July 14, 2002: Headlines: COS - Turkmenistan: Nursing: Casa Grande Dispatch: When Sheryal Valencic first landed in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan three years ago, the capital city looked similar to Tucson

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Turkmenistan: Peace Corps Turkmenistan : The Peace Corps in Turkmenistan: July 14, 2002: Headlines: COS - Turkmenistan: Nursing: Casa Grande Dispatch: When Sheryal Valencic first landed in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan three years ago, the capital city looked similar to Tucson

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When Sheryal Valencic first landed in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan three years ago, the capital city looked similar to Tucson

When Sheryal Valencic first landed in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan three years ago, the capital city looked similar to Tucson

When Sheryal Valencic first landed in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan three years ago, the capital city looked similar to Tucson

School Nurse Recalls Time with Peace Corps

By MARK COWLING

CASA GRANDE, Arizona -- When Sheryal Valencic first landed in the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan three years ago, the capital city looked similar to Tucson. But any other comparisons to her Arizona home quickly faded. She didn't speak the language, the food was unpalatable, a toilet was a hole in the ground and baths were taken with a bucket and a bowl.

But Valencic, a registered nurse who had waited 30 years to become a Peace Corps volunteer, didn't turn back; she learned the language, made friends and gave of her knowledge and experience. In return, the impoverished, politically unstable little country gave her a new appreciation for the important things in life.

After leaving Turkmenistan in 2001, she was drawn to a job as school nurse in an elementary school in Florence, Ariz., because she already missed the casual, friendly pace of her little Turkmen village.

“Time is precious, and they seem to know that there,” Valencic said.

Valencic wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer ever since she graduated from high school in Ohio in 1969, but put it off to have a family first.

She was no stranger to volunteering; in 1999, she was the Arizona Red Cross volunteer of the year for her work in Operation Deep Freeze. The program provided medical care and shelter to Tucson's homeless when winter temperatures dropped below 32 degrees. When her youngest child turned 18, she decided it was time to follow through on her longtime dream.

Turkmenistan is a country of more than 4.5 million people, slightly larger in land area than California, on the Caspian Sea. After arriving in the capital city of Ashgabat, Valencic had three months of intensive language and cultural training, six days a week, in an old hotel with roaches and broken air conditioning.

“If you make it through that, then you get sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer,” she said. “A lot of people don't make it.”

She then rode 10 hours on a train to the little village of Bayramaly - about the size of Florence - 100 miles from the Afghanistan border. After the train stopped at 3 a.m., she was whisked away by two Muslim men to meet her new host family.

Valencic says today she was very fortunate to be placed with that family; the parents were about her age, and she became very close with the host mother. Besides the parents, there were two boys in the family, ages 15 and 17, and two girls, ages 8 and 10.

Valencic's job in Bayramaly was to work with a midwife. The woman was a virgin, who “didn't even know the female anatomy; what she did know was all the people in the village.”

Valencic taught the young woman the basic four food groups and nutrition. They took pictures of different foods and went door to door to educate the women of the village on healthy eating habits. “Most of them didn't realize what you ate impacted your unborn child.”

She taught reproductive health to a class of young teens at a camp. The class of boys and girls wore “pregnancy aprons” weighted down with rocks, and had to take an uncooked egg with them everywhere for a week. They were allowed to ask health questions in English, Russian or Turkmen.

Valencic taught anatomy and physiology lessons to a group of English teachers at an elementary school, so they could teach the same information in Russian and Turkmen to their students.

The local school was poor, only going as high as the ninth grade, and using old Soviet-era textbooks from the 1970s.

“A nice piece of chalk was a cherished item,” Valencic said. Students saved their school work to use later as toilet paper.

Every summer, every child in the village from age 2 through 12 had his head shaved. “It was the only way to control the lice. You could tell the girls from boys because the little girls all had earrings.”

Because so few people had refrigerators, food was usually fresh, bought everyday or so at an open bazaar. When she was home again in Tucson, “nothing tasted good any more.”

So much effort went into preparing dinner, the Turkmens took their time with it; dinner usually lasted two hours. “We'd all sit and talk, and I miss that now,” Valencic said.

A few weeks in Turkmenistan also caused her to miss Greg Young, her boyfriend of 10 years back in the United States. After declining his marriage proposal for years, she realized at last, “he unconditionally loves me; he lets me be me.” She called him to say she wanted to marry him.

It wasn't the most convenient news for Young, who had just moved to Missouri and built a house. But within two weeks he had sold his property and quit his job. They met in London and were married on Dec. 13, 2000.

The couple started off their new married life in Turkmenistan, with Young volunteering “on his own” without the backing of the Peace Corps and for no pay. One of his big projects was helping to rebuild a local cafe.

She originally was scheduled to be in Turkmenistan until December 2001, but Sept. 11 cut her service short. The Peace Corps believed that Americans in the region were in danger from terrorists, and the 127 volunteers in Turkmenistan were evacuated and sent home.

After the Peace Corps, “I have a renewed idea of how important my family is.”





When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Casa Grande Dispatch

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Turkmenistan; Nursing

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