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Update from Ashgabat #12

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  • chapinr75081
    The latest news from Turkmenistan from Sharon Sugarek. January 24, 2004 Dear friends and family, Hope you had a nice holiday season and that the New Year has
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 25, 2004
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      The latest news from Turkmenistan from Sharon Sugarek.

      January 24, 2004
      Dear friends and family,
      Hope you had a nice holiday season and that the New Year has been
      good for you. All is well here and I guess I have been doing a bit of
      globetrotting since my last update.
      I went to Thailand for two weeks in December; it was delightful. I
      was able to convince our Medical Officer to go with me (It wasn't
      hard!). She and I spent ten days on the beaches of Koh Lanta, a
      beautiful island in the Andaman Sea. It was quiet, not too crowded and
      there wasn't a lot to do. It was a perfect place to just get away
      relax. Walked on the beach a lot and did a little snorkeling. Read
      lots of books and generally lounged about! We did go and ride on an
      elephant. It was an interesting experience! Their gait is rather
      lumbering and comfortable but I really had to hang on when we were
      going down slopes! It was great fun!
      Then we spent four days in Bangkok, which is a huge, busy city with
      lots of traffic and noise. But I enjoyed that as well. It has a
      Skytrain that allows you to get around without getting in the
      automobile traffic and there are water taxis that go up and down the
      river. Between the two we never took regular taxis. Went to the Grand
      Palace, which was quite interesting, also saw the Emerald Buddha (very
      sacred to Buddhists) and went to another temple that held a huge, gold
      reclining Buddha. The last night of the trip, we went to The Oriental
      Hotel to have dinner and see a performance of traditional Thai dances.
      It was quite interesting and enjoyable and I highly recommend it if
      anyone ever gets to Bangkok. Also I saw three movies, had a couple of
      really American good dinners and enjoyed a trip to the grocery store.
      So it was a terrific break.
      With 90 Volunteers, we are as busy as ever. But I an enjoying getting
      to know the new PCVs who are dedicated and working hard to adjust to
      their new surroundings! Since we require everyone to live with a host
      family for six months, they must all become part of their host
      families. That can be challenging when the PCVs are not yet fluent in
      Turkmen or Russian. But they are doing just fine. I hope to start
      doing some site visits in the next couple of months. Meanwhile we are
      planning for Peace Corps Day events on March 1 and starting to think
      about the next group to come in September. With the Federal budget
      such as it is, it will be a tight year for Peace Corps and we will be
      tightening our belts as mush as we can. However, Peace Corps never has
      much fat in their budget so this will hit pretty hard. But I guess
      Peace Corps is all about doing more with less—or with nothing-- in
      many cases. I know it will be challenging as we look for ways to do
      the things we need to do with less funding. Guess if it were easy they
      wouldn't need the staff!
      I am starting to think about the end of my tour. I have been here 19
      months and I have 11 months left on my contract. It is hard to
      believe;it seems like I just got here yesterday. I still have lots of
      things left on my list of things to do and see while I'm here in
      Turkmenistan. Some are in the country and some are in nearby
      countries. For example there are a couple of nature reserves here that
      are supposed to be very interesting. Hope to visit them in the spring.
      Since they are in restricted areas one never knows about getting
      permission to go. But the local tour companies seem to be able to
      handle getting permissions. Plus there are still things I haven't
      gotten around to seeing and doing right here in Ashgabat just because
      I kept thinking that I have plenty of time! You all know how that
      We have had a bit of excitement in the last couple of weeks here.
      Probably the biggest news was that the Turkmen government has lifted
      the requirement for Turkmen citizens to obtain an exit visa to leave
      the country. As many of you might know, most countries regard
      preventing citizens from traveling freely as a huge violation of human
      rights. And there has been a lot of pressure on Turkmenistan to lift
      the exit visa requirement. So now Turkmen citizens are freer to travel
      outside their country.
      With respect to more mundane matters, I recently learned that there is
      a new shop in Ashgabat that sells good cheddar cheese and fresh bread
      from England. And today I actually found the shop! Good cheese is
      hard to come by and good sandwich and toast bread is also hard to find
      here. The second big piece of food news is that someone here has gone
      into business making peanut butter. These will be tremendous news for
      the Volunteers. We have a number of vegetarians but there really is
      not much available in the way of nutritional vegetable protein here.
      So peanut butter will be a great addition to their diets. From
      everything I hear so far, it will be affordable for them.
      One of the perks of living here is our central location and cheap
      airfares! So last weekend two of us went to Dubai in the United Arab
      Emirates for the weekend. It is only a 2 ½ hour flight from
      and US citizens do not need a visa. It is a city built in the last
      30-35 years so it is very modern, clean and pleasant. And it has
      gorgeous beaches. It is an amazingly diverse place with all kinds of
      people from all over the world. We stayed at a hotel in the city
      across the street from a nice park, near to shopping and movie
      theaters. It was also a short taxi ride to most other places. Dubai
      has an interesting history museum inside an old fort and we saw the
      remnants of other old structures that predate modern Dubai.
      My impression is that before the mid 1960's they did not have
      much and
      it was a fairly poor country. With the discovery of oil offshore,
      things changes a lot. Today they are aiming to become the
      entertainment and vacation destination of choice for the region and
      the world. They are building lots of expensive hotels, shopping malls
      and amusement parks. We really enjoyed the weekend and are planning
      to go back in May if we can. It was just a little too cool to swim
      when we were there and we would like to go back to the beach. The
      place is impressive because the development seems to be thoughtful,
      the city is very clean and very safe and again we enjoyed movies, good
      food, and a nice grocery store as well as people who were friendly and
      happy to see us. We did not make it to the Camels races but may try
      to go if I make it back there in May.
      Some of you may have caught the 60 Minutes segment on Turkmenistan a
      few weeks ago. The crew was here last June! But it finally made it
      onto US TV this January. If you saw it, you have an idea now of what
      it is like here: a challenging environment to say the least. But at
      the local level where PCVs are working, the people are happy to have
      So that's about it for this update. I am always delighted to hear
      you about what is happening back home. But I have to admit I am not
      going to miss the endless political campaigning that has started in
      earnest now. So have a great 2004. And stay in touch.

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