Monday, December 1, 2008

A lesson in Turkmen (and then some)

1.) Koynek
This word is used to refer to traditional women's dresses and to men's
dress-shirts. I am using it here in reference to the first. In most
kichi obalar (small villages) you will see women wearing nothing but
koyneks on the street, in the house, daytime and nighttime. Most
koyneks are adorned with yaka, or embroidery. There are house koyneks
and toy koyneks. House koyneks are loose fitting for housework and
are made of cotton with less ornate yaka. Toy koyneks are often made
of more expensive fabric like silk or velvet and will include
extremely ornate yaka designs across the chest and sometimes all the
way down the front. To have a koynek made, you will need to find a
tikinchi, or a dressmaker and a woman who does yaka. It seems like
everyone's sister, mother and sister-in-law is a tikinchi, so it is
never a problem to track one down. The women make the yaka by hand
sometimes or with a machine that resembles a sewing machine yet moves
from side to side as the needle stitches. You can tell a lot from a
woman's yaka. The designs are different in each welayat, there are
traditional necklines for dresses and more contemporary designs, and
wealth can be seen in the amount of detail and size because the price
corresponds directly to the time needed to make it. The most ornate dress that a woman has in her lifetime is her wedding dress. In Ahal, the bride's dress weighs
up to 30 kilos depending on the amount of silver and gold sewn onto
it. She wears this for a month except for when sleeping and goes around to guest with all the women in her village, accompanied by a member of her husband's family at all times. When a woman has a new dress made, everyone will say "gutly bolsun" or "Congratulations." Tikinchis often have their own idea of what your dress should look like and the design process for my koyneks has been a true act of diplomacy.

2.) Chai
"Anya, chai iyjekmi?" 10 minutes later. "Anya, chai iyjekmi?" "Annie,
will you drink some tea?" Chai drinking here is so much more than
sitting down over a cup of tea. Here, chai drinking is a way of making
friends, getting to know someone, gaining their trust, socializing,
offering your hospitality, procrastinating…chai drinking is also
sometimes considered working and being productive. The chai is
steeped and then you can pour one cup and pour it back in the teapot.
Pour a second cup and pour it back in the teapot. Pour a third cup
and pour it back in the teapot. Three is a special number in Islam,
and many things are done 3 or 7 times. After the third cup is poured
back in, you can drink. Turkmen have a huge sweet tooth and chai is
always accompanied by candies wafflies (or wafer cookies) and other
sweets. My grandmother can finish two teapots by herself and doesn't
understand that I can only handle two or three cups. She has spent
the last eighty years building up her chai drinking stamina! Turkmen
culture is very indirect and people will not be totally forward with
you about what they want, this is part of the reason why business and
professional matters are often discussed over tea; the conversation
can flow between work and personal conversation with more ease. To be
friends, you must drink tea. It's a rule in Turkmen culture. By
sitting down for chai with someone, you are showing them that you have
time for them and that you want to get to know them and their family.
There is a personal relationship that can only be developed over chai.
American culture teaches us that we have to be busy to be productive,
but Turkmen culture is the opposite; even chai can be seen as
productive—maybe you are cultivating a valuable friendship that you
might not have had if you didn't accept that one cup of chai.

3.) Nesip Bolsa!
This saying is similar to "Inshallah," or "God Willing." Literally,
it means "if you have the chance." In Turkmenistan, if Allah wills
something to happen, it will happen. When praying, protection and
good fortune are asked for and Allah will listen and decide when is
the right time for things to take place. Turkmen say "nesip bolsa"
often and will tack it onto the end of many sentences as a last
thought. "My son will return from the army next month, nesip bolsa."
This reference to Allah takes form in many other greetings as well.
TaƱry yalkasyn is Thank you in Turkmen but can be literally broken
down as "Allah blesses you." And the response to this is
Bileyalkasyn, or "We both will be blessed." In Turkmenistan there is
toy (wedding) season in the fall but the season for Huday yoly never
stops. Our teacher first described a Huday yoly as a prayer party,
which is the basic idea. Huday yoly means "path to Allah" and a
family will honor their ancestors or a recently deceased family member
by throwing a Huday yoly. Everyone in the village is invited, a sheep
or cow is killed in honor and the local mullahs are invited to lead
the prayer. The animal's soul is a sacrifice to Allah so that he does
not take the life of anyone else in the family. When you are invited
to a Huday yoly, you say Kabul Bolsun to the family which means "I
wish Allah accepts your sacrifice." Because they have sacrificed a
soul to Allah, by saying this you also ask Allah to take notice of the
Huday yoly. One can say Huday yoly when you give a gift to another
person, and by saying this you are giving a gift to Allah. In
response to the gift, the receiver must say Kabul Bolsun so that Allah
sees that this gift was given in His name. Before I understood what
all these greetings meant, I had no idea of the importance that these
words hold in this culture. All of these phrases have Allah in them,
but none of them explicitly say Allah. Coming up in December, we will
celebrate Gurban Bayramy—three days of sacrifices, visiting all your
family and friends, praying and dedicating this time to wiping away
sins and asking for protection. Again, there will be much Huday yoly
and Kabul Bolsun to be said and I hope that Allah does protect my
family and friends here who have such strong faith.


Anonymous said...

Just came across this - Love it!
-Katie T-9

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just found your post and find the part on tea particulary intresting. Im curious if you wud happen to know the amount of tea and water to use brewing it Turkmen style as well as what kinds are used...Thank you!