Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I can hear the next-door neighbor's rooster cock-a-doodle-doing and it
is nine o'clock at night, pitch dark and definitely not dawn. Isn't a
rooster supposed to send out a morning wake up call? This rooster
definitely has a different understanding of what his job description
is. Usually I can hear him in the morning too, but not always.
Though every evening he incessantly makes the world know that he is
ready for nightfall. Maybe he got tired of waking up early and
decided to change his post. Or maybe he is confused. Or maybe
roosters don't actually cock-a-doodle-do at sunrise, but that it is
just a nicety written in children's books. Or maybe roosters in
Turkmenistan are different from America. No matter his reason, it
strikes me that I am like that rooster, slightly confused and
anomalous in my life here.

If I begin to feel like things are normalizing, there is always
something that reminds me that I still have a long way to go until my
life settles here. My routine helps me feel like I have some
direction, but what is written out on my schedule doesn't necessarily
make it happen. I never find out schedule changes until after the
fact, so inevitably my classes get switched without me knowing and I
wander the halls in search of my students when everyone else knows
what is going on (except for me of course). Then last week I found
out that I had mice in my room and although I was grossed out that I
had a rodent infestation, it was the panic at 2 a.m. when I realized I
had no idea how to solve the situation that made me feel helpless.
Being outsmarted by the Turkmen vermin really put me at a low-point
and I just kept thinking to myself, I would know exactly what to do at
home, go get a trap and put a piece of cheese in it, but here I just
don't know what to do. In tears I moved out to the living room where
I slept until my host-mom found me curled in a ball on the floor.
With-in minutes after stammering through my story, she had thrown the
cat in my room and with-in an hour the cat walked out with breakfast.
Usually I despise cats, but I have been sleeping with Kesha in my room
every night since. Even a perfectly solvable situation can feel like
a conundrum because the solution that I know is not possible. Or
there are little things, like the stove that I constantly have
problems with. I light a match and set it on the burner and since
there is no handle on the knob that controls the gas, I have to use
the end of a spoon or fork to turn it. About two-thirds of the time I
nearly burn my eyebrows off by turning it too high or accidentally
turn it off when I try to turn it down a bit. My host-mom or
host-sisters will see me struggling and try to help, but that almost
makes it worse because I feel like I can't even manage something
simple by myself. I want to find my independence here but since a
first grader is probably more adept than I am in Turkmen ways, I still
often rely on my host-family to hold my hand. It is okay that I am
still unsettled because I am learning and observing how Turkmen handle

On the other hand, even if the Turkmen way is not my first instinct, I
can teach my host-family and friends about how I do things in America.
I peel bananas from the top and they peel bananas from the bottom,
and although it may not seem like a big deal, I always get comments
about my banana peeling technique. I am often told that my way is not
the correct way to peel bananas, but I shrug it off and say that there
is often more than one way to do things. So many of the simple things
that I do raise alarm because they are not the Turkmen way and the
questions never stop. I have been fortunate enough to travel and see
other cultures and traditions, and I consider myself accepting of
things foreign to me. For many of the people in my town, I am the
only foreigner they have ever met and I am so unusual and interesting
for them. My glasses are strange (I have been told that Turkmen all
have perfect vision). My shoes are different (but I had a lady offer
to buy them off my feet). The way I walk is weird (my steps are too
big I have been told). I smile too much and I carry a water bottle
full of water (not tea). I am constantly stared at and watched no
matter where I go. Sometimes I forget how much of an anomaly I am
until I pass someone who openly gawks at me. It is nice to escape into
the city where there are enough Russians so that I can go unnoticed.
I miss anonymity. I miss being able to escape into a crowd of
people—black, white, tall, short, blonde, brunette—and being

Every volunteer is different, and every site gets to experience a
different type of America. And that is exactly what makes America so
fascinating—the diversity of its people. A student came up to me the
other day and asked me if it was true that America now has a black
president. She asked me how that could happen since Americans are not
black. There is not one face that can represent America because it is
a melting pot of all races, religions, backgrounds and beliefs. My
America is totally different from that of Jessie's or Tess' or
Megan's. But when we all come here, we all unite in the one big thing
we have in common—The America! Among each other we melt back into our
American selves and we speak freely in our common language. We can
understand each other's frustrations and problems, sacrifices and

There goes the rooster again. Cock-a-doodle-do. Still not morning.
Yes, I am like the rooster that doesn't know sunrise from sunset, but
he goes about his business day after day without fail and so will I.
He doesn't seem to care that all the rest of the roosters announce the
sunrise, he sings whenever he feels like it, and so will I!

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