We like our new digs, the Grand Turkmen Hotel. Candra awoke sick. Linda is still battling it but thankfully I’ve dodged the bullet. After a leisurely breakfast we load up and drive out to a town about 15 km to School #79. When we arrive we find the school has not been notified of our coming. We are ushered into the Principle’s office where we are served tea while our other interpreter starts making calls.
As it turns out the school administration has made a mistake. We were to be on the other side of Ashgabat to another School #79. The teachers attempt to be gracious but they are clearly worried about us being there without authorization. Our interpreter today, Guncha Komekova, argues to forgo the other school 79 since it will make us late for the other three engagements if we are to drive back through the city, then another 30KM to the other side of town. Mia, at the Embassy, is insistent that we fulfill our obligation at the other school 79. Meanwhile a lovely teacher, with limited English, sings us songs she learned in English classes, little songs we’d never heard but useful for students learning our language. We even got a couple of very young English teachers to sing a simple Turkmen song for us. We sing a song for them which they love but we could tell they were getting nervous that we were overstaying our governmental welcome. At one point the lovely teacher hosting us expresses how much she would love to have us visit her home but that it would not be allowed. I’m growing to love these good people but really have less and less tolerances for the intolerance of their government.
We load up and make for the next school. As it turns out the reason it is was so important we go to the model school in the rural area to the west of town is that it is the hometown of the President, Yzgant. In fact when we arrive at the fancy marble school we are ushered in front of a statue where the Principle gives us a well rehearsed speech, the story of the grandfather of the President who founded this school at the turn of the 20th Century in a mud hut with four chairs. The Principle then takes us to the school’s museum, a lovely large room with display cases containing both historical and archeological finds from the area. The Principle is a brute of a man but also with a twinkle in his eye. I like him but know by his actions that he is a powerful authority figure for the students. After our tour we are lead to a modern computer lab where a dozen or two students sit rigid as we make our presentation. Gail expresses our gratitude to the President, the Horse association and the Government for allowing us to present our culture. After a touring the museum our mind is on preserving traditions so it becomes a theme for our program. One of the displays showed 5 famous people from the area. They had chosen a 19th century Mullah, a scientist, an educator, a singer and a folk artist. In my presentation I commend them for grasping a wide view of the important traditions they have inherited including artists and singers. As we were to leave the Principle thanked us for coming and told us we made the 57th foreign guests to visit the school.
Our next school, back in the city, is dedicated to the teaching of English and German. We learn we are their first foreign guests ever to visit this school. We are quite late to this school but are welcomed with trays of bread, candies, and fruit. Then we are ushered into the old style gym with hoops at both ends and asked to sit at tables with more goodies laid out. The students then put on a show for us, all in English giving us a history of the Turkmen people, their poetry, their music, and a grand finale. At the end they all stand with US and Turkmen flags and sing a rousing version of Michael Jackson’s “We are the World.” I’m not sure there was a dry eye in our bunch. It was wonderful and alive. The students are curious and the teachers beam with pride at the work the kids have done to make this presentation. They are so sincere, so lovely. Just to think about it brings a shiver of emotion back to me. Again, we fall in love with these good, curious, healthy young people. We make our presentation and the kids take it in. We give them the best we have and they love it. We all leave this school feeling fulfilled and hopeful.
Though we miss our lunch break we travel on to the Palace of Orphans that lies near the mountains to the south of town, on the royal road leading to the Presidents residence. Some sheik had funded this lovely facility for orphans so it is quite fancy. When we get to the auditorium the students are sitting in place, which we now find the norm. On stage a student group, in full costume, are video taping a short ‘thank you’ tape to the man who made a donation of three quarter million dollars when he turned over one of the winning checks from the horse race a couple of days previous, a donation to the Orphans. We are reminded once again how wealthy this place is.
Our last school is the American Council. It is informal with about a 18 advanced English students, mostly teens and young twenty somethings. They are wide eyed and obviously loving learning English. We show videos, sing songs and answer questions. To top it off, Gail shows a few students how to rope, down in the Center’s courtyard.
We drive back to the hotel exhausted. I lay down for the hour before dinner and immediately fall asleep. At dinner I can barely stay awake and by the end of dinner after one beer, actually nod off at the table for a moment. When I look up I realize everyone is looking at me. It’s time to go to bed. I sleep like a log.