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!