The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 14

Three of Duran's "brothers" chow down at the wedding feast while a friend gets his picture taken.

--Friday, 16 October 98-- $1 = 7,500 manat
I went out to get some beer. I had some in the fridge but you never know what will happen. Stores might be closed. Earthquakes could occur. You have to be careful. On the way back I noticed a street party located only one block from my apartment,. I decided to see what it was all about. The street was blocked off with two trailers and there was quite a party underway, lots of sound, lots of adults eating, lots of kids running around.

The trailers had their sides turned back to reveal a DJ and a band and a lot of blinking multi-colored lights. Turkmen music blared loudly from huge speakers in front of the trailers, there were women dancing in circles holding piece of fabric or paper in their right hand. Further back from the trailers were picnic tables accommodating about 200 people and everyone was eating.

I decided to walk around the outside of the crowd to try to find out the why of the celebration. I only got to the end of one side when a young man who was seated saw me and called me over. He was very friendly and insisted that I sit beside him. Across the table were four younger (8-12) boys who turned out to be his brothers. Later I met his sister, mother, and grandmother. Much late I discovered that "brother" or "sister" here can also mean "cousin" so I am not exactly sure who I met.

My new found friend said his name was Duran. He introduced me to his four brothers across the table. They were very friendly when then could get the mouths out of the food. One even wore a Chicago Bulls cap; what could be more friendly than that?

Duran poured me a vodka toast and called it "Russian water." Those warnings about not drinking the water came to my mind but I also knew that it was considered offensive to refuse a toast. So I sipped the glass. Duran lifted the bottom of the glass with his finger indicating that I should finish the toast, so I did. I wondered how long I could keep this up. I looked to see if he was finishing his toast and he wasn't so I lifted the bottom of his glass and he went into an elaborate mime that seemed to say that he couldn't drink so much because of his heart. I wished that I had thought of that one first.

Communication was difficult since Duran spoke almost no English and I speak no Russian, so he called his youngest brother into service. Since English is now a required language in the school system from very early grades, the youngest brother, the one wearing the Chicago Bulls cap, turned out to be very useful in translating. His scope wasn't great but he had all the basics down pat.

Once again I discovered that everyone loves being photographed. I took pictures of the brothers scarfing down food and they really got into it. In return, they brought me plates heaping with food, a pile of rice cooked with chicken (delicious) and plates of chopped red stuff that seemed like beets (yuk!) and piles of sunflower seeds. The latter they tried to teach me how to eat: you crack the seed casing just so, and eat the heart and spit out everything else. The spitting was fun but it was a huge effort for very little reward. Duran pushed a green-red thing into my hand and told me to bite it. It was a tomato, very sweet and good tasting.

The toasting continued -- to my disadvantage. Duran and family were delighted that I was an American and gave me an unopened bottle labeled "Turkmenvino" which I thought was wine. (My mistake, it was vodka.) Duran put it in my coat pocket. A take-home gift.

Duran continued to ply me with vodka and toasts. His young brothers watched with amusement. One of them offered me some "Russian Pepsi Cola" to wash down the vodka. It turned out to be cream soda and a good one at that.

Duran brought a male friend over who asked if I would like to dance. (In this country traditional dancing is done in same sex groups only.) After all that vodka, I said, "Yes." So we went to the dance area right in front of the speakers and formed a circle (all men) and I started to imitate a Turkmen dance. You put your arms up in the air and move your hands around and at the same time you do things with your feet as you move toward the center and away from it. The youngest did it best. I thought I was getting the hang of it but it was the vodka dancing.

Duran borrowed my digital camera and took some pictures of me dancing and then disappeared in the crowd. By now the only people who would dance with me were the under-12 crowd who made up in enjoyment what I lacked in skill. Round and round and round we went. They roared with enjoyment that some adult was paying attention to them. Or were they laughing at me? Looking back from a sober distance it is hard to tell.

Duran did come back with the camera. He took more pictures of me and the dancing. He even captured the bride and the groom and the DJ.

He introduced me to his mother, grandmother and sister. His sister spoke the best English and was a big help. It was now 11:15 and Duran told me that the party was supposed to end at 11 PM. So he, his mother and his sister walked me to my apartment. Quite a night.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley