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Turkmenistan is a land of deserts, mountains, camels, yurts, melons, shashlik stands, and ruins of ancient cities. Volunteers living in this breathtaking country experience the richness of Turkmenistan's culture and the warmth of its people.
A former republic of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan declared independence in October 1991. The first Volunteers arrived in 1993. Peace Corps Volunteers work in two program areas in Turkmenistan: English education and health education and extension.
Turkmenistan has had little contact with the outside world, even before being absorbed by the Soviet Union more than 70 years ago. The first American a Turkmen will meet is often a Peace Corps Volunteer.
At the same time, working in a part of the world few people have even heard of is one of the unique aspects of Peace Corps/Turkmenistan.
PEACE CORPS / TURKMENISTAN HISTORY AND PROGRAMS
History of the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan
The Peace Corps first entered Turkmenistan in 1993 with an education project. In this project, Volunteers taught English in secondary schools, institutes of higher learning, and the Institute of Curriculum Development. Volunteers are catalysts in addressing Turkmenistan’s desire to expand English education programs in primary and secondary schools nationwide, to increase English teachers’ ability to communicate in the language, and to introduce contemporary teaching methodologies.
To support Turkmenistan in its efforts to improve English education, the education project emphasizes the teacher-training component. Local teachers are already well qualified to teach grammar, but Volunteers can contribute significantly to their communication skills and are placed more in regions where teachers’ needs are the greatest.
In 1995, the Peace Corps began working in the health sector, offering training to maternal and child health providers. Responding to the needs of Turkmenistan’s healthcare system, the Peace Corps later shifted the project to community health, placing more emphasis on community health education, extension, and prevention.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Turkmenistan
Peace Corps/Turkmenistan now works in two areas: education and health. The objective is not to teach the people of Turkmenistan “American” values, or to impose our sense of efficiency, but to help them help themselves within their own cultural framework.
Most community health Volunteers work at rural “houses of health” (clinics). They support medical professionals in strengthening, and sometimes even establishing, community health education programs. Health Volunteers share their knowledge and skills with local healthcare providers and conduct seminars for both the providers and community members. They also work at schools, helping Turkmen teachers teach health education to students. Besides promoting reproductive health, breast-feeding, and nutrition, Volunteers are involved in secondary projects such as “Clean Planet” environmental projects, women’s health clubs, and youth projects.
Peace Corps is expanding into more non-traditional sites as well, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), organizations that work with disadvantaged and special needs populations, and with youth.
The Peace Corps plans to continue working in these areas for the foreseeable future to meet the needs of the communities we serve.
COUNTRY OVERVIEW: TURKMENISTAN AT A GLANCE
Turkmenistan borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. These are countries that many people planning to visit Turkmenistan are concerned about. While it may seem that the southeastern part of Turkmenistan is uncomfortably close to Afghanistan, Volunteers should know that during the ongoing military action in Afghanistan, there have been no troop movements or unusual military or clandestine activities on the Turkmen-Afghan border. The passage between the two nations is difficult, with a terrain consisting of inhospitable desert plateaus, and the area remains safe. The people of Turkmenistan have always had a warm and friendly attitude toward the Peace Corps, and there have been no signs of negative attitudes toward foreigners, including Americans, during the war in Afghanistan. In a policy statement regarding the war, the Turkmen president insisted that his country was neutral and would not get involved in any type of military action.
Some visitors are also concerned about the war in Iraq, which is also in the region although not adjoining Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan prizes its neutrality and has no alliances with Iraq, so events there have not had, and are not likely to have, an effect on Turkmenistan or its policies.
The former Soviet Union was once home to almost 60 million Muslims—the fifth largest Muslim population in the world.
Most of that population now lives in the Soviet Union’s five former Asian republics—Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—which are the most isolated and least known of the 12 countries that make up the loose federation known as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
For centuries, the area that includes Turkmenistan was known as Turkestan (a vast territory half the size of the continental United States), part of a rich center of world trade. Caravans loaded with silks from Turkey and spices from China and India followed the Silk Road on their way to Asia Minor and Europe. The splendor of the area’s art and architecture was impressive. H.G. Wells, in his book Outline of History, noted that in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., the region that now makes up Turkmenistan and Afghanistan was more advanced than parts of Western Europe.
With few natural boundaries, Turkestan was the target of a multitude of invaders, including Persian, Greek, Parthian, Chinese, Mongol, and Russian armies and bands of Turkic nomads. The Turkic invaders established a lasting presence and contributed to the building of nomadic and sedentary empires.
Long before the first raids by the Turkic tribes, and at least a millennium before the birth of Christ, Iranian nomads settled in the region’s river valleys to raise food crops and, later, cotton. In an area of little rainfall, irrigation was introduced early on, forming oases in the desert. As Chinese merchants passed through the area, they taught the Central Asian inhabitants to dig wells and provided them with iron for early metalworking industries. Knowledge of glassmaking came from the Roman Empire.
By the end of the 15th century, Central Asia was losing its prestige as an important trade route. Tribal feuds, economic decay, and Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a seaway from Europe to India and China contributed to the collapse of trade in Central Asia. By the mid-16th century, Muscovite Russia, led by Ivan the Terrible, began its expansion eastward and southward, controlling the region for the next 400 years. The Turkic nomads came to accept the Russian presence and eventually formed a truce with the Russians. They began to be educated in Russian schools and to serve in the czarist army, some rising high in rank. Still, some tribal leaders formed treaties of allegiance with Chinese and other Central Asian rulers and were undeterred from attacking Russian settlers who moved onto their soil. The struggle for political control of Central Asia continued through the 19th century. England, for example, realizing Russia’s threat to its power in India, fought to gain favor with Central Asia’s khans. While England eventually lost Central Asia, Russia never reached India.
After Russia absorbed Central Asia in the 19th century, the region, still called Turkestan but diminished in size, was governed by the czars as a single colony. Islam was allowed to flourish and Turkestan intellectuals sought to reform their societies to make them competitive in the modern world. Foreign and domestic newspapers in Turkic languages, for example, circulated freely, encouraging a new ethnic awareness. This rebirth was cut short after 1917.
After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Turkic people, believing they had been liberated from Russian oppression, applied for autonomy. It was denied, triggering rebellions and guerrilla warfare in the south. In 1918, at the height of the turmoil, a secret conference of the resistance mobilized local forces and declared a new state, the Turkestan Independent Islamic Republic. But the new republic never had a chance against Russian troops, and when the uprising was finally suppressed in 1925, Stalin moved quickly to prevent further pan-Islamic or pan-Turkic threats to communism. Turkestan was carved up, somewhat arbitrarily, into the five Central Asian republics, and the name disappeared from maps.
Turkmenistan was a relatively neglected republic under the Soviets, which made few investments in industry or infrastructure. Turkmen were also underrepresented in the leading ranks of the Communist Party. In the late 1950s, some Turkmen leaders called for more representation in the top posts, but Moscow responded by disbanding their party. Despite persecution, repression, and attempts by the Soviet regime to eradicate or distort past achievements, the Central Asians clung to their traditions and way of life.
Turkmenistan formally declared its independence from the Soviet Union on October 27, 1991, the 67th anniversary of the founding of the country, and it joined the CIS on December 21, 1991.
Turkmenistan and the United States began developing political ties early on. President George H. W. Bush recognized the independence of Turkmenistan in December 1991, and formal diplomatic relations were established in late February 1992. The government of Turkmenistan has been a supporter of Peace Corps and its Volunteers since the first Turkmenistan volunteer group arrived in June 1993. In April 1998, the president of Turkmenistan visited the United States in an official capacity, opening the doors for economic and cultural cooperation and understanding.
The death of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in December 2006 is anticipated to generate a series of transitions that will continue to guide the people of Turkmenistan into the 21st century.
Turkmenistan has a centrally controlled “command” economy, and in the past several years, there has been only limited progress toward a market economy. The country has vast natural resources, and its economy is based primarily on natural gas and oil, which it sells primarily to Ukraine and Russia. However, it is forced to sell these at below world-market prices because of a lack of infrastructure needed to sell and transport these resources to other places. Other alternative pipeline plans are being studied, but for various geopolitical reasons, none has been seriously considered as of yet.
Recently, the country has also started growing wheat. While individual farmers have small plots of land for growing vegetables, government mandates require them to grow cotton and wheat for sale to the state.
Many daily necessities are subsidized by the government. Household gas, electricity, and salt are free (based on minimum levels of consumption), and each farm cooperative worker has been entitled to a gift of five hectares of land. Unfortunately, the funding for these subsidies has dwindled to almost nothing because of a lack of sales revenue. An average Turkmen earns between 1 million and 2 million manats a month, equivalent to about $40 to $80 (U.S.).
