5:30 AM: I hid in my room past the very loud announcements over the hotel PA. I tried to record one of the announcements that was particularly funny, “dear esteem-ed guestez. It is time to awake. Please to come downstairs to get on bus and take a sit.” We are definitely staying in a 5-star dormitory. I suppose it’s a good sign to awake with some humor. I hung out in the room doing a bit of wash and organizing till Candra knocked at my door around 10 am. She told me our driver had come with a fellow named John from the Embassy to take us on a tour to the big bazaar on the outskirts of the city. A famous and ancient bazaar which was located in middle of the city was raised a few years back and the new one built to take its place. The new bazaar looks sort of like a mall with stalls.
I was overjoyed not having to go to the horse races today, and with it, the long waits. Gail ended up being the only one in the group to join the races. Andy had not slept well but was game for the bazaar, as was Candra. Poor Linda had gotten a very bad case of food poisoning and needed to rest and recover at the hotel. We went off with our driver, and our primary interpreter Zohre, and John who is the Department of Defense Military Attaché attached (am I being redundant?) to the Embassy. John is unlike any military guy I’ve met. I immediately took a liking to him. He is brash, smart and not afraid to express his views on any subject. Over the day we not only got a good tour of grass roots commerce but a fascinating perspective on the geo-political realities of the region. A few things that stuck: He said the Turkmen people are not violent people and he was glad that they spend their vast wealth building white marble buildings rather than buying massive amounts of armaments. Because of their history and whose borders they share they need a very strong centralized government and that they were trying to build, slowly, a Turkmen society out of several warring tribes, which is what Turkmenistan consisted of prior to the Soviet occupation. So the country we know now as Turkmenistan is a new concept, a new country finding its identity. He admired the country for being staunchly neutral in their politics. I am coming to realize how complex this ancient place is and how I can only grasp bits of the realities of the place. Perhaps I was overly critical about yesterday’s activities. I can’t pretend to understand the realities of the country in our short time here.
The bazaar was quite good. We looked at carpets, purchased some nice tapestries and hand loomed slippers. We then dropped Zohre off and she gave us a tour of a real Turkmen home and garden. The home’s interior was lovely with its rugs piled in the rooms, the furniture all along the walls to keep space to see the rugs and a life on the floor. She showed us a photo of her youngest daughter of 9 children posing with a new husband. They were dressed in traditional Turkmen wedding clothes. She said, “oh yes, they now live in Salt Lake City.” Small world
We then went to a lovely Turkish restaurant and I finally ate my first meal of the day. I was now feeling better and glad for a meal. John continued his tutelage before taking us back to the hotel for a little rest before the picnic planned for 5:30pm at the Embassy Compound.
The barbecue was a little slice of America set on a walled community of houses and buildings overlooking OZ. It’s fun being with Americans. Most of the staff are quite young and a nice bunch of folks. They served a potluck of burgers and all that go with it and we even had beers to wash it all down. After dinner we played some cowboy songs for the folks. I’m loving singing and playing with Andy and Linda. Linda has grown as a singer since I last played with her and Andy has really become a fine guitar player. He also sings the traditional songs with so much power and presence. An unexpected pleasure has been backing up Gail on the mandolin. I’d always loved Gail’s poetry recitations but had not keyed into his songs that much. Backing him up I started hearing the nuance of rhythms and the subtlety of his lyrics. What a pleasure. We missed Linda at the barbecue who was still at the hotel recuperating.
The big news of the day came from Gail who had traveled to the racecourse. He reported that after much waiting, pomp and circumstance, the President joined the first race and had won it by a length. There was speculation about how much the other riders had reigned-in to make this happen. After the finish Gail looked up to see the President’s horse getting up after a fall. The President was lying still on the ground as a cry rose up from the stands and people came rushing to the President’s aid. It appeared he was out cold. They put him on stretcher and then to an ambulance. Girls were openly weeping in the stands and then there was complete silence. This lasted for about a half hour, everyone wondering what would come next. At last the President walked out and waved to the crowd to great cheers. We don’t know if, or how badly he was hurt but after this, but the races went on. We were told later that this accident would not be reported on in the national press here. We even understand that people’s smart phones were checked to erase any documentation of the Presidents accident with his horse. All of us are in the dark about the incident. We found later that a foreign camera caught the fall pictured here.
At dusk we set up horseshoes, while a woman from the embassy coerced folks into learning to line dance as Gail took young folks out on the verdant lawn to teach them how to rope a sawhorse. It was a lovely scene and could have been placed anywhere in America. I had a nice talk with Brian, the PR man, and his wife Sunny who, as it turned out knew my nephew and niece Tim and Liz back in New Jersey where Sunny grew up.
We got back to the hotel around 9 PM. Candra got in line to haggle over some money not received from the Horse Association. She’s a champ. The rest of us went up and visited our dear mate Linda and were all relieved that she was on the road to recovery. Tomorrow we wake, pack and then off to conduct 4 cowboy workshops at various schools.