This past weekend consisted of a three-day ongoing celebration of my 25th birthday. I had little to do with the majority of the planning of the events, but the surprises kept coming. On Friday my intermediate level class organized a surprise party. None of them showed up for club, and then one student bust through my door out of breath and muttering, “May I come in teacher?” I asked her if the others were on their way and she shook her head and said, “No, come with me.” They had set up a huge table with all of my favorite foods. We spent the evening gorging ourselves with food and getting up to dance in between courses. I think that I have previously mentioned that Turkmen love to dance. Music or no music, they will dance whenever and wherever. They taught me some traditional Turkmen dances that I had seen done at weddings, but never learned before. Then I reciprocated and taught them a hip-hop dance I made up on the spot. All of the shaking and spinning didn’t help digestion, but it made for one of the most memorable evenings in Turkmenistan.
On my actual birthday I was bombarded at school. Students were skipping classes to go home to get me presents! With one of my sixth grade classes they wanted to sing and dance for me. I heard Turkmen and Uzbek songs and a perfect rendition of a Bollywood song and dance number by two boys. The grand finale was something planned by the boys. From what I saw, it looked like a human pyramid in the shape of a camel. I am not sure if this is what they were going for, but that is what came to my mind and I applauded vigorously for creative ingenuity.
On Sunday my host-family wanted to take me and my friends to the forest for a barbeque. I invited several Turkmen and American friends and we drove out sandy back roads to one of the Black Wood Forest areas. These trees are going extinct because, unfortunately, their dry wood makes for perfect barbeque firewood. My host-dad started the kebab fire with some of the fallen wood, and once the fire had died down to hot coals, we laid the kebab sticks across the fire propping them up on a few bricks placed on either side of the coals. We made salad, washed fruit, piled plates with candies and cookies, and cracked open bottles of beer. My host-dad makes some amazing barbeque and despite our best efforts, we were nowhere close to finishing all of the meat. I made a banana cake with dark chocolate frosting and despite the high winds that day, a few volunteers managed to get about 10 candles lit by using the flat, circular bread to shield the cake from the gusts. That move could only be done in Lebap where they follow to the sacred bread rules on a more lenient basis. We played volleyball with my host-brother and talked about hunting season with my host-dad. When the volleyball rolled into the river, Collin ran after it and ended up in the water himself. There was no way it was planned, but he happened to bring an extra change of clothes. An afternoon barbeque in the forest of by the river is real Turkmen recreation. There were several other families we saw driving out there. It made me really happy that I could top of my birthday weekend by enjoying a picnic with my closest American and Turkmen friends that I have here!