Updtate from Ashgabat
- The latest news from Sharon Sugarek in Turkmenistan. To see the
pictures go to the NTPCA web site, click photos and look in the
June 26, 2004
Dear friends and family,
This will be my last update from Ashgabat. I have accepted a new
position with Peace Corps and will be returning to manage the Regional
Recruiting Office based out of Dallas. The office covers Texas,
Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico. I am looking forward to
the new job and to working with many people I have met over the years
through my association with Peace Corps and the National Peace Corps
I am sad to be leaving Turkmenistan because of the wonderful and
talented Volunteers and staff I have had the honor to work with. And I
am eager to return to my home and see all my friends and family in the
US, although I'm not sure I'm ready for Dallas traffic yet!!! I'll be
flying into Dallas on July 21st and will start my new job in Dallas on
Monday July 26!! Will have to make a quick adjustment!
So thank you all for your support and encouragement these past two
years. I hope you have enjoyed the stories of life here in
Turkmenistan. And I look forward to seeing you soon.
Please enjoy this last story about making felt rugs. It was an
Making Felt Rugs
The people of Turkmenistan were once nomadic, moving from place to
place to find food for themselves and for their flocks of sheep, goats
and camels. People lived in yurts, which are round shelters, which
are made of felt covers laid over wooden pole structures. Yurts are
along the same lines as teepees, with a hole in the top to let smoke
escape. I am not describing this well but I'll find a photo to
attach.(See photo #1) The insides of the yurt are lines with carpets,
large camel bags and perhaps even a small piece of furniture or
twousually a bride's wooden chest (for clothes and other precious
possessions) or a small cupboard for storing dishes and whatnot. On
the floor you will find decorative and very warm felt rugs. The walls
may also have heavy felt pieces attached to provide warmth.
Inside the yurt, the space is divided into three areas, one for men,
one for women and one for guests, closest to the fire. When meals are
served, the women and female children sit together in one area and eat
out of a common bowl and the men and boys sit in another are. In the
photo you can see the fire in the middle of the yurt. This fore is
used for making tea, cooking lunch or dinner and keeping the yurt warmer.
A couple of weeks ago when my friend Carole Gates was visiting me, we
set off for Erbent, a town in the desert about 150 kilometers from
Ashgabat where the people are semi-nomadic and make the felt rugs from
the wool of their own sheep. Elena was our guide and knew several
families in this settlement. Bahar, a young Turkmen woman who is my
house and dog sitter, also accompanied us. Bahar is Turkmen and I have
been taking her with me to many places I go to give her a chance to
learn more about her own country. Turkmen do not travel much even
within their own country. So she has a chance to do a lot of things
that other Turkmen do not do. Plus she is also fluent in English,
Turkmen and Russian and does a great job of helping out with
So early on Saturday morning off the four of us went in my trusty
Jeep to Erbent. We packed the car with water, snacks, lunch and
everything else we could think of. You would have though we were going
for a week! But not knowing what to expect we wanted to be prepared!
The desert itself is fascinating this time of year. Many wildflowers
are in bloom and the desert is green rather than brown in many places.
There are not many settlements on this road so we go for long
stretches without seeing any housesand only the occasional car or
truck. But as we near Erbent, the sand is barren, No plants, no
wildflowers no nothing!. Talk about a desolate looking place.
But we were warmly welcomed into the yurt to have tea and meet
various family members who live there. These women have a pretty tough
life out in the desert, in my opinion. But they seemed happy, proud of
their children and proud of their skills in making various things
including the felt rugs. As part of our visit, they wanted to be sure
we had the chance to try a variety of unique foods common to their
diet. The first was camel milk, which was a bit tangy. Next was yogurt
made with camel milsort of a thick yogurt drink. It was quite tasty
and I liked it. The last was yogurt made from goat's milk. Now that
was a little too sour for my taste!! Very unique. But now we can say
we have tried it. Along with the fried sheep fat snacks! Since they
are out in the desert they don't have much in the way of gardensnot
enough water. So their diets are based heavily on what their camels,
sheep and goats produce. Looks like a very tough life to me!
So after all that, off we went to see how the felt rugs are made. And
what a process it is. First the wool is clipped from the animals and
laid on a surface (plastic or cardboard). Then the women beat the wool
with two metal rods to clean it. This also knocks all the dirt out and
fluffs the wool. Believe me it is not as easy as it looksI tried it
and there is definitely a technique to it! After beating the wool
into submission, next it is combed to untangle it. You can see from
the photo that this is also a tedious job, done a little at a time.
The third step involves dying the wool different colors for whatever
pattern is being made. The day we were there they were not dying wool
so I don't know exactly how they do that but I don't think there is
anything odd about their techniques. Today I think they use regular
commercials dyes but I'm not sure.
Once the wool is dyed, they take it into a room where they have
plastic laid out on the floor. The wool of various colors is laid out
in the desired pattern and soaked in water for some period of time.
Then the plain, un-dyed white wool is pressed into the patterned wool
to form a thick felt carpet. Next this rug is laid out on a platform
outdoors where the women roll and press the felt over and over to
enmesh the patterned wool into the plain wool until it becomes one
single surface. It is really hard work. And I can tell you that these
ladies who do this are really strong!
Once this process is complete, the felt rug is laid out on this
platform to dry in the sun. Periodically the ladies smooth it out and
make sure the rug lays flat. Once it is dry, it is ready to sell!
Mostly they sell their rugs either to tourist like me who come to
visit themor to a person who buys from several people and then takes
the rugs to Tolkuchka to sell. According to these ladies it takes two
ladies about a full day to make a 3 by 5 foot rug. And they sell them
for less than $5! Lots of work, but $5 goes a long way for them so I
guess everyone was happy at the end of our transactions! As you can
see from the last photo, Lulu is enjoying her new felt rug!
Clearly these rugs do not last as long as the Turkmen carpets. But
they serve a very useful purpose for the yurts. They use materials at
hand, are warm and provide a comfortable place to sleep or sit. I've
been told that during the summer, they attract moths so they need to
be sprayed with some sort of concoction made from tobacco and stored.
I'll keep an eye on them and let you know!
After our adventures in felt rug making the children insisted that we
come with them to see their school, which we did. They were very proud
of their classrooms and their school. I think we were most surprised
by how small the children were. Clearly a testimony to the difficult
of their lives in the desert where good nutrition is not available.
So in addition to gaining some insight into this traditional folk
craft, I think we also got insight into the daily challenges these
desert people face in securing their survival. And I feel sure the
folks we visited with do pretty well since they do have the occasional
tourist who stays overnight or spends the day with them. But these
people welcomed us into their house, gave us tea and offered us lunch.
I think that is one thing that you can also depend on Turkmen people
to do. No matter how much or how kittle they have, they will always
share it with you.