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Message from Ashgabat # 6

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  • chapinr75081
    April 2, 2003 Update from Ashgabat #6 I?ve decided to try to write these updates in installments so let?s see how it goes. (February 8) Well yesterday the big
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 2, 2003
      April 2, 2003

      Update from Ashgabat #6

      I?ve decided to try to write these updates in installments so let?s
      see how it goes.

      (February 8) Well yesterday the big excitement for me was the
      discovery of packaged bacon in the Russian Bazaar! The Russian Bazaar
      is a large market located in downtown Ashgabat. It is not my favorite
      place to shop but I am getting used to it. It really has almost
      everything you could want. To me it is a curious mix of open air
      market surrounded by enclosed shops offering everything from cat food
      to alcohol to food product?and non-consumables too?batteries, electric
      cords, writing tablets, clothing, CDs, etc. You name it; they have it
      somewhere. There is also a big butcher shop selling fresh meat, eggs,
      etc. As I shop there more frequently, I am getting to know some of the
      vendors. The Russian Bazaar is a bit noisy and crowded and I actually
      prefer the MIR bazaar, which is a little further away but is a bit
      cleaner and less chaotic.

      I guess the other big excitement in the food area was couple of weeks
      ago when a shipment of Mozzarella cheese landed in the country. So
      now we can make pizza with real mozzarella cheese on it. Had some
      yesterday as a matter of fact. One of my colleagues likes to bake and
      made fresh pizza for us! Yummy! I haven?t really gotten my touch for
      baking with yeast down yet. Frozen sour cherries also landed in the
      country along with frozen broccoli (cannot get fresh here) and spinach
      last week as well. I am so glad I have a freezer. I do use it a lot.
      You have to buy things when you see them. So tomorrow I am going to
      see if I still have the touch for making pie crust so I can have a
      cherry pie.

      When I was trying to figure out what to ship over here it was very
      hard because I had gotten out of the habit of doing a lot of cooking.
      Here if you want it you pretty much have to make it yourself. Of
      course there are a number of restaurants that are good. But sometimes
      you want something that tastes familiar!

      Shopping is sometimes a challenge because, I have to admit, my Russian
      is marginal. I do have the basic numbers down and can usually
      understand the prices of things but I haven?t really studied Russian
      much lately. I have started taking Turkmen language lessons. When I
      visit with Volunteers in the field, their families usually speak
      Turkmen. My goals are simple?to be able to do the greetings and to
      make simple comments to the families. Unlike my Volunteers I don?t
      need to be fluent in Turkmen. I did a site visit a couple of weeks ago
      and introduced myself, saying my name and that I was the Peace Corps
      Director (in Turkmen) so now everyone in that town thinks I m fluent
      in Turkmen! The point is to try.

      (February 23, 2003) I am sitting here looking out the window at a
      dark, dreary day. We actually had thunder and lightening last night
      along with some brief but heavy rain. My first Turkmen thunderstorm! I
      have to admit; it reminded me of Texas springs!

      Some of you have asked questions about my living situation so I will
      elaborate a little. And please ask questions so I?ll know what you are
      interested in. I am ?the American woman who lives by herself? in my
      neighborhood and it appears that everyone in the neighborhood knows
      all about me. I had a big party for my staff a couple of weeks ago and
      since my house is a little difficult to find, many of them talked with
      my neighbors. I guess I am happy to know that everyone knows all about
      me! Anyway, according to folks on my staff, I live in a very modern
      house. It has two very nice big bedrooms, with a comfortable study
      off the master bedroom, which has its own bathroom with shower. The
      living and dining area is open and spacious with nice windows looking
      out into the courtyard. I have a small kitchen that was completely
      redone before I moved in. It has decent storage and a fairly new gas
      stove with electric oven (the perfect combination for here) and a nice
      refrigerator. I also have a very big utility/storage room with a
      washer, dryer, freezer and extra refrigerator. The refrigerators here
      are much smaller than those in the US so it is handy to have an extra
      one for parties, etc. There is also a rather weird bathroom with
      sauna off the utility room and a porch that has been enclosed that
      also overlooks the courtyard. The house has beautiful parquet floors
      throughout the living areas and tile in the kitchen, baths, utility
      room and sun porch. The courtyard is rather spartan but has a little
      fountain and a small area for planting flower. The rest is paved

      The sun porch is home to a riot of houseplants right now, including a
      beautiful amaryllis that my friends Kathy and Mari sent. It is
      blooming like crazy and adds a dash of floral color to the collection.