People and Culture
According to 2005 estimates, there are approximately 4.9 million people in Turkmenistan, the least populated of the Central Asian republics. The largest ethnic group is the Turkmen, constituting 77 percent of the total population.
The three main minority groups are Russians, Uzbeks,and Kazakhs. There are also smaller numbers of Tatars, Ukrainians, Azeris, Armenians, and Baluchis (from areas of Iran and Pakistan). Russians and Turkmen reside mainly in the southern and central regions of the country, while Uzbeks predominate in the east and northeast. In the west, there is a mix of Armenians, Azeris, Russians, and Turkmen. Turkmen are divided into five regional tribes, a division that is reflected in the design of the nation’s flag.
The Turkmen are descendants of the Oghuz tribes who migrated to Central Asia around the 10th century A.D. By the 15th century, they had emerged as a distinct ethnic group, but were divided by tribal loyalties and territorial divisions. A strong sense of tribal loyalty remains today and is reinforced by different dialects. The three largest tribes are the Tekke in central Turkmenistan, the Ersary in the southeast, and the Yomud in the north and west.
Of the two primary cultural groups in Turkmenistan, the Russian population is a bit more Western in dress, lifestyle, and attitudes. Many Russian women, for example, wear Western-style clothing and makeup. The Turkmen population generally has a more traditional lifestyle, and the women wear long, brightly colored dresses and head scarves.
The social life of an unmarried Turkmen woman is tightly controlled. Both men and women are allowed to choose their spouses to a degree, but they usually must be from the same tribe and meet the approval of the couple’s parents. In the past, Turkmen families tended to be large, with four to six (or more) children, whereas Russian families rarely had more than two children. Recent data for Turkmen families indicate that the average is now three children.
Turkmen are extremely friendly and warm, though they may appear cold and distant on the surface. Volunteers enjoy both Turkmen and Russian hospitality and are intrigued by the different cultures.
Turkmenistan is dry with a desert terrain. Fortunately, most cities have trees and are quite green in spring and summer. There are four distinct seasons: Winters can be snowy and cold with bitter winds; summer temperatures can reach as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit (with low humidity); and spring and fall are rainy but pleasant.
In the wintertime, buildings often either have no heat or seem to be overheated—energy conservation is currently not an important issue. Central air conditioning does not exist in Turkmenistan, but small electric fans are available for purchase.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Following is a list of websites for additional information about the Peace Corps and Turkmenistan and to connect you to returned Volunteers and other invitees. Please keep in mind that although we try to make sure all these links are active and current, we cannot guarantee it.
A note of caution: As you surf these sites, be aware that you will find bulletin boards and chat rooms in which people are free to give opinions and advice based on their own experiences. The opinions expressed are not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government. You may find opinions of people who were unhappy with their choice to serve in the Peace Corps. As you read these comments, we hope you will keep in mind that the Peace Corps is not for everyone, and no two people experience their service in the same way.
General Information About Turkmenistan
http://www.countrywatch.com On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Ashgabat to how to convert from the dollar to the manat. Just click on Turkmenistan and go from there.
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations Visit this site for general travel advice about almost any country in the world.
http://www.state.gov The U.S. State Department’s website issues background notes periodically about countries around the world. Find Turkmenistan and learn more about its social and political history.
http://www.psr.keele.ac.uk/official.htm This site includes links to all the official sites for governments worldwide.
http://www.geography.about.com/library/maps/blindex.htm This online world atlas includes maps and geographical information, and each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political background.
http://www.cyberschoolbus.un.org/infonation/info.asp This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states of the U.N.
http://www.worldinformation.com This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about countries around the world.
Connect With Returned Volunteers and Other Invitees
http://www.friendsofturkmenistan.org This is the homepage of Friends of Turkmenistan, the former Volunteer group for Turkmenistan. This site has links to information about the country as well as opportunities to connect to former and current Volunteers.
http://www.rpcv.org This is the site of the National Peace Corps Association, made up of returned Volunteers. On this site you can find links to all the Web pages of the “friends of” groups for most countries of service, made up of former Volunteers who served in those countries. There are also regional groups who frequently get together for social events and local volunteer activities. Or go straight to the Friends of Turkmenistan site: www. chaihana.com.
http://www.rpcvwebring.org This site is known as the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Web Ring. Browse the Web ring and see what former Volunteers are saying about their service.
http://www.peacecorpswriters.org This site is hosted by a group of returned Volunteer writers. It is a monthly online publication of essays and Volunteer accounts of their Peace Corps service.
Online Articles/Current News Sites About Turkmenistan
http://www.eurasianet.org/turkmenistan.project/ The “Turkmenistan Project” is a website managed by the Open Society Institute. This site provides a weekly analysis of news and events in Turkmenistan.
http://www.turkmenistanembassy.org The official website of the Turkmenistan Embassy in Washington, D.C.
http://turkmenistan.usembassy.gov/ Site of the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, which contains links to other sites.
- Brummel, Paul. Turkmenistan: The Bradt Travel Guide. Bradt Travel Guides, 2006. The first English guidebook of its kind, Bradt’s Turkmenistan explores a country knee-deep in curiosities—from a flaming crater and a revolving golden statue of the president to dinosaur footprints and a national holiday devoted to melons.
- Hopkirk, Peter. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. New York: Kodansha International, 1992. The history of the struggle by the Russians and the British for control over Central Asia.
- Kropf, John W. Unknown Sands: Journeys Around the World’s Most Isolated Country. Dusty Spark Publishing, 2006. A personal story that blends two years of adventure with Turkmenistan’s tumultuous history to present an intriguing profile of the country and its people.
- Maslow, Jonathan. Sacred Horses: The Memoirs of a Turkmen Cowboy. New York: Random House, 1994. The Akhal-Teke horse, a desert purebred for hundreds of years, is a Turkmen’s most precious possession. But the species was almost wiped out under Soviet rule and only recently has begun to make a comeback.
- Stevens, Stuart. Night Train to Turkistan: Modern Adventures Along China’s Ancient Silk Road. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988.
- Thubron, Colin. The Lost Heart of Asia. New York: Harper Perennial, 1995. Explores how the breakup of the Soviet Union has influenced the lives of people in the area.
Books About the History of the Peace Corps
- Hoffman, Elizabeth Cobbs. All You Need is Love: The Peace Corps and the Spirit of the 1960’s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Rice, Gerald T. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985.
- Stossel, Scott. Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004.
Books on the Volunteer Experience
- Dirlam, Sharon. Beyond Siberia: Two Years in a Forgotten Place. Santa Barbara, Calif.: McSeas Books, 2004.
- Casebolt, Marjorie DeMoss. Margarita: A Guatemalan Peace Corps Experience. Gig Harbor, Wash.: Red Apple Publishing, 2000.
- Erdman, Sarah. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York, N.Y.: Picador, 2003.
- Hessler, Peter. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. New York, N.Y.: Perennial, 2001.
- Kennedy, Geraldine ed. From the Center of the Earth: Stories out of the Peace Corps. Santa Monica, Calif.: Clover Park Press, 1991.
- Thompsen, Moritz. Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle. Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 1997 (reprint).
Tip: Books—even paperbacks—are heavy, and as you start to pack, you will soon know the value of an ounce. Pick only one or two of these books for your journey. Then copy these bibliography pages, circle what else you want to read, and leave the pages behind with family and friends as a gift wish list. The Peace Corps/Turkmenistan office also has a large library of books left by previous Volunteers.
LIVING CONDITIONS AND VOLUNTEER LIFESTYLE
Few countries in the world offer the level of postal service considered normal in the United States. Mail has taken as few as two or three weeks to arrive in Turkmenistan, but it can take longer, especially around holidays. Some mail may simply not arrive. However, postal service has improved immensely in the past couple of years.
Your address while you are a trainee (your first three months in-country) will be:
“Your Name,” PCT
U.S. Peace Corps/Turkmenistan
PO Box 258, Krugozor
Central Post Office
It is a good idea to write Via Istanbul after Turkmenistan, otherwise the post can go through Moscow and this reportedly adds severe delays.
During training, your mail will arrive at the Peace Corps office and be delivered to you by the training staff. During your first few months in-country, the absence of mail may be discouraging, so you might want to suggest that family and friends write to you even before you leave the United States.
Once you are assigned to your permanent site, you may have mail sent directly there or you may continue to have mail sent to the Peace Corps office if you wish. For larger items, padded envelopes are safer than boxes. Note that it is standard procedure for packages to be opened and inspected at the central post office. Therefore, we recommend that you not have irreplaceable or valuable items sent to you, as they can mysteriously disappear in transit.
