Yesterday was my host sister, Leyla’s birthday. She turned six. I bought her this mechanical peacock that lights up and plays music as it rolls along the floor. And I made her a birthday poster with a butterfly on it because she likes my drawings and is always asking for the mandala I drew that I have on my wall (she’ll get it when I leave). We had a big dinner at our house with guests and music.
I’m the youngest in my family and the only girl, so being a big sister is new and strange to me, but I do think of Leyla as a sister. She looks up to me and tries to do some of the things she sees me do. This past summer she came to the stadium with me and tried to run with me. She’d hold my hand and run for about a hundred yards before getting tired then stop and wait for me to come around on the next lap. Recently, I’ve been making a kind of scrapbook and she found an old notebook of hers to do the same thing. She doesn’t really have anything to scrapbook but she asked her mom for a photo she could use and asked me to write words like‘Turkmenistan’ and ‘rabbit’ in English so she could copy the letters into her book. And she discovered that it’s lots of fun when I pick her up and spin around so her legs fly outward. She asks me to do it a lot and but I can only do it a couple of times in a row or I get nauseous.
She’s so cute, especially when she says “so cute” in English. When I think about what this country will do to her, I want to cry. I want to take her back to the States with me so she can play sports in school and learn a musical instrument and take dance lessons. She’s such a ham, and there’re no opportunities for the dramatic here.
The good news is, her mom’s more enlightened than most Turkmen women (well, technically she’s not Turkmen, she’s Persian via Azerbaijan. More on that later). She wants Leyla to go to Russia or America to study and she doesn’t want her to marry a Turkmen.