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.