Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Masha and Dasha

Masha and Dasha

Last Wednesday afternoon I was in the banya doing my laundry when I heard the click-clack sound of hooves on the cement outside. I peeked out the door to see what it was and found myself nose to nose with Dasha, our large pregnant brown cow, trailing a piece of broken rope. Opening the door had spooked her and she spun around and started to run away. Our backyard is fenced in, so there was really nowhere for her to run to, and she is too pregnant to fit through the door in the gate. I glanced over at the cow pen and then realized that the other cow had broken free as well. Both cows had gone! I imagined them cooperating in their escape, one breaking the rope and then chewing off the other’s rope to free her friend. Dasha, being so huge couldn’t make it far, but Masha, the smaller white cow, had broken through the back gate and I could see her hoof prints in the muddy bank of the canal behind the house. First Dasha, then I will deal with Masha. Being the only one home, I had no choice but to go after both of them. I didn’t want my host-family coming back only to find the oblivious American but no cows. I coaxed Dasha close enough to me to grab her rope and then pulled her back to the pen where I quickly knotted her back up, thankful she hadn’t put up a fight because she is really big. I followed Masha’s tracks over to the neighbor’s house where I found her contently munching on their hay she had found. When she saw me, she bolted around me and back in the direction of our house with me slipping on the mud after her. But as Dasha had been too big to fit out the front gate, Masha is smaller and she only stopped briefly in the yard to steal a furtive glance at me and then ran full speed out the front gate into the street. A neighbor was sweeping the street and Masha ran right up behind him and stopped about a foot away from him with out him even noticing her. Only when I yelled to him, asking if he could grab my cow for me, did he turn around and see Masha hiding behind him. It was really like she thought that I couldn’t see her behind the neighbor, the way she just suddenly stopped right there. As he reached out to grab her, she again bolted and I jumped out of the way as she ran back through the gate and into the yard. I locked the gate behind me, and I grabbed some cornhusks to try to lure her to me. She was distracted enough by the food to let me take her rope and tie her up again. Right as I was cleaning my hands, my host-sister came through the gate and I yelled to her, with a flurry of waving arms, “the cows left. But I found them. Don’t worry!” I retold the story to each family member and the neighbors have all told their versions of the story as well. Like all gossip in Turkmenistan, each account differs greatly, but they all included a lively impersonation of Annie wildly waving her arms and yelling, “that’s my cow! Can you get my cow for me please!!” And that part is definitely true.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Birthday

This was my first birthday in Turkmenistan. I anticipated it being a difficult day to get through being far away from family and friends, but it turned out to be a really wonderful day, made special by all my friends and students here. I received lots of phone calls and text messages from all over the world, wishing me a happy birthday. It goes to show not everyone has forgotten about me even though I am so far away! My students had started giving me presents the day before my birthday and some of my presents included a total of 9 identical mugs, 7 plastic flowers, 2 ridiculously large stuffed animals that sing when squeezed, and 3 snickers bars. The amount of mugs I received was comical. Since the local bazaar and shops only offer identical Chinese imported painted coffee mugs with unidentifiable animals and misspelled and unintelligible words on them, I now own the same mug with fish, cats, cows, rabbits and various other animals I can’t quite put a finger on. The talking bears are sitting in my room facing the wall because although they are supposed to sing when touched, I think sudden movement might send them into spasms as well. I got some truly useful presents as well like new house socks (cheshka), bath products, a towel, a book of plays by an Uzbek playwright (written in Russian), and a fuzzy pillow that is nice to use as a back rest against the wall since I sit on the floor all the time. My school day was spent walking through the halls listening to “Happy Birthday” in three different languages echo off the walls. My classes and clubs were interrupted by students and teachers knocking on the door to congratulate me or bring me presents. The amount of people and presents was over whelming!

On my way home I stopped at Jennet’s family’s house to visit with them because Jennet had told me her mom had a present for me. Finding out about my birthday only that morning, Jennet’s mom had set herself to sewing me a bag and matching pillowcase. Made of heavy green material, with crocheted red flowers on the outside and red fringe sewn around the edges, she said that they were for after my wedding. She instructed me to stuff the pillow with cotton and sew it closed when the time came and I had a house of my own with my new spouse. I nodded and thanked her profusely. They fed me a full meal and let me scan through all the English channels they get on satellite. I was hoping to find a news channel, but it seems that Christian religion broadcasts have monopoly. I walked home feeling full already from the palow and salad, but immediately got to work preparing the dinner. My host-mother and I made pumpkin manty (steamed dumplings) and I made a chocolate cake with chocolate fudge sauce that I drizzled over it. We had plates of salad, fruit, raisins and nuts. About 10 friends and students came over and we enjoyed the meal together. Pumpkin manty is my favorite food here and I had specially requested it. I explained to them that in America we have a tradition where we light candles on the cake, sing a song, make a wish and blow the candles out. I helped Jennet light the 24 candles (that I had put in the cake earlier), ran out of the kitchen and instructed everyone to get ready and then jokingly acted surprised when she brought out the cake and started the song. After cake everyone went home and my host sisters left for a wedding, leaving my host mom and I to do all of the dishes. We were up until 11:30pm washing the piles of dishes. Washing dishes without any running water takes a considerable amount of time, but while I was waiting for the water to heat, I watched the finale of the show “A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila” on Russian MTV. Quality entertainment straight from the US of A! On the way back from the toilet I had stopped to watch the lightening storm happening off in the distance, and within minutes it was above us—crack of lightening, roll of thunder. I got into bed with 10 minutes left of my birthday and fell asleep to the sound of rain pouring down on the roof.

The massive spread of food my host family prepared for me!