being able to watch a movie or tapes of TV

      Although I believed when I can here that all cultural events had been
      banned., that turns out not to be true. There are all kinds of
      performances—opera, dance troupes, musicians, etc. Events are not
      well publicized and there does not seem to be a published schedule
      anywhere.  But I attended a wonderful event last night-- a
      performance but some teenagers associated with the Future Farmers of
      Turkmenistan (like our FFA).  The event was mainly dance—and mostly
      India dance.  They were very good and the program although a bit
      long, was entertaining. I believe it is very important to encourage
      the young people here in these kinds of activities. 

      I had the opportunity to do some site visits with several of our new
      Community Health Education Volunteers several weeks ago. And I got to
      actually see the Caspian Sea, which is quite lovely and very
      unpopulated. Turkmenbashy (a town) on the Caspian Sea is about 7
      hours by car, from Ashgabat and we drove, stopping to see Volunteers
      along the way. I had the chance to meet several families, drink lots
      and lots of Chai (tea) and eat innumerable meals.  These trips are
      good for me, to see what is happening and how my staff handles
      situations—but also to provide encouragement and support to the
      Volunteers in the field. I really believe it is important for the
      Volunteers to see the staff on a regular basis in the field. I also
      feel it is important for the staff to have first hand knowledge of
      the challenges the Volunteers face.  I am looking forward to visiting
      with Volunteers up along the Uzbekistan border in a couple of weeks. 
      My goal is to see each of the 49 Volunteers at their sites before the
      next group comes in September. That's a lot of miles.

      After some rather tense times here in December and January, things
      have calmed down within Turkmenistan. But of course the specter of
      Iraq looms large. Turkmenistan is neutral and very emphatic about
      maintaining neutrality. And the country really has no relations with
      Iraq. We do not share a common border either. So we are hopeful that
      we will not experience any difficulties due to the situation.

      So I will close today.  Look fro another update in a month or so. I
      am hopeful that getting Internet access at home will make it easier
      for me to answer emails. So if you have emailed me, don't give up! I
      will answer.  And please keep emailing me. It is good to hear about
      everything happening in the State.


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