April 17, 2002 - Katie's Turkmenistan Info Page: Peace Corps program in Turkmenistan is reopening

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Turkmenistan: Peace Corps Turkmenistan : The Peace Corps in Turkmenistan: April 17, 2002 - Katie's Turkmenistan Info Page: Peace Corps program in Turkmenistan is reopening

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, April 30, 2002 - 11:17 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps program in Turkmenistan is reopening

Read and comment on this report from a member of T-9 on the re-opening of the Peace Corps Program in Turkmenistan at:

Peace Corps program in Turkmenistan is reopening*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Peace Corps program in Turkmenistan is reopening

4/17/02: Great news - the Peace Corps program in Turkmenistan is reopening! Seven T-9 volunteers arrived back in Turkmenistan today. They will be in Ashgabat for a few days and then return to their sites. They will continue with their work and assist in preparing for the new group of volunteers who will arrive in Turkmenistan in September.

4/13/02: We had a send-off party at my house for those volunteers who are returning to Turkmenistan. Lots of folks came in from out of town, and it was a great time. I will post a couple photos from the party as soon as they are developed.


Given the unusual and unexpected circumstances under which the other Peace Corps Volunteers and I had to end our service in Turkmenistan, I just wanted to say a few words about the situation.

First, I wanted to say that Turkmenistan is very different from Afghanistan. Now that I am back in the U.S., sometimes people ask me if Turkmen women must wear veils like Afghan women. The answer is no. In Turkmenistan women are not repressed like in Afghanistan - they work and study just like they do in most other countries. There are people of many different nationalities who live in Turkmenistan, although the majority are Turkmen. And the large majority of Turkmen are muslim. So yes, Turkmenistan is an Islamic society. I lived in a small village and I would often in the quiet of the early morning or evening hear the call to prayer coming from the village mosque. It came to be a very peaceful and comforting sound to hear. I also remember many summer evenings as I was preparing dinner outside with my host mother hearing my five-year-old host sister belt out her own version of the call to prayer! My host brother went to the mosque every day to study the Koran with aspriations of becoming a mullah. Prayer is a part of everyday for most Turkmen, as after every meal or snack most Turkmen say a prayer with their hands cupped in front of them, then wash their hands over their face. When someone asks "How are you," a common answer is "Good, thanks to God." Traditional Turkmen women wear scarves on their heads and never cut their hair to be a good Muslim. Old men wear large hats and grow beards. Turkmen typically do not eat ham or pork, and from time to time people give food to their neighbors and family as a way to practice their faith. During Ramadan many Turkmen fast from sunrise to sunset. These are just a few examples of how the muslim faith is an integral part of everyday Turkmen life.

Turkmenistan is a very peaceful country and I have never seen any elements of Islamic extremism that we so often see on television these days. After the terrible tragedy on September 11, there was an outpouring of sympathy and concern from the Turkmen people. The people of Turkmenistan - both our friends and even those we did not know but came into contact with - expressed their deepest condolences to those of us Americans there, and after the 11th there were many bouquets of flowers laid in front of the American embassy in Ashgabat.

I almost always felt safe when I was in the country. Granted I didn't go out at night by myself or anything like that. Of course, the events of the 11th did change things. Turkmenistan shares quite a substantial border with Afghanistan. It is hard to know exactly what goes on at the border. Although it is officially closed (the last I heard anyway), there is a drug problem in Turkmenistan - mainly heroin and opium - and those drugs come from Afghanistan. So we know that people are crossing the border. Even though I was living as a part of my community in a rural area and most likely could have gone on with my life there for another year without incident, just knowing how the world has changed I don't know if I could have gone on about my daily life there feeling completely safe.

One thing I hear talk of on the news these days is the fact that the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, or other countries may not understand why the U.S. is bombing Afghanistan. They do not understand the American people or the intentions of the American government. After all, since we are bombing their country, what reason do they have to believe that the American people aren't hateful warmongers? When I hear about this it makes me regret that they may have such a negative and inaccurate impression of Americans, but at the same time it makes me feel good that I had the opportunity to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkmenistan. Friendship between the American people and the people of countries around the world is what Peace Corps is all about. For many people I met in Turkmenistan, especially the people in the village where I lived, I was the first American they had ever met. There were so many positive interactions and relationships between all of us volunteers and our communities. I really do believe that person-to-person friendships such as those facilitated by Peace Corps contribute to greater understanding between the people of the world and to peace. It obviously does not prevent certain dire situations but nevertheless I feel that it is important work.

I would have liked, and fully planned, to be able to reach the end of my two-year service in Turkmenistan. It was very sad to have to leave prematurely. Under the circumstances though I know it is best that we left due to Turkmenistan's shared border with Afghanistan and the situation which now exists. However, rather than being sorry that I was not able to spend two years there, I feel fortunate that I was able to spend an entire year there. Through all the friends I made and experiences I had there, I learned and gained so much that will always be with me, and I have a deep gratitude to the Turkmen people for letting us American Peace Corps Volunteers into their lives.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps - Overseas Programs; COS - Turkmenistan



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