Sunday, November 9, 2008

Where to next?

Above: Traditional Turkmen Bridal Dress

Above: Bolshevik Training Group

Above: My 8th grade English Club students

Yesterday I found out where I will be going for my permanent site! I
am headed to Le Bap Welayat in the North-Eastern part of the country.
The capital of the Welayat is Turkmenabat and my etrap (or county) is
located just outside of the city. I am in Garashsyzlyk etrap and I am
in the etrap center, Garashsyzlyk town. My town is about 10,000
people and is close to the Uzbek border. I am about 20 minutes by car
from Turkmenabat. Le Bap Welayat is supposedly the most liberal out
of all 5 Welayats, and because the canal that supplies the rest of the
country with water begins and runs through Le Bap, it is greener than
other areas of the country. This also means that we will have plenty
of vegetable and fruits! I have been assured that I will be able to
use my Russian at my site and definitely in the city of Turkmenabat.
Along with my Russian, I will be able to continue my study of Turkmen.
I am glad that I specified that I wanted a Turkmen-Russian site
because other placements are strictly Russian speaking and I didn't
want that. They have good cell phone reception where I will be going
so I should be getting a cell phone very soon. I will be teaching at
School #1 which is a multi-level secondary school. I don't know much
about my school now, but I will see it on Saturday. I will be living
with a host-family in Garashsyzlyk. I will have a host-mom, host-dad,
24 year old host-sister, 22 year old host-brother who works in Turkey,
and 18 year old host-brother.

Today we had the first day of the counterpart conference. My
counterpart, a teacher at the school could not attend because she has
a little baby, but my methodologist came in her place. Each TEFL
volunteer has a methodologist in their etrap who is responsible for
training the teachers and for organizing teacher's conferences and
workshops. As we integrate into our communities, our methodologist
become vital resources for us to reach out to more teachers in our
etraps. My methodologist, Parahat, is very friendly, eager and
approachable. We spoke all in Russian together and she was ecstatic
that we could communicate so well. She said that for the past few
years they had been asking Peace Corps for a motivated and out-going
volunteer. And they finally got me! Today I was asking her what I
should bring with me when I go to visit for the next 5 days and she
said that I can wear my koynek on the first day to meet the director
and my counterpart and then when I start work on Monday, I can wear
something more comfortable like pants…pants!!! I didn't ask for
somewhere more liberal than Ahal Welayat where I am now, but wearing
pants every once in a while will be a nice luxury for me since I live
in jeans at home. I think that my methodologist is going to be direct
with me and give me feed-back when I need it. I don't see her as
someone that would be completely indirect with me, like many Turkmens,
in-order to save face. Indirectness is part of Turkmen culture but
when we were watching this skit about cultural differences, she turned
to me and said, "we won't have that problem because we can, and will,
talk to each other."

I will be in Le Bap until Wednesday, November 12th. We are traveling
as a group to Turkmenabat by train. There are 10 T-17 volunteers
going to Le Bap Welayat. I have Bobbie Jo, another T-17 just ten
minutes from my site in the neighboring etrap. In Turkmenabat, there
are 3 more volunteers. We arrive Saturday morning and I will be going
to my school with my methodologist to meet all the necessary people
and officials. My host-mom is the lunch lady at the cafeteria, so I
will meet her there too (I hope I won't be eating cafeteria food at
home). On Sunday I will probably go into Turkmenabat and meet the
other T-17s and the T-16s for a city tour. On Monday and Tuesday I
will go to the school again and begin my observation of the teachers
and my integration into the workplace.
On Wednesday we also heard about the outcome of the presidential
election, and although I am really excited about Obama being elected,
finding out my permanent site was of more immediate importance to me
at this point. At least for the next two years, my life is going to
be far removed from America, but I hope that the international image
of America improves because that will directly affect me as I travel
in regions of the world where American stereotypes and Hollywood image
precede me. I constantly get questioned about why I am here and if
there is no work in America. The Beverly Hills lifestyle is how
people think that I live in America. If they could see rural Idaho I
think that Turkmen might be surprised at how much it resembles the
countryside in Turkmenistan (okay, minus the camels). I have to work
very hard to try to get them to believe that I don't have unimaginable
amounts of money at home and that my father is a carpenter and that my
friends don't all drive Mercedes. I know that I do some things funny
because that is how I am used to doing them, but I hope that I can
show my community that I am just human like them; although we are from
such drastically different countries, we can be friends, even family
and learn about each other with mutual respect.

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