Thursday, June 3, 2010

Turkmenistan News

The IMF predicts a robust year of economic growth for Central Asia, particularly Turkmenistan, which could see a  12%  increase in real GDP.

Ashgabat hosted an international carpet fest the last weekend of May, apparently to the delight of the previously unknown pro-Turkmen faction at

France's human rights ambassador, Francois Zimeray, visited Ashgabat in late May and noted the progress the country has made in human rights while insisting "there is more left to do."  However, Mr. Zimeray was clear that human rights concerns would be considered separately from the two nations' economic relationship. Currently the French construction firm Bouygues has contracts worth 2 billion Euros with the Turkmen government.

A Russian businessman was sentenced to six years imprisonment by a Russian court for electronically stealing $20 million dollars from the Central Bank of Turkmenistan in 2002.

Turkmenistan deployed its first batch of Russian-made drones to border guard units, with the aim of curtailing illegal border crossing and drug smuggling.

In other border issues, the Turkmen-Iranian Commission met on May 29th to discuss consular, custom and border issues and increase trade cooperation.

Eurasianet offers some suggestions for reading the website.

President Berdimuhamedov visited India May 24 - 27 to visit culturally important monuments and shore up bilateral ties.  Some Indian travelers faced delays as New Delhi airspace was shut down for 30 minutes while
Berdimuhamedov and Indian President Partibha Patil waited to begin their voyage to see the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Moscow celebrated Turkmen Cultural Days last week, culminating in the May 25th Turkmen folk music concert at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Turkmenistan News on the 'Net

Sorry, thrill seekers - after attracting the notice of a small number of tourists and a large number of YouTube armchair adventurers, the "hells gate" gas fire has attracted the attention of Presdient Berdymukhamedov.  He has ordered the fire extinguished to facilitate the exploitation of the nearby gas fields.

Turkmenistan continues to strengthen its cross-border ties with Iran.  A high level delegation attended the April 17th summit, "Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None" convened in Tehran by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who praised the "unbreakable ties" between the two nations. reports that the "Altyn Asyr" cellular telephone network now has 500,000 subscribers.  The semi-official news outlet also reports that the Russian MTS cellular service boasts another 1.82 million subscribers.

In a visit to a Ruhabat farm, the President Berdymukhamedov urged Turkmen parliamentarians to remember the needs of villagers.

ConocoPhillips may be coming to (or at least near) Turkmenistan.  After losing a bid with Lukoil to drill for oil in a Russian sector of the Caspian sea, the energy company teamed with Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development Co. to develop Turkmenistan's seabed reserve. In other hydrocarbon news, the Turkmen government increased its estimate of the South Yolotan gas reserves.

Doctors Without Borders published a report on April 12th which is critical of the Turkmen health system. However, an online Lancet report dated April 12th indicated that Turkmenistan has made marked improvement in maternal mortality. The rate fell from 77 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1980 to 22 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2008, a decrease that puts Turkmenistan in the category of highest improvement.

Turkmenistan has yet to publicly respond to the developments in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Turkmenistan News Round-up

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon arrived in Turkmenistan on April 1 to start a tour of the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations.  While in Ashgabat, he called on greater engagement by Turkmenistan on human rights issues.

Turkmenistan is a key transit point in the Europe-Caucasus-Asia transit route, as Turkmenbashi city handles 90% of the goods in transit. 

In the wake of the Moscow subway attacks, Turkmen President Berdimuhamedov expressed condolences to the Russian government.

A survey conducted by Gallup from April to August 2009 determined that 36% of Turkmen viewed NATO as protection, 7% a threat, 25% niether, and 32% didn't know or refused to answer

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Turkmenistan News on The 'Net

From the United States, With Love
Secretary of State Clinton released a Nowruz greeting to Turkmen media on March 19th. Secretary Clinton expressed her desire to continue preserving Turkmenistan's historical heritage sites and offered continuing US support for the "process of reform and development" in the country.

From Turkmenistan, With Love
The Turkmen government has given clothes and books to members of the Turkmen diaspora in Tajikistan. There are 25,000 ethnic Turkmen in Tajikistan.

From Germany, With Love
Someone in Turkmenistan is cruising in style.  Daimler recently agreed to a $185 million settlement with the US Department of Justice for paying foreign bribes, including the gift of an armored Mercedes to an unnamed
Turkmenistan government official.