Volunteers and staff traveling back home often offer to hand-carry letters to be mailed once they arrive in the United States, so you may want to bring a supply of U.S. stamps. While this is a great way to deal with the uncertainty of international mail service, you should not rely on this method, as it is a favor and your mail could sit for weeks in the Peace Corps office.
We strongly encourage you to write to your family regularly. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from Volunteers, so advise your family and friends that mail service is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. If a serious problem were to occur, the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services in Washington, D.C. would notify your family.
Advise your family and friends to number their letters sequentially for tracking purposes (this will help you tell if letters are missing, though they may arrive out of order) and to write “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.
Long-distance communication via telephone is available but can be unreliable and expensive. Although Turkmenistan has direct-dial overseas access in some areas, in most areas international calls (except those to other CIS countries) must be booked through an operator. If you are calling from outside Ashgabat, it may take longer to get a line and your conversation may be cut off after 15 minutes or so. The current rate for calls to America is approximately 20,000 manats (about $1) per minute. Communicating by phone within Turkmenistan may also be difficult at times, and sending a telegram, while not instant, may be more reliable. It is important for your family and friends to know that they should not expect to be able to reach you by phone quickly.
Cellphone availability is extremely limited and very expensive for a Peace Corps Volunteer. In addition, most of the people Volunteers live and work with do not have cellular phones.
Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access
Peace Corps/Turkmenistan has three computers with Internet access solely for use by Volunteers and limited use by trainees. Prior to being given access, Volunteers must sign a statement agreeing to abide by all rules and regulations governing the use of Peace Corps computers. Although the Peace Corps does not provide e-mail accounts for Volunteers, you can set up free accounts with providers such as Yahoo! and Hotmail.
Most Volunteers do not have access to e-mail on a routine basis. It is a good idea to explain this to your family and friends so that they do not worry if they do not hear from you often.
Housing and Site Location
Peace Corps/Turkmenistan requires that Volunteers live with host families for the first three months of service to better understand the cultural context within which they are living and working. Host families receive training in safety and security support for Volunteers and in issues of American diversity and values. Any change in host family or move to an apartment or home after the required host family stay must meet Peace Corps safety and security standards and be approved by your program manager in advance. In some communities, it may not be culturally appropriate to live alone, particularly for women (of any age).
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is based on the premise that Volunteers are safest and most effective when they are fully integrated into their communities and have gained the trust and respect of the local people. Before making site assignments, the Peace Corps considers site-specific information, input from host country sponsors (i.e., local schools, hospitals, or health facility directors), and trainees’ skills, abilities, and special concerns (e.g., medical, health, and safety). This careful matching process aims to place Volunteers at the sites most in need of their type of assistance in the hope that this will result in a positive, rewarding experience for both Volunteers and the people of Turkmenistan. The program manager and program assistant are responsible for finding initial housing for Volunteers in coordination with host country site supervisors.
Living Allowance and Money Management
Volunteers receive four types of allowances. When you become a Volunteer, you will receive a one-time settling-in allowance in local currency that is roughly equal to one month’s living allowance. It covers the cost of buying basic household items for your permanent site.
You will also receive a living allowance in local currency, deposited regularly in a local bank account, to cover food, utilities, household supplies, clothing, recreation and entertainment, transportation, reading materials, and other incidentals.
The amount of the living allowance is based on the local economy at your site and may vary by region. The amount is reviewed at least once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate. You are likely to find that you receive more remuneration than your host country counterpart or supervisor.
You will receive a vacation allowance of $24 per month of service. Finally, you will receive a quarterly travel allowance to cover the cost of transportation, lodging, and meals while traveling for official purposes (including program-related travel, medical travel, and travel to required trainings and Peace Corps events). The amount is established by the administrative officer and is site-specific. Extraordinary expenses above this allowance will be reimbursed on an individual basis.
Most Volunteers live comfortably in Turkmenistan with these four allowances. Volunteers are strongly discouraged from supplementing their income with money brought from home, as they are expected to live at the economic level of their neighbors and colleagues. However, many Volunteers do bring money to spend while they are on vacation and as there are many interesting places to visit in the region, you may want to consider this.
Credit cards generally cannot be used in Turkmenistan (except, for instance, when purchasing airline tickets from foreign carriers or for getting a cash advance at the Turkmen Central Bank), but they are handy for vacation travel outside Turkmenistan. Another option to consider is a pre-paid debit card for use during travel. Traveler’s checks cannot be cashed in Turkmenistan at this time.
All Volunteers set up local bank accounts either in the capital or at the branch nearest to their site.
Food and Diet
Staple foods are available throughout the year. Imported foods are increasingly common, though they may not be the American or European brands you are used to and they are expensive.
Chicken, eggs, and milk are available but somewhat expensive. Meat can always be found, and fish is fairly common. Sour cream and locally made white cheese are available in most markets. Imported cheeses are becoming more widely available but are costly.
You will find an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, such as melons, grapes, pomegranates, and the ubiquitous eggplants, in the summer and fall. In the winter, you can generally find potatoes, cabbages, carrots, onions, spinach, garlic, apples, mandarins, oranges, and peanuts. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and bananas are also available in the winter, but they are expensive. Grains, nuts, and dried fruits (e.g., apricots and raisins) are always available, as are fresh herbs like red basil, mint, chives, dill, cilantro, and parsley. Markets in more rural areas tend to offer fewer items year-round than do markets in cities.
The traditional Turkmen and Russian diets rely heavily on rice, meat, and fat. Dinner is usually the largest meal of the day. Schools serve inexpensive snacks to students and faculty.
Commonly served beverages include hot tea (both black and green), mineral water, compote (boiled and preserved fruit juice), and alcohol (i.e., vodka, cognac, beer, and locally produced wine). Champagne is often served on festive occasions. Western-style beverages such as Coca-Cola, Fanta, and boxed juices are available.
Strict vegetarians may have difficulties adhering to their diet while in Turkmenistan because of the heavy reliance on animal products in the local diet and because of the constant social pressure to eat—and eat a lot. Your host family, for example, may be hurt if you refuse to eat their food. In addition, the meaning of vegetarianism often is not understood. Do not be surprised to hear someone say, for example, that a soup is “vegetarian” even though it was made with a meat broth or that a rice dish is suitable because it was prepared with less meat on top.
You will have to take charge of your diet within the context of your host family’s expectations. (This applies to all Volunteers, since most Turkmen do not share American views of what constitutes a healthy diet.) The Peace Corps/Turkmenistan staff can help explain your situation to your host family and can help you develop a strategy for maintaining your diet.
Traveling within Turkmenistan can be challenging. There are inexpensive daily flights to most regional capitals, but it can be difficult to get a ticket. Most Volunteers take trains, taxis, buses, or marshrutkas (minivans) to travel from one city to another. On the whole, public buses are adequate and inexpensive. Likewise, taxis are affordable and readily available. For your safety, Peace Corps recommends that you carefully determine the safety of the vehicles in which you ride as many vehicles are old and in disrepair. Guidance will be provided during training on how to do this.
Geography and Climate
Turkmenistan is situated in the southwest of Central Asia. It is located north of the Kopet Dag Mountains, between the Caspian Sea in the west and the Amu Darya River in the east. Turkmenistan borders Uzbekistan in the north and east, Kazakhstan in the northwest, Iran in the south, and Afghanistan in the southeast. Slightly larger than California, the country has an area of 195,200 square miles (488,100 square kilometers).
The entire central region (four-fifths of the country) consists of the Kara Kum Desert, one of the largest sand deserts in the world. Its major rivers are the Amu Darya (aka Oxus), which flows north through the eastern region of the republic and empties into the Aral Sea; and the Murghap, which flows south into Afghanistan. The Kara Kum Canal, whose construction began in 1954, carries water from the Amu Darya to arid central and western regions that have no significant natural waterways. The canal is one of the main factors contributing to low water levels in the Aral Sea.
The average temperature in January is 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 degrees Celsius). The average temperature in July is 104 degrees F (40 degrees C), and can reach as high as 130 degrees F (50 degrees C) in the southeastern Kara Kum. Precipitation is slight throughout much of the country, with average rainfall ranging from only 3.2 inches (80 mm) in the northwest to about 12 inches (300 mm) in mountainous regions. Most rain falls in the winter and spring, so the hot summer months are dry.
Social life is quiet in Turkmenistan, though there are many bars, cafes, and restaurants in Ashgabat. While the places frequented by the small expatriate community in the capital are well above the means of Peace Corps Volunteers, local establishments are reasonably priced. There are a few theaters in the capital that present live plays and folklore productions. A few cinemas and a few DVD bars exist in Ashgabat and some other cities, and they sometimes show Western films dubbed into Russian. While drinking is permitted in Turkmenistan, public drunkenness is illegal. Some Volunteers will find the issue of alcohol consumption to be one of the most difficult to come to terms with during their time here. The people of Turkmenistan lose respect for those who become loud and obnoxious under the influence of alcohol. The Peace Corps also has strict policies about alcohol consumption.
