Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan
Day 5 - Wednesday, 26 April 2000

Today the missing luggage belonging to the "one-hour connection" people was retrieved from the airport. Don, Mary, Joanna and Libby had more to wear - and carry!

When Atajohn arrived at the hotel, he brought my dress that his sister had made using the fabric and embroidery we bought at the Sunday Bazaar. I was ready to look like a Turkmen woman. Well, sort of.

Once we were all together, we headed out to a village. Because of the trip to the airport to get the luggage, we were late arriving. Some of the waiting villagers, anxious because we were late, headed out in a car to call us from a nearby village where a phone was available. Fortunately, we met each other on the road, and they joyfully led us back to the village house.

Traditional dress

There we were met by an astonishing sight. All the young girls were dressed in traditional costume, many laden with bridal jewelry, and they greeted us with songs. I quickly slipped into my Turkmen dress (third from the right above) and we were soon caught up in a wonderful experience.

Baking breadThe songs continued, and other "entertainments" unfolded. Some of the women were making bread. We watched as one woman slapped the cakes against the inside wall of the heated "tandoor" oven. When the bread was done, we all got a taste. It was wedding bread, sweetened and quite tasty.

We were served tea in small bowls, probably safe to drink since the water had been boiled. The water most likely came from the nearby stream, which flows down from the mountain behind the village. Later I saw a woman dipping a kettle into the stream. Sometimes it's better if you don't know.

A little behind this house is a stream, and a flour mill which is run by the stream. As we went back to see it, we encountered a young woman feeding a 10 day old baby goat from a bottle.

There were many chickens in the yard, and probably they are growing them for the market. But some of these chickens found their way into a pot with rice, and became our lunch. It was very tasty, and we were given the opportunity to eat it the Turkmen way, with our fingers. Atatjohn showed us how to cup our fingers together to scoop the rice up to our mouths. There was a lively discussion about the different chicken parts included, such as the heart and the gizzard. I didn't see any feet, however. Fresh herbs and delicious tomatoes were also on the table, and we could have Coca Cola to drink.

I rode a donkey cart with a few small boys. What a nice way to get around in the country.

Picnic lunchWhen lunch was over it was time to go. But there was one more thing. At the fashion show on Sunday, I had bought a dress. It had to be altered to fit me, and it should be ready now. This village is where the sewing is done. I found the proprietor, and she beckoned me inside the house. There was the sewing room, with wedding dresses spread out on the floor. Also, she had my dress, which I quickly tried on.

As I was going in to try it on, Joanna came by, looking for her backpack which she had left somewhere in the yard. Later I saw her, she had found her backpack, but now she and her mother had discovered the sewing room, and some things for sale, and shopping was in progress.

I changed back into my other Turkmen dress, and with the new one in hand, I went back to the bus. A little time went by before we on the bus learned that when Joanna went to pay for a small purchase, she discovered that a large sum of money was missing from her backpack. Apparently the village had seemed so innocent that she was a little too trusting. Someone, we will never know who, had taken out the money, leaving the wallet behind. A considerable flurry followed.

Meli finally told us all to go on to the airport, but she would stay behind with Joanna and wait for the police, who had been called by cell phone. Someone mentioned that the KGB also would be coming. Atajohn also stayed with them.

Donkey cart with kidsThis is the donkey cart that Geri rode. These kids stayed close to the "picnic grounds" where we ate lunch. Note the small herd of goats on the hill behind the cart.

We were still at the airport when Meli and Joanna caught up with us, a little breathless with excitement. Someone had found the money - in the outhouse! Apparently the threat of the police and the KGB had caused the thief to know there was never going to be safety in having that money. So they tossed it into the toilet. Someone subsequently caught a glimpse of one note - the rest was already covered. Atajohn, may God bless him, donned some rubber gloves and retrieved the money. The money had to be washed of course, and then it was ironed.

One more thing about Turkmenistan. In addition to the ubiquitous picture of the president (Turkmenbasy), there is a slogan in big letters in many places. "Halk - Waten - Turkmenbasy" is over the street, on the sides of buildings, and on billboards. It means "people - motherland - leader". The purpose is to remind people of their loyalty.

Our one hour flight to Dashkhovuz took us to the very edge of Turkmenistan. It seemed like the edge of the known world when we checked into our hotel. Another wonder of the Russian occupation, it had windows that don't seal properly and great gaps allowed the jumbo mosquitoes to enter and nibble on us during the night. The toilet in our bathroom didn't quite seal at the bottom, and leaked water on the floor. I was very glad I had brought my rubber thong slippers, or flip-flops, and could wear those to protect my feet whenever I entered the bathroom. This was the worst hotel we stayed in on the trip. The worst part was the mosquitoes.

We were glad when it was morning and we could leave it behind. Unfortunately we had to leave at 6 am, the same hour that they turned on the water.

- Continues with Day 6 -