From Russia, With Love (surely you saw that one coming?)
There may be no competing with the Germans for luxury cars, but Russia produces quality military equipment. This year, Turkmen government has beefed up its military with purchases of 10 tanks, 2 fast attack boats, and 6 rocket launchers.  Turkmenistan's military purchases are actually fairly modest compared to the build up by other nations in the budding arms race developing in the Caucuses and Central Asia.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sorry I Cannot Hear You, I'm Kind of Busy

by Steve Lynch, T-13 (Dashoguz City)

Former Peace Corps Volunteers do not call home. They do not buy phone cards. They do not page through scuffed tetrads (notebooks) filled with lists of digits from their village, calling codes cramped into the corners, hunting for their favorite dukançy's number. We return home, shake out the rug we bought from someone in the capital, and make a few drunken speeches to whomever will listen here about how this experience changed us and how we learned more from them than we think they learned from us and that's crazy, man. But we do not call home.

Almost every conversation between RPCVs (former Volunteers) will loop back through the same doorways of the same circular home of conversation: it's insane how it feels like forever ago; yeah, I was thinking about that, too; and then, finally, have you talked to your host family at all, like called them or something? There is the same look of guilt shading all of our eyes--no, I didn't but no one does and the land lines are terrible, right? There is comfort in knowing we are a type, that we have self-similar habits here. Because that guilt always turns to relief when the other person admits to host familial silence. Our communal guilt is a comfort.

I am the ugly duckling, for I have called my host family almost without fail once a month, almost every month, since I returned here in October 2006. I am a rarity. For almost three and a half years, I spend an hour on the phone with a family that suffered, stuffed, angered, adored, and amused me for two years and we, like Volunteers, cycle through the same conversations every single time. It goes like this.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Turkmenistan News on the 'Net

Congratulations to recently Returned Volunteers Gary Goodson and Robin Wilson, who got the picture above, labeled, "An assemblage of Turkmen" into the Turkmenistan newstream.  The picture accompanied an article promoting their upcoming talk about their Peace Corps experience.  If you're near San Marcos, Texas, swing by the public library tomorrow (March 16th) at 7 pm to hear the talk.  Remember - just because Peace Corps week is over for 2010 doesn't mean that the window for Third Goal activities has closed.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in Turkmenistan for an official visit.  According to Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency, the visit will discuss ways to strengthen economic relations, especially in the gas sector.

President  Berdimuhammedov announced plans to demolish illegally built homes and other buildings in the suburbs of Ashgabat. The goal will be to increase cleanliness and allow construction of orderly roads.

A recent demographic study by the Turkmen government found that women outnumber men in the country.

Earlier this month, Turkmenistan invited Haitian children to enjoy a respite from the problems in their country by vacationing at Avaza, the newly rebuilt resort community on the Caspian Sea.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Turkmenski Shashlyk

by the Shashlyk Master of Ashgabat
Camel Spit has published multiple plov recipes, but has yet to provide instructions for that essential Turkmen party staple: shashlyk.  Sure, you could translate the dish as "shish kebab," but that does not do justice to the fire charred, fat laden, tangy meat that tastes uniquely of Turkmenistan, and the scarce wood from the desert sacrificed to cook it.

Whether you first had it in the shady back alley behind the Presitzhe bar & grill in Abadan (Bizmein) or with the famous shashlyk masters of the Nebit Dag Bazaar, or that special gem in Ashgabat, the Iceberg Café, shashlyk was always a great break from the grechka/chorba/chorek diet of village life.  It did not even have to be good shashlyk, just some grilled meats cooked outdoors with a pivo (beer) or three. 

Many Volunteers have attempted to recreate various shashlyk recipes, and below I’ll try and recount as many as I can remember from some of the great PCV shashlyk masters of yore, and of course our Turkmen counterparts who actually know what they are doing. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Turkmenistan News

Israel is planning to open an embassy in Turkmenistan.  However, diplomatic relations have hit a snag because Turkmenistan has delayed ratifying the appointment of Israel's ambassador, because they are uncomfortable with an ex-Mossad (Israeli secret service) official serving in the post.

While Richard Holbrooke was not able to coordinate a meeting in Turkmenistan, another U.S. official, special envoy for Eurasian energy Richard Morningstar did meet with President Berdymukhamedov, according to  Reuters analyzed the meeting within the familiar framework of energy diplomacy.

According to the Neutral Turkmenistan, as reprinted on, President Berdymukhamedov  has announced a major criminal law liberalization program.  The maximum prison sentence in Turkmenistan will be reduced from 25 to 15 years and fines will replace prison sentences for some crimes.  This move comes after Turkmenistan faced criticism about its prison system by a number of international non-governmental institutions.

Sad news for Balkan Welayat soccer fans: Balkanabat's Nebitchi lost in the President's Cup finals to Ashgabat's Altyn Asyr.