Outside the capital, night life is more limited. The people of Turkmenistan find entertainment mostly through private parties in their homes. Their hospitality is genuine, and you will be invited to many homes after you become known in your community. Special occasions such as birthdays are often celebrated with lavish dinners. Some Volunteers have found it challenging dealing with the constant pressure to consume food and alcohol (usually vodka or cognac) at social events, including meetings with work supervisors and counterparts.
Because of the lack of Western-style diversions, many Volunteers become prolific readers or take up hobbies. The Peace Corps/Turkmenistan office has a large library of English-language books left by past Volunteers, and book exchanges and referrals are a Volunteer tradition.
Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior
The people of Turkmenistan take pride in their personal appearance. To gain the acceptance, respect, and confidence of Turkmen co-workers, it is essential that you dress and conduct yourself professionally, whether at your workplace or visiting the Peace Corps office. Dress standards for foreign aid workers are generally conservative and modest. Women are expected to wear casual skirts or dresses at work (except during physical labor), and men are expected to wear long trousers for activities other than sports or labor.
Out of respect for the Turkmen people and culture, Volunteers are not allowed to display body piercings (including nose, tongue, eyebrow, and navel rings) and tattoos during their service. Men are not allowed to wear earrings or have long hair or ponytails. If you do not remove your body rings and cut your hair before you arrive in Turkmenistan, you will be asked to do so before we place you with a host family during training. Adhering to these rules is a test of your motivation and commitment to adapting to your new environment. If you have reservations about adhering to them, you should consider the level of flexibility required to be successful Volunteer and reevaluate your decision to serve in Turkmenistan.
We do not mean to be unduly harsh. We simply want you to understand that how you behave and dress will not only influence the local people’s attitude toward you but reflect on both the United States and the Peace Corps. You can lose respect in the workplace by acting or dressing inappropriately.
And because the culture tends to be an indirect one, Turkmen are unlikely to tell you when they think you are doing something wrong. Their reactions may come in more subtle ways, such as lack of consideration for your ideas, mistrust of your professional abilities, or excluding you from certain activities.
You will receive an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and thus must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your hosts. You need to be aware that any behavior that jeopardizes the Peace Corps’ mission in Turkmenistan or your personal safety cannot be tolerated and can lead to “administrative separation,” which is a decision by the Peace Corps to terminate your service. The Volunteer Handbook contains more information about the grounds for administrative separation.
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in Turkmenistan. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
Rewards and Frustrations
Although the potential for job satisfaction in Turkmenistan is quite high, like all Volunteers, you will encounter numerous frustrations. Because of financial or other challenges, collaborating agencies do not always provide the support they promised. In addition, the pace of work and life is slower than what most Americans are accustomed to, and some people you work with may be hesitant to change practices and traditions that are centuries old. Some of the factors that contribute to the low level of motivation on the part of the counterparts involve difficulties with the government, which tends to view foreigners with suspicion. Even simple projects can be difficult to get permission for and counterparts may be hesitant to be seen as contributing too eagerly to projects of which their supervisors may disapprove. For these reasons, the Peace Corps experience of adapting to a new culture and environment is often described as a series of emotional peaks and valleys.
You will be given a high degree of responsibility and independence in your work—perhaps more than in any other job you have had or will have. You will often find yourself in situations that require an ability to motivate yourself and your counterparts with little guidance from supervisors. You might work for months without seeing any visible impact from, or without receiving feedback on, your work. Development is a slow process. Positive progress most often comes only after the combined efforts of several Volunteers over the course of many years. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results.
To overcome these difficulties, you will need maturity, flexibility, open-mindedness, and resourcefulness. However, Turkmen are hospitable, friendly, and warm people. The Peace Corps staff, your co-workers, and fellow Volunteers will support you during times of challenge as well as in moments of success. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave Turkmenistan feeling that they have gained much more than they gave during their service. If you are able to make the commitment to integrate into your community and work hard, you will be a successful Volunteer.
Overview of Pre-Service Training
The primary goal of pre-service training is to prepare you for the first three to six months of Volunteer service. By the end of training, you will not be fluent in Turkmen, or understand everything you want to know about your primary assignment, but you will have enough knowledge and skills to get started. Pre-service training is designed to help you meet challenges as they arise and adapt to unanticipated occurrences. During training, you will also receive important information regarding administrative aspects of Volunteer service such as financial matters and Peace Corps policies.
Community-based training facilitates your integration into your community and work by helping you learn cultural adaptation skills, begin to develop good working relationships with host country colleagues, and gain the skills needed to carry out your projects and activities independently. You will be given many opportunities to demonstrate your skills during training so that you can see and evaluate your progress. As a trainee, you are required to attend all training sessions; optional events, such as certain outings, parties, and specially called meetings, will be clearly stated as such.
Your input and your commitment to giving your best efforts in participation and study are critical. Experiential and self-directed learning, as well as other principles of adult learning, are the key elements of pre-service training. Training also incorporates the concept of “open space,” which means that you, your fellow trainees, and trainers will have input into the daily training agenda based on your individual and group training needs. You will be encouraged to facilitate and lead sessions, will work side by side with current Volunteers and host country counterparts to learn from their knowledge and experiences, and will engage in self-study and one-onone tutorials. You will also go on field visits and meet with representatives of the ministries, health facilities, schools, and donor organizations appropriate to your assignment. Midway through training, you will meet the person you will work with at your assigned site and visit the site with this counterpart.
Technical training prepares you to work in Turkmenistan by building on the skills you already have and helping you develop new skills in a manner appropriate to the needs of the country. The Peace Corps staff, Turkmen experts, and current Volunteers will conduct the training program. Training places great emphasis on learning how to transfer the skills you have to the community in which you will serve as a Volunteer.
Technical training will include sessions on the environment, economics, and politics in Turkmenistan and strategies for working within such a framework. You will review your technical sector’s goals and will meet with the Turkmen agencies and organizations that invited the Peace Corps to assist them. You will be supported and evaluated throughout the training to build the confidence and skills you need to undertake your project activities and be a productive member of your community.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will find that language skills are the key to personal and professional satisfaction during your service. These skills are critical to your job performance, they help you integrate into your community, and they can ease your personal adaptation to the new surroundings.
Therefore, language training is the heart of the training
program, and you must successfully meet minimum language requirements to complete training and become a Volunteer. Experienced Turkmen language instructors teach formal language classes five days a week in small groups of four to five people.
Your language training will incorporate a community-based approach. In addition to classroom time, you will be given assignments to work on outside of the classroom and with your host family. The goal is to get you to a point of basic social communication skills so that you can practice and develop language skills further on your own. Prior to being sworn in as a Volunteer, you will work on strategies to continue language studies during your two years of service.
All trainees will learn Turkmen during pre-service training as it is the dominant language in the country. Some trainees may find that learning a little Uzbek or Russian will help them be more successful at their permanent sites. Peace Corps will assist you if there is a need for you to learn a second language during your service.
As part of your pre-service training, you will live with a Turkmen host family. This experience is designed to ease your transition to life at your site. Families have gone through an orientation conducted by Peace Corps staff to explain the purpose of the pre-service training program and to assist them in helping you adapt to living in Turkmenistan. Many Volunteers form strong and lasting friendships with their host families.
Cross-cultural and community development training will help you improve your communication skills and understand your role as a facilitator of development. You will be exposed to topics such as community mobilization, conflict resolution, gender and development, nonformal and adult education strategies, and political structures.
During pre-service training, you will be given basic medical training and information. You will be expected to practice preventive healthcare and to take responsibility for your own health by adhering to all medical policies. The topics include preventive health measures and minor and major medical issues that you may encounter while in Turkmenistan. Nutrition, mental health, safety and security, setting up a safe living compound, and how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also covered.
During the safety training sessions, you will learn how to adopt a lifestyle that reduces your risks at home, at work, and during your travels. You will also learn appropriate, effective strategies for coping with unwanted attention and about your individual responsibility for promoting safety throughout your service.
Additional Trainings During Volunteer Service
In its commitment to institutionalize quality training, the Peace Corps has implemented a training system that provides Volunteers with continual opportunities to examine their commitment to Peace Corps service while increasing their technical and cross-cultural skills. During your service, there are usually three training events, though there will be other opportunities for you to gain skills during seminars and workshops during your service. The titles and objectives for those trainings are as follows:
- Mid-Service Training: Assists Volunteers in reviewing their first year, reassessing their personal and project objectives, and planning for their second year of service.
