Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The transition back from vacation is a practice of patience in readjustment. The evening after returning from Thailand I forced myself to leave my house and be social. I started walking in the direction of a friend’s house. The sun had just dropped below the horizon, making everything awash in an orange glow—my favorite time of day. I greeted some students and other people along the way. Even a brief walk in my town always involves many hellos and inquiries about health and work, even salaries sometimes. By now I know most people in my community, and on this particular day I had the energy to smile and greet everyone I passed (not all days are like this).

As I approached my friend’s house, my student and her family shouted the usual “come drink tea with us.” They have extended this invitation about every time I walk by their house, and this time I decided to accept. Not all “come drink tea” invitations are in actuality an invitation. It acts as an addendum to “hello, how are you?” At first I felt obligated to go drink tea, but that would turn out to be a cup of tea at each house along the road I was walking. My Turkmen friend told me that it is acceptable to reply with, “Inshallah, when I have more time.” This time I felt like I knew the family well enough to have an enjoyable cup of tea, and I was feeling extra gregarious, just having returned from 10 days relaxing in Thailand. I should have known that tea was not just going to be tea. I walked into their living room where a huge tablecloth was laid out with sitting mats all around. They were celebrating the completion of their renovation, and were having some friends over, now including me. I sat with the two sons and watched a DVD of Bollywood actors’ children singing their parents famous songs. The two boys had already memorized the words and were singing along. I had to smile at this. I ate the soup, wondering how my body would handle the oily food again, and managed to remember my Turkmen enough to pull off a decent toast. I ducked out early to go to my friend’s house, my original mission. My student’s mother rushed to the kitchen and came out with a plastic bag with two breads, an apple and candy for me. In the end my friend wasn’t home, but the whole evening had been even better than expected.

The constant attention that I get here, whether it’s positive or negative, is one of the hardest things for me to deal with. I can never blend in here, and people will always be curious about me. Sometimes I want to only look at the ground so that I don’t see people’s stares. Sometimes I want to be invisible so that people will stop whispering about me the moment I come into sight. I have less than a year here, if that, and I don’t want people to remember me for my coldness, I want people to remember me for my friendship and effort that I made to integrate into my community. As I was leaving, my student’s mother said that they are now renovating the other two rooms, and that one room can be my room. I told her that I already have a host-family, but that I will come back to visit soon. And I really did mean it when I said, “we will drink tea together again soon.”

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