Monday, March 1, 2010

RPCV Advocacy Efforts on Behalf of Peace Corps

The National Peace Corps Association will mark the anniversary of the founding of Peace Corps with a Day of Action tomorrow (March 2nd).  RPCVs will visit Congress to urge continued bipartisan support for the agency. NPCA has an action page if you would like to help advocate in our home state.

In a similar vein, Push of Peace Corps is currently advocating for increased funding of Peace Corps (to $465 million in 2011). If you would like to write your Representative on behalf of the goal, the organization has set a deadline of March 15th.  More information on getting involved with this campaign is available on their website.

Turkmenistan News on the 'Net

Turkmenistan's AFC Challenge Cup run ended with a loss to North Korea, 1-0 in the finals.

Neil Bush, brother of President George W. Bush and son of President George H.W. Bush, visited Turkmenistan and passed on the best wishes of his father and to President Berdimuhamedov and conveyed the hopes of the U.S. business community for strengthened relations between the countries.

Perhaps reflecting warmer relations between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are on the horizon, announced that Dashoguz will host a festival of Turkmen/Uzbek friendship in September 2010.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

FoT President's Update

by Thomas 'Skip' Mark, T-8

Dear Friends:

On behalf of the newly elected Executive Committee and Board of Directors, I would like to thank you for your interest in Friends of Turkmenistan. I am writing this letter to update you on the current state of affairs of the organization, to share with you our strategic plan for 2010, and to describe to you the benefits of becoming a member.

Turkmenistan Updates

Turkmenistan beat Tajikistan 2-0 to advance to the finals of the AFC Challenge Cup for the first time. The AFC website pointed out that Turkmenistan has done well in the cup despite challenges, including the hot weather and spicy Sri Lankan food which does not sit well in Turkmen bellies.

Turkmen composer Nury Halmamedov, who died in 1983, would have turned 70 this week. RFE/RL posted a story in honor of the event, including some clips of the music he wrote during the Soviet era.

The Washington Times published an op-ed piece earlier this week urging more US strategic interest in the Eurasia, particularly Central Asian energy market. Outside the hydrocarbon market, Turkmenistan has convened a conference on alternative energy in Ashgabat.

U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke visited the former Soviet Central Asian republics, including Turkmenistan, to warn of the danger of Al-Qaeda sponsoring activities to destabilize the countries.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Job Resources and Suggestions for T-stan RPCVs

by Kelsey Beckner, T-11 (Dashoguz)

Welcome back to the US! Or if you're just finishing more school, welcome back to the glorious U.S. job market! In this article I will provide a bunch of useful resources for finding a job on your return from Peace Corps.

The author power networking herself into the prestigious FoT Vice-President position

1. Peace Corps Career Center and other resources. If you're in Washington, DC you might as well head over to the Peace Corps Career Center, located in Rosslyn, Virginia. I found the spreadsheet listings of international development organizations most helpful for learning about the multitude of development organizations that are in DC and around the country. While this is a good place to start and gives you a sense of purpose in your job search, I do not recommend spending too much time there. Try it out for a few days max and then move on to a coffee shop.

I also found the Hotline magazine pretty helpful as a resource for current job listings. It is also a good place to learn about development and other non-profit organizations.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Turkmenistan News

President Berdymukhamedov announced that Turkmen citizens will be allowed to register new political parties this year.  Currently, the only registered political party is the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan has advanced to the semi-finals of the AFC Challenge Cup, the international soccer tournament for asia. If they beat Tajikistan, the Turkmen players will face either North Korea or Myanmar (Burma) in the finals.

Friday, February 19, 2010

3rd Goal Presentation Tips

by Charles Gussow, T-11

After completing their service overseas, Volunteers are considered "Returned Peace Corps Volunteers" rather than "Former Volunteers" to emphasize their continuing duty to educate Americans about their country of service. This responsibility is tied to the 3rd goal of Peace Corps - bringing the experience back home to the United States (the first and second goal are providing technical assistance and sharing American culture with foreign hosts, respectively).

In honor of the upcoming Peace Corps week (March 1st - 7th), Camel Spit is pleased to offer some suggestions for successfully sharing your experience at your local school or community center.