- In-Service Training: Provides an opportunity for Volunteers to share ideas, strengths, and successes across sectors and regions and includes concepts and techniques such as project design and management.
- Close-of-Service Conference: Prepares Volunteers for the future after Peace Corps service and reviews their respective projects and personal experiences.
The number, length, and design of these trainings are adapted to the needs and conditions of Turkmenistan. The key to the training system is that training events are integrated and interrelated, from the pre-departure orientation through the end of your service, and are planned, implemented, and evaluated cooperatively by the training staff, Peace Corps staff, and Volunteers.
YOUR HEALTH CARE AND SAFETY IN TURMENISTAN
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Turkmenistan maintains a joint medical unit with a full-time medical officer, who takes care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs as well as those of the U.S. embassy staff. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Turkmenistan at local, American-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported either to a medical facility in the region or to the United States.
Health Issues in Turkmenistan
Major health problems among Volunteers in Turkmenistan are rare and are often the result of a Volunteer’s not taking preventive measures to stay healthy. The most common health problems encountered by Volunteers include colds, diarrhea, sinus infections, headaches, dental problems, minor injuries, STDs, adjustment disorders, and alcohol abuse. These problems may occur more frequently or be compounded by life in Turkmenistan because environmental factors in the country raise the risk of or exacerbate the severity of certain illnesses and injuries.
The most common major health concerns in the country are tuberculosis, dysentery, hepatitis, and giardiasis. You will be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B; meningitis; tetanus/ diphtheria; typhoid; rabies; measles, mumps, and rubella; and polio. Skin tests (PPD) for tuberculosis will also be given.
Helping You Stay Healthy
The Peace Corps will provide you with all the necessary inoculations, medications, and information to stay healthy. Upon your arrival in Turkmenistan, you will receive a medical handbook, a water filter, a mosquito net, and a medical kit with supplies to take care of mild illnesses and first-aid needs. The contents of the kit, which will be replenished at the end of training, are listed later in this chapter.
During pre-service training, you will have access to medical supplies not included in the medical kit through the medical officer. However, you will be responsible for your own supply of prescription drugs (such as allergy medication) and any other specific medical supplies you require, as we will not order these items during training. Please bring a three-month supply of any prescription drugs you use since they may not be available here and it may take several months for shipments from worldwide suppliers to arrive (if your insurance allows it, a six-month supply is even better).
You will have physicals at mid-service and at the end of your service. If you develop a serious medical problem during your service, the medical officer in Turkmenistan will consult with the Office of Medical Services in Washington, D.C. If it is determined that your condition cannot be treated in Turkmenistan, you may be sent out of the country for further evaluation and care.
Maintaining Your Health
As a Volunteer, you must accept a certain amount of responsibility for your own health. Proper precautions will significantly reduce your risk of serious illness or injury. The old adage “An ounce of prevention …” becomes extremely important in areas where diagnostic and treatment facilities are not up to the standards of the United States. The most important of your responsibilities in Turkmenistan is to take preventive measures for the following:
Many illnesses that afflict Volunteers worldwide are entirely preventable if proper food and water precautions are taken. These illnesses include food poisoning, parasitic infections, hepatitis A, dysentery, pinworms, and typhoid fever. Your medical officer will discuss specific standards for water and food preparation in Turkmenistan during pre-service training.
Tuberculosis is present in the country, so it is important to stay away from people who are constantly coughing and have signs of tuberculosis infection and to regularly ventilate your room and your office. You will be given the PPD skin test upon your arrival in-country, at mid-service, and at the end of your service.
Rabies is prevalent throughout the country, so you will receive a series of immunizations against it when you arrive in Turkmenistan. Be wary of all unknown animals, and if you are exposed to an animal that is known to have or suspected of having rabies, inform the medical officer at once so that you can receive post-exposure booster shots.
Abstinence is the only certain choice for prevention of infection with HIV and other STDs. You are taking risks if you choose to be sexually active. To lessen risk, use a condom every time you have sex. Whether your partner is a host country citizen, a fellow Volunteer, or anyone else, do not assume this person is free of HIV/AIDS or other STDs. You will receive more information from your medical officer about this important issue.
Volunteers are expected to adhere to an effective means of birth control to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Your medical officer can help you decide on the most appropriate method to suit your individual needs. Contraceptive methods are available without charge from the medical officer.
It is critical to your health that you promptly report to the medical officer or other designated facility for scheduled immunizations, and that you let the medical officer know immediately of significant illnesses and injuries.
Women’s Health Information
Pregnancy is treated in the same manner as other Volunteer health conditions requiring medical attention, but also has programmatic ramifications. The Peace Corps is responsible for determining the medical risk and the availability of appropriate medical care if the Volunteer remains in-country. Given the circumstances under which Volunteers live and work in Peace Corps countries, it is rare that the Peace Corps’ medical and programmatic standards for continued service can be met. The majority of Volunteers who become pregnant are medically separated.
(Note that pregnancy is also a men’s health issue. Male Volunteers who father children have specific rules and guidelines to which they must adhere. Male Volunteers who father children must discuss the issue with the country director to determine the appropriate course of action regarding continuing their service. More information about this is contained in the Peace Corps Manual.)
If feminine hygiene products are not available for you to purchase on the local market, the Peace Corps medical officer in Turkmenistan will provide them. If you require a specific product, please bring a six-month supply with you.
Your Peace Corps Medical Kit
The Peace Corps medical officer provides Volunteers with a kit that contains basic items necessary to prevent and treat illnesses that may occur during service. Kit items can be periodically restocked at the medical office.
Medical Kit Contents
Acetaminophen 325 mg (Tylenol)
American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook
Antacid tablets (Tums)
Antibiotic cream (Bacitracin/Neomycin/Polymycin B)
Antifungal cream (Tinactin)
Antiseptic antimicrobial skin cleaner (Hibiclens)
Diphenhydramine HCL 25 mg (Benadryl)
Ibuprofen 400 mg (Advil)
Insect repellent stick (Cutter’s)
Iodine tablets (for water purification)
Lip balm (Chapstick)
Oral rehydration salts
Oral thermometer (Fahrenheit)
Pseudoephedrine HCL 30 mg (Sudafed)
Robitussin-DM lozenges (for cough)
Sterile gauze pads
Tetrahydrozaline eyedrops (Visine)
Before You Leave: A Medical Checklist
If there has been any change in your health—physical, mental, or dental—since you submitted your examination reports to the Peace Corps, you must immediately notify the Office of Medical Services. Failure to disclose new illnesses, injuries, allergies, or pregnancy can endanger your health and may jeopardize your eligibility to serve.
If your dental exam was done more than a year ago, or if your physical exam is more than two years old, contact the Office of Medical Services to find out whether you need to update your records. If your dentist or Peace Corps dental consultant has recommended that you undergo dental treatment or repair, you must complete that work and make sure your dentist sends requested confirmation reports or X-rays to the Office of Medical Services.
If you wish to avoid having duplicate vaccinations, contact your physician’s office, obtain a copy of your immunization record, and bring it to your pre-departure orientation. If you have any immunizations prior to Peace Corps service, the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for the cost. The Peace Corps will provide all the immunizations necessary for your overseas assignment shortly after you arrive in Turkmenistan.
Bring a three-month supply of any prescription and six-month supply of over-the-counter medication you use on a regular basis, including birth control pills. Although the Peace Corps cannot reimburse you for this three-month supply, we will order refills during your service. While awaiting shipment— which can take several months—you will be dependent on your own medication supply. The Peace Corps will not pay for herbal or non-prescribed medications, such as St. John’s wort, glucosamine, selenium, or antioxidant supplements.
You are encouraged to bring copies of medical prescriptions signed by your physician. This is not a requirement, but they might come in handy if you are questioned in transit about carrying a three-month supply of prescription drugs.
If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs with you—a pair and a spare. If a pair breaks, the Peace Corps will replace it, using the information your doctor in the United States provided on the eyeglasses form during your examination. We discourage you from using contact lenses during your service to reduce your risk of developing a serious infection or other eye disease. Most Peace Corps countries do not have appropriate water and sanitation to support eye care with the use of contact lenses. The Peace Corps will not supply or replace contact lenses or associated solutions unless an ophthalmologist has recommended their use for a specific medical condition and the Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services has given approval.
If you are eligible for Medicare, are over 50 years of age, or have a health condition that may restrict your future participation in healthcare plans, you may wish to consult an insurance specialist about unique coverage needs before your departure. The Peace Corps will provide all necessary healthcare from the time you leave for your pre-departure orientation until you complete your service. When you finish, you will be entitled to the post-service healthcare benefits described in the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook. You may wish to consider keeping an existing health plan in effect during your service if you think age or pre-existing conditions might prevent you from reenrolling in your current plan when you return home.
