There is a 10 hour difference between Turkmenistan and New York City. I’m 10 hours ahead over here. Somehow jetlag worked to my advantage. At the start of my stay I would sleep by 9pm and wake up by 7am. The rising sun was all I needed to wake up.
It helped that I had to wake up by 7 if I wanted my 7:30am breakfast. Turkmen language classes and technical training did not start until 9am. 9-1, 1-2 lunch, then 2-6. It was intense but I do believe I learned enough to get by without much trouble. Of course eventually I gave up on waking up early for breakfast and slept in ‘til a little past 8. I also eventually found out my family woke up around 5am to go to the mosque and pray and came back around 6am. I started to wake up when I heard them moving about but I always went right back to sleep.
The religion of the country is Islam, and they have very beautiful mosques here. The first one I saw was the one in Gokdepe, which happens to be my profile picture on my facebook. That was the first day I arrived in Gokdepe and I was wearing my first koynek. My host sister was kind enough to take me to the mosque and even pointed out that there was another volunteer living a few houses over, we picked him and his little brothers up and went to the mosque together. It was a beautiful inside and it felt like a private tour since we went in just after everyone had left. Of course I work a scarf to cover my head out of respect.
The largest mosque in all of Central Asia also happens to be located here in Turkmenistan in a town called Gypjek (my spelling may be off). It’s large and has golden domes. I have yet to go inside but I’ve passed it many times so I have pictures of it. The previous Turkmen president is buried there.
Finally, the only other mosque I’ve seen is the Turkish Mosque within the capital. It’s extraordinarily beautiful, the colors, the marble, it’s just lovely. I recommend going inside if you ever get the chance. It’s also near this Turkish café which has good food and plays American music videos.
Another place of holy respect would be the Gokdepe hill where a great battle took place in 1881. Russians invaded Turkmen land and thousands died there. I only recently found out that was the reason why people did a certain hand motion as a sign of respect when in cars around that area (even drivers do it sometimes, that’s a bit scary). Their hand motion would be similar to how Catholics cross themselves in front of churches. Here the norm is a hand motion over the face in the same way one would rinse their face with water. This motion is also done after meals, usually by the elder. After meals the motion is done once first to start the prayer, then the hands are held cupped in front of them, then when the prayer is over the face washing motion is done again. Occasionally I’ll do the motions as a sign of respect if the prayer is done while I’m still around.
Prayer doesn’t stop at meals and mosques, you will see many of them pull out their prayer carpets and point it in the right direction to pray several times a day. I think I was the most impressed when I saw a 15 year old boy do it. It doesn’t seem excessive though. If they do it 5 times a day I’m sure I miss most of them.
My first encounters with Turkmen food here was good. I enjoyed it very much. Sadly, I did not take into account how much oil was in some food or pay close enough attention to the preparation of the food and somewhere along the way my stomach decided it did not want anymore. I probably should’ve eaten less at a time or stopped being so eager to eat. My language group was impressed by how hungry I always was at lunch.
So, most of the meals here include meat and dough in some shape or form. The meat is usually mixed with diced onions and tomatoes, some salt, black pepper and oil. One of the most common meals is Manty and it’s pretty much like dumplings. They are steamed and if not steamed long enough the meet will still look a little pink. During my stay here I’ve helped slice and diced thing for Manty at least 3 times. I’m no chef, but I’m learning. They encourage girls in the kitchen from a very young age. I saw them give a dull knife to a three year old who was learning to cut onions. I was terrified for her, but she was watched and there were no accidents. So far I’ve had the most trouble just folding the dumplings nicely and apparently the quick way I learned in Gokdepe is not good enough for the Manty I had to prepare for new years. And for vegetarians you can also make Manty with pumpkin instead of meat. They’re really good.
Another usual meal is Berek, which I call kichi manty because that means little Manty. It looks the same only smaller, they aren’t folded in the same way though. The dough is put into a pan with many little hexagons, then the meat is placed on it and last another layer is place on it. You then press hard enough so they’ll come out in little hexagon shapes, like mini ravioli. And they are boiled, not steamed. Turkmen tried to make it clear to me that Berek is not kichi manty and that they are indeed different, but I forget the name from time to time so I still describe it as kichi manty.
Finally, the most typical meal here that I’ve had often is Palow. It’s a rice dish with onions and carrot and in some places made with lots of oil but I’ve mostly encountered amazing palow.
There are other meals like chorba which is the name for any soup and mash which is lentil soup. So far I’ve liked just about any soup placed in front of me and I’ve learn to eat lamb. But I will tell you more about the soups another time.
Chores at home in Gokdepe included breaking bread for the cow and sheep, then feeding them and I even got to milk my first cow while in Gokdepe, washed the udders and squeezed away. The first time I had milk here I was ok, but after that I haven’t gotten along well with dairy and have avoided it. Then again I rarely get along with whole milk in the states too. Soon enough I’ll dare to test the boundaries of dairy again. Other chores include washing clothes midday to make sure they dry. I was sure one day that as I washed clothes I was tanning, that's how hot it can get midday. Well, lately it's just warm midday and freezing by nightfall, but most wome dont wear their heavy coats they just used sweaters one or two at a time and then deny the fact that they are cold.
On the weekends I like to spend my time in the Capital and explore. During training we all got to see the theme park of Turkmenistan which they nicknamed “Disneyland” it was cute and felt like a carnival. There was a small roller coaster (which went around twice because it was a short ride), little boats on a pond which were maneuvered by bicycling, and then there was this pendulum-like ride which gave me a terrible headache and of course I was frightened because rides like that always scare me. But all in all it was still a good time.
They also have a circus here, a drama theater, and an ice skating rink (only 1M60teneng for an hour). The rink is opened at 10, 12, 2, and 4 usually but it stays opened only for an hour then it closes to clean the ice.
I still have more to explore. But when I learn more I will share it. Feel free to ask me any questions about anything.