Don't be afraid! Use the classroom match at the Peace Corps site or just call a school/library near you and set up a talk. At least once during your service, you convinced a room full of children/doctors/ministry officials that you knew something about health/business/the English language that they didn't (okay, you probably didn't need to fake English language knowledge). You actually do more about Turkmenistan than most people in the U.S., so will be able to pass on a ton of information to your audience.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A taste of soccer glory at the AFC challenge cup

Sports fans!  Turkmenistan held South Korea to a 1-1 tie in the AFC challenge cup for under-23 teams.  The Turkmens only had 10 men on the field for most of the second half.  The South Korean team had been World Cup finalists. More coverage from, notes that the South African bound Korean team probably should have easily beaten the young Turkmen team.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Turkmenistan News

Turkey would like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to join the parliament of Turkish speaking countries. In another forum, the Economic Cooperation Organization, Turkey held itself out as a role model of development for their Central Asian cousins to follow. Perhaps part of that development project is the new power plant built by Turkey in Ashgabat.

Sports fans - check out the profile of the Turkmenistan international soccer squad, written by an Indian sports site excited about the upcoming Asian championship.

Dashoguz has a new cotton mill.

Cool Things in Random Places posted a story about the perpetual gas fire in Darvaz, called "The Door to Hell." Catchy title.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Peace Corps Week-3rd Goal Activity Suggestions

Peace Corps Week 2010 is from March 1 to March 7.

If you are interested in participating in a Peace Corps activity in your area, the Peace Corps website has a list of events that are taking place all over the country between late February and early March. You can find it at the following link:

Peace Corps also offers "How To" tool kits for third goal activities. You can find it at the following link:

Let us know if you participate in any of these activities and we'll post it on the blog.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Education News & A "Great Game" Update

According to Trend News of Azerbaijan, President Berdimuhammedov, who reinstated the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan last year, has named Gurbanmurat Mezilov to be the full-time president of the Academy.

A Swedish newspaper reports on Afghan students studying in Sweden, including a young lady who originally left Afghanistan for Turkmenistan, before migrating north to continue the medical studies she began at Turkmen State University. reports that Turkmenistan's universities are expanding. The government will increase the number of available postgraduate study slots while adding 7 new faculties (roughly equivalent to American university departments) and 48 new positions for university professors.

If you see a foreign university student studying in Belarus, there's a good chance she or he is Turkmen.

Central Asian watchers are often fond of describing regional relations as "The Great Game," borrowing the term from the 19th century contest between the British and Russian empires in the region.  Those commentators usually mention China as a "new player" for the 21st century, since it enjoys new wealth and old geographic and cultural ties to the region. The analyzes China's recent overtures to Central Asia, concluding that one more major power interested in the region could be a boon to the Central Asian republics by providing more foreign policy options.  Meanwhile, the Obama administration's newly proposed aid budget for Central Asia is austere, with levels remaining largely constant and aid to Turkmenistan falling from $12.5 to $10 million dollars.  Of course, these figures may change by the time Congress approves them.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Does Peace Corps Help Turkmenistan: No, but...

by Maya Saryeva
This essay is part of a continuing Camel Spit conversation.

I would like to present a subjective account of my experience with Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), and please note that none of what I say is directed at any PCV personally. These are simply my thoughts, memories and experiences that I gathered over the years.  I cannot argue that Peace Corps Volunteers make Turkmenistan a better country. However, I can say that they certainly facilitate a great deal of cultural exchange and touch the lives of different individuals and families in different ways. While there are a few jewels amongst the waves of PCVs that come and go, most are there for the experience of enduring a life outside of United States and coming back to say that they actually made it, and if they are lucky or strong individuals, they were actually able to enjoy it.  I found it especially interesting that very few of the Volunteers (most of the ones I became friends with) had a sense of pragmatism and interest in the lives of Turkmen people, while many others didn't. Undoubtedly some PCVs came with the goal of changing Turkmenistan, while others had a strange air of ideological bias that "we are here to show you things that are not necessarily different, but are essentially "better".  I believe for most of the latter, the attitudes change in time as they realize that there is much in their way, and that the only difference they can truly make is in their neighborhoods, villages or a group of friends.

Does Peace Corps Help Turkmenistan : Yes & No

by Nate Truitt, T-9
This is a response to the question we posed in an earlier posting.

Yes and no, depending on who you ask.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned in Peace Corps was that, by and large, people in other countries are quite content with their way of life. Of course, they have problems and complaints, as do all of us. But they also place a high value on the attitudes, ideas and traditions that under-gird their day-to-day existence.

With very rare exceptions, no nation thinks of itself as desperately in need of foreign assistance. To the contrary, when people think of how foreigners or foreign organizations might help their own country, they usually define the word "help" in very narrow terms.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Turkmenistan's GREAT salt lake: Mollakara

by Charles Gussow, T-11
As is occasionally apparent, your humble Camel Spit editor was a proud temporary denizen of Balkanabat. Readers will need to forgive this, and other instances of regional boosterism.