Safety and Security—Our Partnership
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Property thefts and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although almost all Volunteers complete their two years of service without serious personal safety problems. In addition, more than 84 percent of Volunteers surveyed in the 2004 Peace Corps Volunteer Survey say they would join the Peace Corps again.
The Peace Corps approaches safety and security as a partnership with you. This Welcome Book contains sections on: Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle; Peace Corps Training; and Your Health Care and Safety. All of these sections include important safety and security information.
The Peace Corps makes every effort to give Volunteers the tools they need to function in the safest and most secure way possible, because working to maximize the safety and security of Volunteers is our highest priority. Not only do we provide you with training and tools to prepare for the unexpected, but we teach you to identify and manage the risks you may encounter.
Factors that Contribute to Volunteer Risk
There are several factors that can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within the Volunteer’s control.
Based on information gathered from incident reports worldwide in 2004, the following factors stand out as risk characteristics for assaults. Assaults consist of personal crimes committed against Volunteers, and do not include property crimes (such as vandalism or theft).
- Location: Most crimes occurred when Volunteers were in public areas (e.g., street, park, beach, public buildings). Specifically, 43 percent of assaults took place when Volunteers were away from their sites.
- Time of day: Assaults usually took place on the weekend during the evening between 5:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.— with most assaults occurring around 1:00 a.m.
- Absence of others: Assaults usually occurred when the Volunteer was unaccompanied. In 82 percent of the sexual assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied and in 55 percent of physical assaults the Volunteer was unaccompanied.
- Relationship to assailant: In most assaults, the Volunteer did not know the assailant.
- Consumption of alcohol: Forty percent of all assaults involved alcohol consumption by Volunteers and/or assailants.
Summary Strategies to Reduce Risk
Before and during service, your training will address these areas of concern so that you can reduce the risks you face.
For example, here are some strategies Volunteers employ:
Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of theft:
- Know the environment and choose safe routes/times for travel
- Avoid high-crime areas per Peace Corps guidance
- Know the vocabulary to get help in an emergency
- Carry valuables in different pockets/places
- Carry a “dummy” wallet as a decoy Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of burglary:
- Live with a local family or on a family compound
- Put strong locks on doors and keep valuables in a lock box or trunk
- Leave irreplaceable objects at home in the U.S.
- Follow Peace Corps guidelines on maintaining home security Strategies to reduce the risk/impact of assault:
- Make local friends
- Make sure your appearance is respectful of local customs; don’t draw negative attention to yourself by wearing inappropriate clothing
- Get to know local officials, police, and neighbors
- Travel with someone whenever possible
- Avoid known high crime areas
- Limit alcohol consumption
Support from Staff
In March 2003, the Peace Corps created the Office of Safety and Security with its mission to “foster improved communication, coordination, oversight, and accountability of all Peace Corps’ safety and security efforts.” The new office is led by an Associate Director for Safety and Security who reports to the Peace Corps Director and includes the following divisions: Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security; Information and Personnel Security; Emergency Preparedness, Plans, Training and Exercise; and Crime Statistics and Analysis.
The major responsibilities of the Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security Division are to coordinate the office’s overseas operations and direct the Peace Corps’ safety and security officers who are located in various regions around the world that have Peace Corps programs. The safety and security officers conduct security assessments; review safety trainings; train trainers and managers; train Volunteer safety wardens, local guards, and staff; develop security incident response procedures; and provide crisis management support.
If a trainee or Volunteer is the victim of a safety incident, Peace Corps staff is prepared to provide support. All Peace Corps posts have procedures in place to respond to incidents of crime committed against Volunteers. The first priority for all posts in the aftermath of an incident is to ensure that the Volunteer is safe and receiving medical treatment as needed. After assuring the safety of the Volunteer, Peace Corps staff provides support by reassessing the Volunteer’s work site and housing arrangements and making any adjustments, as needed. In some cases, the nature of the incident may necessitate a site or housing transfer. Peace Corps staff will also assist Volunteers with preserving their rights to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators of the crime. It is very important that Volunteers report incidents as they occur, not only to protect their peer Volunteers, but also to preserve the future right to prosecute. Should Volunteers decide later in the process that they want to proceed with the prosecution of their assailant, this option may no longer exist if the evidence of the event has not been preserved at the time of the incident.
The country-specific data chart below shows the incidence rates and the average number of incidents of the major types of safety incidents reported by Peace Corps Volunteers/ trainees in Turkmenistan as compared to all other Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region programs as a whole, from 2001–2005. It is presented to you in a somewhat technical manner for statistical accuracy.
To fully appreciate the collected data below, an explanation of the graph is provided as follows:
The incidence rate for each type of crime is the number of crime events relative to the Volunteer/trainee population.
It is expressed on the chart as a ratio of crime to Volunteer and trainee years (or V/T years, which is a measure of 12 full months of V/T service) to allow for a statistically valid way to compare crime data across countries. An “incident” is a specific offense, per Peace Corps’ classification of offenses, and may involve one or more Volunteer/trainee victims. For example, if two Volunteers are robbed at the same time and place, this is classified as one robbery incident.
The chart is separated into eight crime categories. These include vandalism (malicious defacement or damage of property); theft (taking without force or illegal entry); burglary (forcible entry of a residence); robbery (taking something by force); minor physical assault (attacking without a weapon with minor injuries); minor sexual assault (fondling, groping, etc.); aggravated assault (attacking with a weapon, and/or without a weapon when serious injury results); and rape (sexual intercourse without consent).
When anticipating Peace Corps Volunteer service, you should review all of the safety and security information provided to you, including the strategies to reduce risk. Throughout your training and Volunteer service, you will be expected to successfully complete all training competencies in a variety of areas including safety and security. Once in-country, use the tools and information shared with you to remain as safe and secure as possible.
What if you become a victim of a violent crime?
Few Peace Corps Volunteers are victims of violent crimes. The Peace Corps will give you information and training in how to be safe. But, just as in the U.S., crime happens, and Volunteers can become victims. When this happens, the investigative team of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is charged with helping pursue prosecution of those who perpetrate a violent crime against a Volunteer. If you become a victim of a violent crime, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is entirely yours, and one of the tasks of the OIG is to make sure that you are fully informed of your options and help you through the process and procedures involved in going forward with prosecution should you wish to do so. If you decide to prosecute, we are here to assist you in every way we can.
Crimes that occur overseas, of course, are investigated and prosecuted by local authorities in local courts. Our role is to coordinate the investigation and evidence collection with the regional security officers (RSOs) at the U.S. embassy, local police, and local prosecutors and others to ensure that your rights are protected to the fullest extent possible under the laws of the country. OIG investigative staff has extensive experience in criminal investigation, in working sensitively with victims, and as advocates for victims. We also, may, in certain limited circumstances, arrange for the retention of a local lawyer to assist the local public prosecutor in making the case against the individual who perpetrated the violent crime.
If you do become a victim of a violent crime, first, make sure you are in a safe place and with people you trust and second, contact the country director or the Peace Corps medical officer. Immediate reporting is important to the preservation of evidence and the chances of apprehending the suspect. Country directors and medical officers are required to report all violent crimes to the Inspector General and the RSO. This information is protected from unauthorized further disclosure by the Privacy Act. Reporting the crime also helps prevent your further victimization and protects your fellow Volunteers.
In conjunction with the RSO, the OIG does a preliminary investigation of all violent crimes against Volunteers regardless of whether the crime has been reported to local authorities or of the decision you may ultimately make to prosecute. If you are a victim of a crime, our staff will work with you through final disposition of the case. OIG staff is available 24 hours-aday, 7 days-a-week. We may be contacted through our 24-hour violent crime hotline via telephone at 202.692.2911, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Security Issues in Turkmenistan
When it comes to your safety and security in the Peace Corps, you have to be willing to adapt your behavior and lifestyle to minimize the potential for being a target of crime. Most Volunteers feel safer from crime in Turkmenistan than in the United States but, as with anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Turkmenistan. You can reduce your risk by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable and by taking precautions. Tourist attractions, especially in large towns, are favorite work sites for pickpockets. Petty theft is also prevalent in villages because of decreased economic opportunity and rising drug use, especially among young men.
The following are safety concerns in Turkmenistan:
Volunteers have occasionally reported instances of harassment, such as being called derogatory names, receiving overt sexual comments, and having children throw small rocks at them. Strategies for dealing with harassment are discussed during pre-service training.
