Monday, July 6, 2009

"We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails."

-Peace Corps, 1992

In the past week I moved in with a new host family and went to Ashgabat for two days to attend the July 4th party. It seems like so much has happened in the last 7 days, that I almost feel like I have entered into a new period of my Peace Corps service. On July 1st I had been in Turkmenistan for 9 months. A friend of mine, a fellow PCV, sent me a text message that read, "If you had gotten pregnant on the day we arrived, you would be in labor right now—happy 9 months!" Thankfully this isn’t the case, but I have been here three-quarters of a year and I have indeed seen more babies born than I ever have in my entire life. I had previously decided to move host families and found a great family that lives close to school. My new host-mom, Maya is a gynecologist and my host dad, Genji works at a company in Turkmenabat. I have two younger host-brothers. Aziz is in the 8th grade and is rarely at the house, but out in the village where all of his cousins live. Azad is going to be a sophomore at a university in Ukraine and is home for the summer vacation. At my new house I have my own separate side of the house that consists of my room and a kitchen. I have my own entrance to my room and this gives me more privacy and more freedom to come and go as I please. Before I moved in, I discussed the food situation at my previous host-family and expressed my concern about the nutrition of my food. I had been cooking almost all of my meals myself at my previous host-family and I was spending too much of my money to try to compensate for the lack of nutritious food that they had available. Maya asked me specifically what I would like to eat and today she bought everything I mentioned and had placed it in my kitchen for me. We have an outside kitchen and an inside kitchen, and she has given me the inside kitchen until it gets too cold to cook outside. My host-mom lived in Cyprus for a year and she is so fascinating to talk to. We speak all in Russian together and last night we spent two hours together sharing photographs and talking about our pasts. I never spent that much time with my last host-family and I already feel more comfortable here than at my previous residence. It is common for PCVs to switch host-families and usually the families that the volunteers find themselves work out better than the Peace Corps selected families. Since I have been at my site for over six months, I have many connections and I was able to search for a family with certain characteristics that I had decided were important to me. Mostly I was looking for a family where I could have more privacy and where I felt more comfortable with the host-parents. Americans’ desire to spend much time alone is weird to most Turkmen because they are very communal people, but there are many times when I am so exhausted by the time that I come home that I just want to relax and feel like I came back to a place I feel comfortable. It was difficult explaining why I was leaving to my host-family and I know that they took it personally. I still hope that I see my host-sisters in my yoga club and I will see all of them in the cafeteria every day once school begins. I am sure that I will encounter challenges with my new host-family, but I am already much happier at my home and I know that this will positively effect my overall experience here.

It was a whirl-wind of a trip, but the majority of Turkmenistan PCVs went to Ashgabat for the July 4th US Embassy party. It was also our chance to say goodbye to our Programming and Training Officer who is leaving to work in the Peace Corps Romania program. She was one of the first people who greeted us at the airport when we arrived 9 months ago, and I am sad that I won’t be able to finish my service with her still here. She supported me greatly over the past months, especially in the beginning and I think that our new PTO has big shoes to fill. In addition to saying goodbye to our PTO, we said a really sad goodbye to four PCVs who are leaving this weekend to go home. It came as a shock that four are leaving at one time and we will miss them all greatly. Everyone deals with it differently, but I was extremely upset when I found out because I am especially close to one of them and Turkmenistan will never be as quirky and interesting without him (especially the dance moves at the Ak Altyn disco). Over the course of nine months we have had a total of seven T-17s leave. This most recent batch to leave was definitely the hardest because we have all grown so tight as a group. It shows how much we depend on each other and how much we have bonded as a group. I came here with 43 strangers and I was met by another group of 35 T-16s. Even if I have just met a new PCV, which did happen at the July 4th party, we fall into conversation like we have know each other for years. We are all so connected by this unique experience, that we will forever share a huge part of our lives together. As four of my friends depart Turkmenistan, it leaves me to think about my desire to be here and to analyze my experience so far. I have realized since being back from vacation that even on the most frustrating days, I can still say that I truly want to be here. I believe that everything happens for a reason and I am happy here in a way that sometimes I can’t explain. I found the quote at the beginning of my blog entry today in a teaching article I was reading and I know that the author was referring to changing our actions and the way that we do things to work with what we cannot control, but I also think that this quote can relate to emotions and the necessity to having a go with the flow attitude. My mom sent me a postcard that has a picture of roller skates and printed below, "just roll with it." She is right to say that this must be how I approach things in Turkmenistan. There are events, like losing 4 of my fellow PCVs, that I cannot change, but I must adjust my own sails and keep on going wherever the wind sends me.

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