Many travelers assume that Balkanabat is not a prime location for aquatic adventure. This is a misconception. Sure, the town is surrounded by high desert and mountains, but that doesn't mean you need to go all the way to Turkmenbashi City and the Caspian Sea to enjoy a day at the beach. Balkanabat is a short taxi or marshrutka (minibus) ride away from Mollakara, a GREAT salt lake, located in the outskirts of Jebel. The saltiness means you become super buoyant as you float around and the high mineral content is believed to have strong health benefits. In fact, after Avaza gets rebuilt, Mollakara is due for a sanatarium upgrade.
Until then, here are some tips for enjoying your trip to Mollakara.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Turkmenistan News Round-Up

It seems that Turkmen/American relations took some interesting turns in the fall.

The circus is back in town!  On April 24, the Turkmen State circus will reopen in Ashgabat.

Skiing is coming to Turkmenbashi City.  A covered ski run and skating rink will be built in the reconstructed Avaza resort zone.  In other Caspian news, the unexpected guests on the Aerosvit flight diverted into Turkmenbashi airport from Baku have written letters to the Turkmen government thanking them for the hospitality and hot meals.

The director of the TV station "Turkmenistan" has been fired and the Minister of Communication reprimanded after a February 4th meeting in which President Berdimuhamedov expressed dissatisfaction with the mass media in the country.  A friendly request from Camel Spit - more Lachin Mamedova coverage, please!

President Berdimuhamedov has won the race to be the first world leader to visit the world's tallest tower in Dubai.   He was in town to sign a memorandum of understanding to enhance commercial ties between the United Arab Emirates and Turkmenistan.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Turkmenistan News Round-Up

Business Week notes that Turkmenistan is open for business and may provide returns for adventurous investors. believes that Turkmenistan may become the "Dubai of the Caspian Sea." However,  The Economist is more bearish on prospects for this year. India is in the optimistic camp regarding Turkmenistan's economic potential, as it is sending Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur along with a delegation from the Confederation of Indian Industry to explore strengthening business ties between the two nations.

Iran continues to enjoy strong commercial relations with Turkmenistan, with a recent Iranian delegation highlighting the completion of the Turkmenistan-Iran gas pipeline and construction of a rail link between the nations.The Iranian Vice-President indicated his country's desire to open a Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Iran ferry link connecting into the port of Turkmenbashi city.

Turkmenbashi city's airport experienced some more short-term excitement a few days ago - a Ukranian Aerosvit flight from Kiev to Baku had to make an emergency landing in the city's airport due to bad weather.

Plans are underway for Asghabat residents to enjoy more reliable electricity as the city grows.  Following Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov's visit to France, he announced that a consortium of European countries will receive a 2.2 billion Euro contract to improve the capital's power grid.

Vancouver Winter Olympics: Sorry, no Turkmen athletes will be competing this year, though that may change someday.  Central Asian fans will be able to root for Kazahkstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic, and Uzbekistan, according to

Vegetarian Plov

Camel Spit's third in an ever-expanding series of plov variations.  This recipe suggests the addition of a hard-boiled egg, not exactly a plov standard, to provide a little more protein give some meat-like texture.  Letting your guest peel the cooked garlic head and hardboiled egg also adds the element of hands on plov eating which is often missing from American dinner parties. Of course, if you leave out the egg, you will have a perfectly respectable vegan recipe. 

Ingredients:1 tbsp (or more) grapeseed oil
1 cup jasmine rice
2 cups water
1 or 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
8 large carrots, cut into long, thin slices.  [Slices should be about as long and wide as your pinky, but only 1-2 centimeters thick.]
2 small onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped (+ optional head of garlic)
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp ginger powder (or chopped fresh ginger)
(optional pinch of cinnamon)
(optional fresh jalapeno or chili pepper)
salt and pepper to taste

Friday, February 5, 2010

Past Projects by Friends of Turkmenistan

Friends of Turkmenistan (FOT)'s new leadership is busy exploring options for projects to pursue this year. Because we are a member-driven organization, any FoT member can suggest projects for the organization. So, if you have any idea you're passionate about and are willing to work to help realize it (and have paid your dues at NPCA or by sending a check for $15 to FoT), let us know!

To get your creative juices flowing, here are some of the projects that FoT has undertaken in the past.

* Turkmenistan academic scholarship competition. To encourage graduate-level study of Turkmenistan, a team of outside readers chose the best paper or public health poster on Turkmenistan to receive a small scholarship. The winning scholar wrote about HIV prevalence among sex workers in Turkmenistan.