Volunteers have also been targets of sexual assault in Turkmenistan. Alcohol consumption and cross-cultural differences in gender relations are often associated with sexual assaults, and the assailant is often an acquaintance of the Volunteer. Volunteers who take seriously Peace Corps/Turkmenistan’s training regarding sexual assaults will minimize their risk. Volunteers are urged to report all assaults and threats of assault to the Peace Corps medical officer so that staff can respond with appropriate support. Note that sex outside of marriage is not looked upon favorably in Turkmenistan and may jeopardize both your safety and your ability to develop mutually respectful relationships in your community and at your job.
Homosexual behavior is technically illegal in Turkmenistan, and the rights of gays and lesbians are not protected under the Turkmenistan Constitution, so gay and lesbian Volunteers have to practice discretion. The Peace Corps is committed to providing support for all Volunteers regardless of sexual orientation.
Turkmenistan has a very hospitable culture, and making house visits is highly encouraged. When you are at somebody’s home, the host will often offer you an alcoholic drink, usually vodka. Alcohol use impairs judgment and must be consumed responsibly. Many incidents of harassment and assault among Volunteers are related in some way to use of alcohol.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
You must be prepared to take on a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. Only you can make yourself less of a target, ensure that your house is secure, and develop relations in your community that will make you an unlikely victim of crime. In Turkmenistan, do what you would do if you moved to a large city in the United States: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware. You can reduce your vulnerability to crime by integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. Serving safely and effectively in Turkmenistan may require that you accept some restrictions on your current lifestyle.
Volunteers attract a lot of attention in large cities, but receive far more negative attention in highly populated centers, where they are anonymous, than in smaller towns, where “family,” friends, and colleagues look out for them. While whistles and exclamations are fairly common on the street, this behavior can be reduced if you dress conservatively, avoid eye contact, and do not respond to unwanted attention. Keep your money out of sight by using an undergarment money pouch, the kind that hangs around your neck and stays hidden under your shirt or inside your coat. Do not keep your money in outside pockets of backpacks, in coat pockets, or in fanny packs, and always walk with a companion at night.
Preparing for the Unexpected: Safety Training and Volunteer Support in Turkmenistan
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your two-year service and includes the following: Information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for addressing safety and security incidents. Turkmenistan’s in-country safety program is outlined below.
The Peace Corps/Turkmenistan office will keep you informed of any issues that may impact Volunteer safety through information sharing. Regular updates will be provided in Volunteer newsletters and in memorandums from the country director. In the event of a critical situation or emergency, you will be contacted through the emergency communication network.
Volunteer training will include sessions to prepare you for specific safety and security issues in Turkmenistan. This training will prepare you to adopt a culturally appropriate lifestyle and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in your home, at work, and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout your two-year service and is integrated into the cross-cultural, health, and other components of training.
Certain site selection criteria are used to determine safe housing for Volunteers before their arrival. The Peace Corps staff works closely with host communities and counterpart agencies to help prepare them for a Volunteer’s arrival and to establish expectations of their respective roles in supporting the Volunteer. Each site is inspected before the Volunteer’s arrival to ensure placement in appropriate, safe, and secure housing and work sites. Site selection is based in part on any relevant site history; access to medical, banking, postal, and other essential services; availability of communications, transportation, and markets; housing options and living arrangements; and other support needs.
You will also learn about Peace Corps/Turkmenistan’s detailed emergency action plan, which is implemented in the event of civil or political unrest or a natural disaster. When you arrive at your site, you will complete and submit a site locator form with your address, contact information, and a map to your house. If there is a security threat, you will gather with other Volunteers in Turkmenistan at predetermined locations until the situation is resolved or the Peace Corps decides to evacuate.
Finally, in order for the Peace Corps to be fully responsive to the needs of Volunteers, it is imperative that Volunteers immediately report any security incident to the Peace Corps safety and security coordinator or medical officer. The Peace Corps has established protocols for addressing safety and security incidents in a timely and appropriate manner, and it collects and evaluates safety and security data to track trends and develop strategies to minimize risks to current and future Volunteers.
DIVERSITY AND CROSS-CULTURAL ISSUES
In fulfilling the Peace Corps’ mandate to share the face of America with our host countries, we are making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.
Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Turkmenistan, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Turkmenistan.
Outside of Turkmenistan’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Turkmenistan are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Turkmenistan, you may need to make some compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during your pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Overview of Diversity in Turkmenistan
The Peace Corps staff in Turkmenistan recognizes adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.
What Might a Volunteer Face?
Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
Although women in Turkmenistan work in most areas of the workforce, this should not be taken as evidence of equality of the sexes, as traditional attitudes toward women prevail.
The greater influence of women in the workplace has much of its roots in the Soviet system, and there has been a return to conventional roles for women since independence, especially at home and in social settings. As a female Volunteer, you will probably find that host families and colleagues will be more concerned about the hours you keep, your dress, and the friends with whom you associate (males in particular) than they will be for male colleagues. You will have to adapt to these concerns.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
It is hard to anticipate exactly what African, Asian, or Hispanic Americans will face as Volunteers, since there is so little exposure to people with these backgrounds in this area of the world. But while all foreigners stand out, Volunteers of color may face special challenges. Stereotypes exist here, just as they do in the United States. But harassment of foreigners, particularly of women, is common, so not all difficulties Volunteers of color face should be presumed to be the result of one’s ethnic background. In addition, ethnic identification is an important aspect of the culture, and the papers that all Turkmen carry identify them by their place of origin, e.g., “Turkmen,” “Russian,” “Azeri,” or even “Jewish.”
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
There is a great respect for age in Turkmenistan. In the workplace, everybody is likely to ask you for your opinion. You may receive less harassment in the streets than younger colleagues and at meetings or on a public bus people will often offer you a seat. They will also offer to carry things for you. Members of your host family may try to do your laundry, cooking, or cleaning. To avoid an “overload” of respect, you will need to be flexible and understanding of local cultural norms while also demonstrating that you are an independent person who is willing and able to contribute to various tasks.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
Homosexuality is not generally accepted in Turkmenistan. Although there undoubtedly are homosexuals and bisexuals in the country, there is no visible gay community, and finding local gays who live openly is unlikely. If you are accustomed to being open about your sexual orientation, you should be prepared for some feelings of isolation at home and in the workplace. The Peace Corps/Turkmenistan staff is prepared to do all it can to provide support to homosexual and bisexual Volunteers.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Most of the population is Sunni Muslim. Though Islam is widely practiced, there is significantly less of a fundamentalist influence in the country than in some other Islamic countries. Consumption of alcohol is common, and Turkmen are not as strict as other Muslims in observing daily prayers and religious holidays, though pilgrimages to religious sites are common. Islam in Turkmenistan also features elements of Sufi mysticism and shamanism. In June 1991, the Turkmen Supreme Soviet adopted a Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, and the Constitution declares the country a secular society. However, since independence, traditional religious values and practices are on the rise. Volunteers need to remember that discussions about religion could be problematic and that proselytizing of any kind is strictly against Peace Corps policy.
Possible Issues for Volunteers with Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Turkmenistan, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. In Turkmenistan, as in other parts of the world, some people may hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with disabilities and may discriminate against them. Furthermore, there is little of the infrastructure to accommodate individuals with disabilities that has been developed in the United States.
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, of serving in Turkmenistan without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. The Peace Corps/Turkmenistan staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations for them in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Turkmenistan?
The Peace Corps will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceed airline limits. The current baggage allowance is 2 pieces per person each weighing a maximum of 23 kg (50 lbs.) and maximum dimensions of 158 cm (62 in.) (addition of L+W+H). Maximum weight allowed is 45 kg (100 lbs.) Airline regulations vary and change as a result of factors beyond the control of Peace Corps. For bags exceeding 23 kg (50 lbs.) and up to 32 kg/pc (70 lbs.) a flat fee of $25 per piece is charged. If the bag exceeds 32 kg (70 lbs.) or the maximum dimension of 158 cm (62 in.) an additional fee of $180 to $200 (depending on destination) is charged. Carry-on luggage must conform to airline policies. These conditions apply for most of the European and major U.S. carriers, but flights to and from certain countries and on specific airlines will vary. Many things can be bought here, especially clothing items, toiletries, etc. Think long and hard about what you pack and consider doing some of your shopping here.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution. Please check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for a detailed list of permitted and prohibited items at http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permittedprohibited-items.shtm.
What is the electric current in Turkmenistan?
The electric current in Turkmenistan is 220 volts. If you bring any appliances with you, a small, universal power converter would be very helpful. A surge protector is also highly recommended.
How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries, this is a good idea if you plan on taking vacations outside of Turkmenistan. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash for trips. If you choose to bring extra money, bring an amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs.
