Turkmenistan – With a short visit…

…on the steppe

They appear out of nowhere. They come out of the steppe, although it seems that there’s nothing around. They carry ladders, lead animals or simply walk. Men look ordinary but women wear stunning, colourful clothes. I cycle on a road full of holes and wonder where they come from.

Two hours before I entered Turkmenistan. I had a Snickers and a Pepsi and filled with globalisation I set off to cross this country in five days.

So I cycle through the steppe and it looks like this: bumpy road ahead of me, flat, grassy plain all around and endless sky above. Nothing more. And silence. And from time to time someone just walks out of nowhere. Weired, isn’t it?

Well, actually I lie a bit. There are also animals. Whatever can graze, grazes: cows, goats, sheep, horses, even camels. Birds sing, a small turtle walks on tarmac and some whitish steppe foxes run around.

Only later it really becomes empty. And wet. Bumpy road changes into mud and there are swamps around. I know that anybody who cycled here in the summer, can’t believe their eyes reading this. The sun sets and I try to find a piece of dry land for the night. I ride to a side, push my bike into that mud and sleep only in my sleeping bag under the sky made of million stars.

…in a city

A guy kisses a girl on the street of Mary. I’m surprised to see that scene and it takes me a minute to remember that I’m not in Iran anymore. Streets full of communist blocks of flats and well-cared for shops lead to the centre and then your jaw drops. There are monumental marble edifices like hotels, shopping centres, public building, wide roads and green squares. Post-communist superiority complex and kitsch.

…at home

‘An unmarried woman means nothing here,’ says sadly divorced Gulchihra, showing me her wedding photos. We sit in a room of curved floor covered with poor carpets. The better ones hang on the walls. Fresh green tea brought by Gulchihra’s mother steams from the pots. I ask about mother’s age because she has a body of a 100-year-old but the energy of a teenager. It turns out she’s 72. The four of them live here together. Apart from the parents, there’s Gulchihra and her unmarried brother. They live off their parents’ pensions.

‘But life is good here, it’s calm,’ Gulchihra reassures me. ‘It’s just that there are no jobs,’ she adds.

In their cottage there’s no running water. In the field behind the house there’s an outside toilet and further there’s a shed for cows. In the morning Gulchihra fries potatoes for my breakfast and gives me some fresh milk.

‘It’s good that you came,’ she says. ‘Since you’re here, my dad’s heart has stopped aching and the cow that was ill, has stood up for the first time in a couple of days.’

I leave hoping that good fate will at least reward these people in this way for their hospitality and open hearts.

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