* Buddy program - RPCVs volunteered to be community contacts for UGRAD and Muskie fellows studying in their hometown.

* Community center support - FoT sent books and office supplies to two resource centers in Mary Welayat, building on a Peace Corps project that has been successfully picked up by the community

* Created PowerPoint presentation for teachers and RPCVs to use in introducing Turkmenistan to students. Available at FoT's homepage:

* Hosted pre-departure parties for Peace Corps Trainee groups traveling to Turkmenistan.

Peace Corps Memories: The Beekeepers

by Kenyon Weaver, T-12

Pamoimoo (to my mind). To me and my two Peace Corps compatriots, Derek and Ben, the word “beekeepers” triggers a response worthy of Proust.

It was our first night in Dashoguz City, which meant it was our last night of the trip to meet our permanent host families. As small and navigable as Dashoguz is, T-12 Ben and I were new and clueless; we latched onto guide and mentor T-11 Derek. The plan was simple: Meet up with the other T-12s at the American Corner, transfer to the Dashoguz Hotel, stay overnight, then pile into the first plane in the morning back to Ashgabat.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sending Care Packages to Volunteers

by Sheryl Abrahams, T-11
In honor of Turkmenistan inviting a new group of Peace Corps Trainees to start service in the spring, we are pleased to share the following hints for those looking to brighten the day of a loved one serving in our favorite corner of Central Asia.

Nothing makes a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)’s day like receiving a package!  But with increased postage costs, it’s always nice to know that you’re sending the right thing.  Here are some suggestions from returned PCVs to make sure you get the most for your money when mailing parcels to Turkmenistan.

- Krispy Kreme doughnuts: This is not because PCVs won’t eat 3-week old Krispy Kremes that have just come halfway across the world in a cardboard box.  It’s because we WILL.  Every last one, in one sitting, all while telling ourselves that the green spots starting to appear on the top are ‘sprinkles.’  We just don’t need this kind of temptation.
- Tea: By the time your PCV has finished his/her service, s/he will have consumed approximately 7,000 cups of tea, all without any help from you.  Trust us, tea is one thing that your PCV will not do without at any time. Ever.
- Unmarked powders: Though it seems like a no-brainer, this has been done before!    Don’t send your PCV baby powder or cream of tartar in a Ziploc bag, for obvious reasons.  Keep it in the original, marked container, or just let your PCV go to the Turkish supermarket in Ashgabat.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Turkmen President Visits France

President Berdymukhammedov is visiting France to meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy. According to RFE/RL,  Berdymukhammedov and Sarkozy "expressed satisfaction about the continuing dialogue on human rights issues between the EU and Turkmenistan."

In other areas of satisfactory cooperation, the French construction company VINCI looks forward to new business opportunities in Turkmenistan, building on the legacy of Bouygues, a French firm which has demonstrated admirable efficiency in managing construction projects in residential areas.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Palow, Afghan Style

by Sheryl Abrahams, T-11 [modified from recipe by Rebecca Walton Chirak, T-11]

1 medium onion, chopped
0.25-0.5 cup vegetable oil, depending on your taste (olive oil works well)
4-5 cut-up chicken pieces, such as drumsticks and thighs
2 large carrots, cut into matchsticks
3 cloves garlic, minced
0.5 cup seedless raisins (golden raisins work best)
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 tsp saffron
5-6 cups chicken broth (If you can manage it, using homemade broth will make this dish absolutely amazing.  Substitute water for some of the broth if needed.)
salt and pepper to taste

Turkmenistan News Sites

Not sure that Camel Spit is giving you all possible information about current events in Turkmenistan?  Go to the following sites to satisfy your curiosity about the home of the Golden Century!
Turkmenistan Golden Age News Site (In Russian)
Turkmenistan Official Magazine
Turkmenistan news from the horse's mouth.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

News Round-Up

Attention Wedding Planners: The NY Times advises you to discourage unwelcome friends from attending your wedding by telling them you plan to host the ceremony in Ashgabat.  Clearly the Social Q's author has not considered the advantages of a destination wedding at the Iceberg Cafe.