      I have a big double gate that I open to drive my Jeep into the
      compound. And as I mentioned before, the houses here are typically
      Arabic in that they are enclosed in a walled compound. In the city
      these walls are often solid and really hide the house so you don?t
      know what it is like. It makes for a nice amount of privacy. I am
      looking forward to the spring so I can do a little gardening. I bought
      some hand tools while I was in Almaty last November and I?ve found
      places here to buy bigger gardening tools if I need them. My compound
      has a rather small gardening space. Wish I had a little more space
      than I have but it is okay. I probably will just grow a few flowers.

      Some of you have asked about the programs Peace Corps has in
      Turkmenistan so I?ll tell you a little about them as well. The Peace
      Corps has been in Turkmenistan for 10 years and the program was
      suspended and all Volunteers evacuated in September 2001. Currently
      there are 49 Volunteers serving in Turkmenistan in two programs:
      English education and Community Health. Both programs have changed
      focus in the last two years as government policies and priorities have
      change. The English Education is now focused more on teach training,
      improvement of language skills to English teachers and introduction of
      new teaching methodologies for English language instruction.
      Historically Volunteers have been classroom teachers and still do some
      classroom instruction with young people but their focus in more on the
      teachers now. There are 30 Volunteers working throughout Turkmenistan
      in this program.

      The second program focuses on Community Health, primarily though
      community education programs. Each Volunteer is assigned to a regional
      or local medical facility and works with local doctors and nurses as
      well as school nurses. The traditional Soviet system of health care
      apparently focused on curative approach?making people well after they
      got sick. There was no effort put forth regarding preventive health
      care. Recently the government here has shifted its emphasis in the
      health care system to preventive medicine. In my opinion, this is a
      very important shift and will greatly benefit the country in the long
      term. So the PCVs spend time educating both Doctors and Nurses?who
      have not been trained in preventive techniques?as well as members of
      the community. They particularly target women and children but serve
      all members of the community. PCVs provide information regarding
      nutrition, preventive dental hygiene and basic hygiene practices. The
      biggest problems here are anemia, tuberculosis, upper respiratory
      infections and malnutrition. (Unlike other places there are not a lot
      of awful indigenous problems like malaria or yellow fever, etc.) Many
      of these can be eliminated or controlled through better nutrition and
      personal hygiene. Clean water is an issue here so teaching people to
      boil water is helpful.

      I am also concerned about HIV/AIDS although there seems to be a small
      number of cases here, right now. Clearly people cannot take
      precautions to prevent infection if they do not have information.
      Fortunately the UN is doing a good amount of work in this area and all
      our Volunteers attended their training program and are now qualified
      instructors. So the PCVs can incorporate that information as
      appropriate in their projects. We currently have 19 Volunteers working
      in this Community Health Program.

      (March 21) Yesterday the war in Iraq started and it has been a tense
      time for everyone although we are not in any danger here. I
      understand much more now about the power and impact of dictators on
      their people. Things I would have never understood before about how
      powerless the average person is and how brain-washed people are in
      such societies?especially when access to any other sources of
      information is denied. I sincerely hope that the war is short and
      that the people of Iraq are liberated but rebuilding a nation can take
      a long time especially if there is a power vacuum which is likely to
      happen there.

      (April 2) Guess I should send this off to you all. We are having the
      hints of spring here. Fruit trees are blooming and bulbs are popping
      up but we just had three days of cold, rainy weather. I ma ready for
      the fruits and vegetables of spring although I cannot complain about
      availability of food here. They have greenhouses and grow tomatoes and
      lettuce that are good all winter!

      That?s all for now.

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