So, coming back to training site after permanent site visit is hard. For one thing, I like my training host family even less by comparison. I was on the phone with Andrea and asked if she could hear my family yelling in the background. Of course she could, because they have no concept of the “inside voice.” I told Andrea it was their way of saying, “hey, you know all that reading you did at permanent site visit? You can forget about doing that for another five weeks. Bwa, ha, ha.” And I still haven’t eaten dinner with my host family here since I’ve been back. It’s been five days and I’ve always had excuses to be out somewhere else. I don’t know if I can go back to stale chorek and oily pasta/potato dishes.
Nov. 17-19 was Kurban Bayramy, a Turkmen holiday that celebrates a) when Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac and b) the return of pilgrims from Mecca. It happens on a different date each year as announced by the president, 70 days after the end of Ramadan. It is uniquely Turkmen. The first day of the holiday, Turkmen wash themselves and put on new clothes. A sheep is killed and shared among neighbors. For the three days of the holiday, people go and ride giant swings to swing their sin away, a remnant from pre-Islamic times. Sometimes they also jump over a fire, which comes from a Zoroastrian influence. During this time of year, enemies must reconcile and parents must forgive their children if they elope. It’s a big chance for young adults to go out at night and see people of the opposite sex. Late teens and early twentysomethings have crawled out of the woodwork here in Anew. Our training groups went swinging, and I think the Turkmen kids were amused to see us doing it.
A couple nights ago, the Anewites got together at Shannon’s house and made burgers and fries. I love our group cooking dates. It’s a great chance to get food we know will be relatively safe and delicious. And most of us know how to cook, so it’s good to have competent people in the kitchen. Everyone pitches in, whether it be peeling or cutting vegetables or manning the stove or cleaning up afterward. It’s like living on a commune in a way. We had nice big patties, cheese, fried eggs, tomatoes, onions and ketchup. We were missing pickles and mustard, but that’s okay. There’s no mustard in this country. (Please send some) But perhaps even better than the burgers, were the fries. You can get fries pretty easily in this country, they’re called kartoșka frites. But these were better. Fresh, seasoned with salt and pepper, and made with love (ha). We bought four kilos of potatoes and demolished them within twenty minutes of making them.
Even so, kartoșka frites at restaurants are pretty good, too. Last night, I was locked out of my house for dinner because my family went guesting somewhere before I returned from Ashgabat, so I went to the nearby café and got șașlik and frites, my favorite Turkmen meal. Those frites really hit the spot. It’s weird how simple things get magnified here. I never would have relished French fries back home like I do here.
Time works differently here. We look back at when we first arrived and it feels like we’ve already been here a year. We think back a week and so much has happened within that week that it seems it must have occurred over the course of a month. If someone is gone for a day or two because they’re sick, they feel like they’ve missed out on something important and scramble to get caught up. Right now our days are packed, and I feel like doing laundry by hand is a kind of luxury because it’s an excuse to slow down and be alone with my thoughts even if I am tearing the skin on my knuckles. Still, all too soon, we will be at permanent site and will find that having too much time on our hands is a problem, and we’ll all be reading War and Peace in three days’ time.
In the States, my favorite day is Sunday. I make a better breakfast than usual and read the Sunday funnies then go to church. After church, I go home for a relaxed lunch and maybe a nap or a good read. Maybe a nap in a sunbeam if I’m lucky. The day is mine; it truly is a day of rest.
Sunday is also my favorite day here. It’s my only day off, at least during training. I have a makeshift church service by listening to hymns on my computer and reading the Bible, eat lunch and go play ultimate Frisbee with the guys. I get some laundry done if I need to, maybe get some Pensees read. Today I did three hours’ worth of laundry and organized all the handouts I’ve been given over the past seven weeks, which made me feel really productive.
Speaking of playing ultimate with the guys, I have to say I love the guys in the Anew Nine (as we have dubbed the two Anew training groups). Sure they’re not perfect, but generally speaking, they’re smart, funny, and kind. Two of them are writers who want to do a writers’ workshop. I think four of them were philosophy majors. More importantly, they’re all cool with me being a good ultimate player, and they don’t have a “boys’ club.” Plus, they’re refreshingly heterosexual. A few of you know me well enough to know what I mean by that. But most of you know enough about me to know that I usually function better in a group of guys anyway. (Like the time I went paintballing as the only girl among 29 guys.) Tying these attributes together, perhaps the best thing about them is that they accept me not as “one of the guys,” but as a girl who is capable of sarcasm and athletic feats but is still feminine. It’s not either/or with them. Inhaling fresh air as I type this.