The Turkmen government is allowing some university students to study abroad after a 6 month delay. Students attending university in Bulgaria have been allowed to leave, while those studying at American University of Central Asia have not yet been allowed to return to Kyrgyzstan. 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Breakfast with host mother

By Charles Gussow (T-11)

Conversation between Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) and his host mother (Eje), as remembered by the PCV. Translated from the Turkmen.
Eje:    Good morning, dear son!  I hope that you had restful sleep.
PCV:     It was restful, thank you.  I'm always amazed that sleeping on a dushek can be so comfortable.  People in the U.S. could learn something from the Turkmen. You can't just throw money around and expect happiness.  Simple solutions can work so well.
Eje:    Maybe you could start a an import company when you return home and become rich on Turkmen technology!  Just remember to send some money to us.
PCV:    Sure!  We'll call it Eje's Therapuetic Sleep System.
Eje:      You're so funny!  Would you like some tea while I make you breakfast?
PCV:    Yes, please.  Would you like me to help you?
Eje:    Don't be silly. I'm your mother. It's my pleasure to serve you.  You work so hard helping our community by teaching our children how to be healthy.
PCV:    You're so great.

Conversation as remembered by Eje. Translated from the Turkmen.

Eje:    (Glancing meaningfully at wall clock showing 10:15 am) Good morning, sonny.  You sure seemed to enjoy sleeping this morning.
PCV:    Yes. Sleeping dushek comfortable.  America needs what teaching. Money not fix all. Plain good.
Eje:    If money's not that important to Americans, you should go home, start a business, and send all those American dollars to me!
PCV:    Yes!  We name it Eje Hospital Sleep Role.
Eje:    You're ridiculous.  Sit down and drink your tea so that I can get myself organized in the kitchen.
PCV:    Yes. I help?
Eje:    Stop joking.  You're my guest and it's my duty to serve you.  If you want to work hard, spend your effort on the community, helping our children.
PCV:    Yes. You great.

*All rights reserved by author*

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Turkmenistan: The Music Videos

Pining for Turkmenistan? YouTube has you covered. A little Internet searching (read: procrastination) found music video tributes for the capital cities. Well, Mary's isn't so much a music video as a car ride.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Call for answers: Does Peace Corps help Turkmenistan? Why/Why not?

by Charles Gussow, T-11

As many of you know, Turkmenistan initially invited, then declined to issue visas to the Volunteer group set to arrive in autumn 2009. An agreement has since been reached to invite a smaller group, consisting only of health volunteers, to begin service this spring.

Given the ambivalence shown by the Turkmen government, now is an opportune moment to ask - Is the Peace Corps good for Turkmenistan? Why or why not?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Turkmenistan Is Organizing a Navy

First, the nice thing about writing for friends of Turkmenistan is that we don't need to address any snarky comments about why a landlocked country would need a navy. Comments regarding Kyrgyz naval efforts are very much on the table.

The navy, to be ready by 2015, may signal a more aggressive defense of Caspian Sea interests. The composition of the force indicates cooperation with at least some of their neighbors (and friends of their neighbors), as ships were procured from Ukraine, Iran, Russia, and the US.

On land, Belarus and Turkmenistan have signed a separate military cooperation agreement, part of President Berdimuhamedov's visit to Belarus.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tracking Turkmen Data

(updated from a 2007 Camel Spit article by Sheryl Abrahams, T-11)
The original article actually pulled some of the data from these sources in readable and informative tables. Unfortunately, your humble editor does not yet have the Blogger skills to translate that into a web posting. So, for now, readers will need to navigate to the pages to pull the data themselves. Happy tracking!

Gap Minder

Gap Minder
is a great tool for tracking income (measured by inflation adjusted GDP) and health (measured by life expectancy at birth). This link takes you to data for Turkmenistan from 1955 to 2007.

Public Health Career Resources

by Sheryl Abrahams, T-11

Want to work in global health? Public health career resources for newly-returned PCVs and newly-minted MPHs.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bragging rights for Lebap

Turkmenistan's athlete of the year for 2009 was a 23 year old resident of Turkmenabat (formerly Charjew) who won the Asian Championship for lightweight boxing.

Ashgabat boosters can get some consolation from the recent victory of Orif Buharakov in Turkmenistan's first knife throwing competition. But, in the spirit of full disclosure, it must be noted that his victory took place in the absence of indisputable Turkmen knife throwing champion and Mary resident, Jawad Achilov.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Low-Fat Plov Recipe

Camel Spit is throwing the gauntlet! Your loyal editor claims that the following is the best Americanized plov recipe out there. What do you say?

Low-Fat Chicken Plov (reprinted from Dec. 2006 camel spit)
by Charles Gussow (T-11)

A certain amount of controversy exists around this recipe. The intent is to capture the Sunday plov taste we all remember, without slowly killing ourselves by guzzling cotton seed oil. However, some RCPVs note that the final product, “just tastes like chicken and rice.” In contrast, FoT Vice President (and wife) Kelsey Beckner, raves, “This is the best dish I’ve ever eaten. You are a genius, Charles. In appreciation for your efforts in creating this recipe, I will do all of the housework from now on.” At least that’s how he remembers the conversation.

