Friday, February 5, 2010

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.
Somehow, the second step never followed the first. That is the truly hazy part: how we even got to the beekeepers’ place in the first place, since both the American Corner and the hotel are
on the same street—the main avenue—a mere five minutes’ walk from one another. Was it by choice? It was—it must have been—even though the way I remember it, it seemed necessary and inevitable that we should accept the beekeepers’ invitation.
We three arrived at the American Corner with our dusty backpacks. Closed. One door opposite the Corner was open and lit, however, and inside sat an older and a younger woman. Derek’s Turkmen flowed naturally: Hi there, who are you? We are the Beekeepers, they answered, as though it were a feudal title. Tell us more, Derek said, amiably. Tea and brochures followed, standard black and white trifolds that explained in Turkmen and Russian about the organization. The tea warmed the hands; although the days were pleasant in October, the desert climate turns cold at night.

Ben and I tried our classroom-polished Turkmen that still had the lisp characteristic of Ashgabat. The usual questions were hardly banal when you had a language to practice: We’re Americans, we’re here with the Peace Corps, we teach English and health, we are on our way back to Ashgabat in the morning, we are staying at a hotel. Why don’t you stay over at our place, they asked. Say no more—where is the hotel, anyway?

The beekeepers’ place, a classic Soviet brick one-story home, was just a few minutes’ walk away. Slipping off our backpacks and settling at the low table, the mhymanchilik (hospitality - Turkmen style) had begun. The rest of the night I have only memories stitched together without a narrative: an Uzbek grandfather with a snuff bottle in hand explaining about the old days, bottles of bugday (wheat, ie moonshine) vodka that refilled themselves, toasts about Turkmenistan and America and friendship forever, Korean salads and apricot-flavored plov, mangled Turkmen sentences that degenerated with each passing stogram (big shot), and finally – whoa! – a bright fluorescent light and suddenly it’s six in the morning and there are fried eggs on the table, one for each of us. Time to get going—standby on the next flight was not an option. We thanked our hosts profusely, in breath that must have reeked of cottonseed oil and fermented grains.

1 comment:

  1. This is so typical, I can see it happening! Thanks for sharing!