2 Chicken breasts, chopped
2 Onions, sliced
3 cloves Garlic, diced
1/2 pound carrots (or more), sliced into long strips
2 cups of Rice
1 cup of Chicken broth
1 cup water
2-4 tablespoons Canola or vegetable oil
Garlic powder
Head of garlic (optional)
Jalapeno pepper (optional)
Dried apricot (optional)
Craisins (optional)
Remember to use a heavy pot with a lid.

Gas holiday

January has been a busy month for Turkmenistan's natural gas diplomacy, with a new Minister appointed and deals completed or contemplated with a number of countries. Complete coverage of these deals can be found elsewhere on the Internet.

There is a more concrete benefit of all that activity for Peace Corps Volunteers in Turkmenistan: a new holiday! In honor of the Turkmen-Kazakhstan-China pipepline, December 14th will be Oil and Gas Industry Geology Worker Day. If English teachers are serving in Turkmenistan by next December, Turkmen students can enjoy watching a Liberal Arts major try to explain the similarities and differences between American & Turkmen hydrocarbon extraction techniques. Good luck PCVs!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Arch of Neutrality

Future PCVs and other visitors to Ashgabat will no longer be able to enjoy the view from the Arch of Neutrality, according to January 18th reports from the Neutral Turkmenistan. The "Three Legs" monument is coming down as part of an urban renovation project. Fans of Permanent Neutrality need not be dismayed, as the Turkmen President announced that a new "Monument to Neutrality" will be built.

Available at:

Etiquette Lesson: How to Drop Your Peace Corps Service In Any Social Setting

by Charles Gussow (T-11)

There are many reasons you may want to communicate that you were an RPCV in Turkmenistan: making new friends, impressing potential romantic partners, cowing your enemies, or applying for a job well beyond your qualification range (though running an etrap-wide day camp should really count as experience managing an international NGO). The problem is how to let everyone know that you were the best Volunteer in the toughest country of service without people getting the wrong-headed idea that you have a big ego. FoT is here to help.

Tactic 1: Marry another RPCV. When people ask where you met, respond, Turkmenistan, when we were in Peace Corps, serving our country… you’re welcome.” You may, however, find this tactic does not help find new romantic partners. But, there is a common misperception that this approach requires that you laid some groundwork while serving. Not true! Simply call an old sitemate, travel buddy or casual acquaintance from PDM Conference and explain the valuable networking you could accomplish by marrying not only your souls, but your Close of Service records. Just remember to invite FoT to the wedding!

Tactic 2: Pretend you see a Turkmen person in the crowd. Shout a friendly “Salaam! Gowami?” in their direction. When it turns out the person isn’t Turkmen, say, “I’m sorry, I could have sworn your scarf pattern was reminiscent of the stylized gül pattern favored by the Yomut people of western Turkmenistan… oh yes, I learned all about local handicraft when I was in Peace Corps, serving our country…. you’re welcome.”

Tactic 3: Use comparatives. “I haven’t been this hot since that day in Gurbanguly, Turkmenistan…when I was in Peace Corps, serving our country….you’re welcome.”

Tactic 4: Name your pet, car, child or bicep after a Turkmen geographical feature. This is highly effective, assuming you bring little “Kopet Dag” or “Garagum Canal” with you to parties.

Tactic 5: Always wear your group’s Peace Corps t-shirt. Unfortunately, some groups made t-shirts a little too subtle, so don’t be afraid to sew a Peace Corps patch and/or Turkmenistan flag patch to get the point across.

*All rights reserved by author.*

Spicy Manty Recipe (for American Kitchens)

by Sheryl Abrahams, T-11

For those who like a little kick to their manty. Also good for RPCVs who have trouble re-creating their ejes’ (host mother's) dough:

•1 package frozen spinach, chopped
•1 tablespoon olive oil
•1 clove garlic, minced
•1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce*, or less for milder dumplings
•Pinch of salt
•1 package refrigerated wonton wrappers (usually found in the produce section of the grocery store, near the tofu)

Thaw the spinach and mix with the next four ingredients. Wet each wonton wrapper with a pastry brush, then fill and fold into the familiar manty shape. Spray down a stovetop steam insert with cooking spray, and arrange manty so that individual dumplings do not touch. Steam for about 10 minutes, in batches if necessary.
To balance the heat with a cool dipping sauce, mix 3 parts sour cream to 1 part cream cheese and add salt to taste.
*Sometimes referred to as “Rooster” sauce; it can be found in most grocery stores in a clear squeeze bottle with a green top and a picture of a rooster.