When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and after the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from your country director. A local travel company in Ashgabat can help arrange the documents needed for a visit.
Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase such insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in Turkmenistan do not need to get an international driver’s license because they are prohibited from operating privately owned motorized vehicles. Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks and lots of walking. It is a good idea to renew your US driver’s license if it will expire while you are overseas.
What should I bring as gifts for Turkmen friends and my host family?
Gifts are not required, but we encourage you to bring something small to give to your host family when you meet them at the end of your first week in-country. You may also want to bring a similar gift for the second host family with whom you will live at your permanent worksite for a minimum of six months after beginning your service. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.
Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are assigned to individual sites during pre-service training, after the Peace Corps staff has the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills and finalize site selections with ministry counterparts.
If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, and living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. You will have an opportunity to visit your permanent site for a few days during training. Most Volunteers live in small towns or in rural villages and are usually within one hour from another Volunteer. Some sites require a 10- to 12-hour drive from the capital.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For non-emergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580.
Can I call home from Turkmenistan?
Yes. Although there is direct-dial access in some regions of the country, in most areas international calls (except those to other CIS countries) must be booked through an operator, which can cause significant delays in placing calls. The current rate for calls to United States is approximately $1 per minute; there are no discounted periods.
Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
No, because you probably will not be able to use it in Turkmenistan. Cellphone coverage is limited but is becoming available in more areas of the country. Satellite phones also are rare, and having one might make Turkmen think you are a spy.
Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Internet access is very limited, so most Volunteers do not have regular access to e-mail. It is a good idea to explain this to family and friends so that they do not worry when they do not hear from you often. Some Volunteers bring laptop computers, but they are responsible for insuring and maintaining the computers themselves; the Peace Corps will not replace stolen computers and strongly encourages those who bring them to get personal property insurance. Because of the high value of laptops, owners significantly increase their risk of becoming a victim of crime. You probably will not find the same level of technical assistance and service here as you would at home, and replacement parts could take months to arrive. Also note that gaining Internet access via your laptop is only a remote possibility because few Volunteers have telephone lines in their home or adequate lines in their community or place of work. If you bring a laptop, be sure to buy a surge protector, as electrical lapses and surges are common.
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Turkmenistan and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you at the Peace Corps office (and unlike Volunteers in many Peace Corps countries, you will not be charged customs taxes). As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have a 100-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Turkmenistan.
Dress is very important in Turkmenistan. The popular image of a Peace Corps Volunteer in sandals and a T-shirt with a university logo is inappropriate here. Fair or not, people are judged by the way they dress in Turkmenistan, more so than in the United States. Your colleagues will dress as professionals and for you to do otherwise will be considered disrespectful. If you come to work inappropriately dressed, your colleagues and clients (e.g., students or clinic patients) will probably not say anything to you directly but may talk unfavorably about you to others. Following the lead of your co-workers will help you gain acceptance and respect in your community and in your development work. But this does not mean that you need to spend a lot of money on new clothing. Rather, be selective in what you bring, and consider buying some of your professional clothing in Ashgabat. If you plan on this, bring along some extra money in order to do so.
Female Volunteers in Turkmenistan usually wear mid-length to long dresses or skirts at work, though pants may be acceptable in some areas. Tops can be short sleeved, but should be modest. You should probably bring at least one versatile dressy outfit for social events in the capital. Fashionable clothing can be bought in Ashgabat or made by a local dressmaker.
Male Volunteers are expected to wear pressed chinos or dress slacks with a shirt and tie, and shined professional-looking shoes are a must. Consider buying some of your professional clothing in Ashgabat. The quality and style may not be equal to that found in American brands (though several high-quality European manufacturers have opened outlet stores here for excess inventory), but they are the same clothes your local colleagues will be wearing. However, if you are very tall or large, you may not find the sizes you need.
Many types of appliances and electronics are available in Turkmenistan (including reasonably priced blow-dryers, irons, and boom boxes), and buying them locally eliminates the need to bring a voltage converter. Standard batteries of varying quality are also available. Do not bring items of great sentimental or monetary value, such as expensive jewelry, radio transmitters of any kind, or military surplus clothing.
- Mix-and-match clothes for layering, such as solid-color turtlenecks
- Gloves and hat for cold weather
- Sun hat or baseball cap
- Long underwear—silk is lightweight, easy to clean, and warm
- T-shirts (without wording or pictures about controversial issues such as politics, drugs, and sex)
- Two pair of jeans
- Underwear and socks
- Sports and fitness clothing and supplies (there are tennis courts in some cities); for jogging, lightweight pants are better than shorts, which are inappropriate to wear in most places other than a gym; women should bring clothing that is not too tight and does not reveal too much skin
- Bandanas and handkerchiefs
- Sport jackets or suit (for special occasions)
- Several pairs of nice slacks
- Several shirts with collars
- A few nice sweaters
- Several skirts or dresses with hems ankle-length (fuller is better because you will sit on the floor a lot)
- Several nice blouses and shirts (short-sleeved tops are fine if modest)
- A couple of pairs of nice slacks (which can be worn as professional clothing in some places)
- A shorter skirt or dress for evenings out (but note that Turkmen women rarely wear miniskirts, but in the cities it is acceptable)
- Bras and full and half slips to last two years (preferably cotton)
- Nylons or tights (thicker ones are great for cold weather)
- Pair of jeans
- Most women in the village wear full ankle-length dresses, but you can have those made here very cheaply during your first few months so don't over pack on clothes because most female volunteers go to local dressmakers for their clothing needs.
- Dress shoes—for men, loafers are practical because they can be slipped off easily when entering a home; for women, comfortable, low-heeled pumps are recommended; Volunteers who will be on their feet a lot might consider black sneakers that look like dress shoes
- Hiking boots and/or walking shoes
- Extra shoelaces
- Sandals such as Tevas or Chocos for the summer heat. Most volunteers wear sandals during the spring and summer months.
Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- Enough deodorant, soap, and other toiletries to last you through pre-service training (many of the brands available in Ashgabat will be familiar to you, but if you require specific brands, you may want to bring more)
- Fragrant powders, body lotions, or perfume (for when showers are scarce)
- Contact lens solutions, which the Peace Corps does not provide, if you wear contacts
- A three-month supply of any prescription medications you take, to last you until the Peace Corps can order them for you (a six-month supply, if possible, is even better as the mail here can be slow)
- Two pairs of eyeglasses, if you wear them (replacements can take a long time to arrive from the United States); consider bringing a repair kit
- Hand sanitizer
- Sunscreen (the Peace Corps provides SPF 15)
- Favorite nutritional supplements (Peace Corps provides multivitamins)
- Tweezers, items for nail care, pumice stone, callus removers, etc.
- Panty liners
You can buy most kitchen supplies in-country, but there are a few items that Volunteers recommend bringing:
- Lots of plastic storage bags (you can pack stuff in them)
- Aluminum foil (limited availability in Ashgabat)
- Peanut butter (but local varieties are available)
- Packaged mixes for sauces, salad dressings, and soft drinks
- Your favorite spices
- Artificial sweetener, if you use it
- French coffee press (instant coffee is readily available, and regular coffee is sometimes available in Ashgabat)
- World map
- Musical instrument(s)
- Sewing kit
- Key chain with mini-flashlight
- Subscriptions to favorite magazines
- Small, inexpensive tool kit
- Small, durable flashlight with extra batteries
- Watch (durable, water-resistant, and inexpensive) with extra batteries
- Sleeping bag with stuff sack (for traveling in cold weather)
- A durable water bottle (e.g., Nalgene)
- Laundry bag
- Camera (35 mm compacts or digital cameras are best because they are more inconspicuous during travel). APS film is not available here, but 35 mm can be widely developed and prints and CDs from digital cameras can be made in Ashgabat
- Money belt or holder
- Internal frame backpack or small overnight bag
- Envelopes of various sizes, including padded ones
- U.S. postage stamps for mail carried by people traveling back home
- Duct tape
- Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool
- Bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth
- American gifts (for all ages; raid your local dollar store)
- Two-year planner
- Good Russian-to-English and English-to-Russian dictionary
- Photos from home (picture sharing is important in Turkmenistan)
- Luggage straps
- Bungee cords
- Games such as playing cards, Uno, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, chess, and Frisbee NOTES
The following list consists of suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to live outside the United States for two years. Not all items will be relevant to everyone, and the list does not all include everything you should make arrangements for.
- Notify family that they can call the Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services at any time if there is a critical illness or death of a family member (telephone number: 800.424.8580, extension 1470; after-hours duty officer: 202.638.2574).
- Give the Peace Corps’ On the Home Front handbook to family and friends.
- Forward to the Peace Corps travel office all paperwork for the Peace Corps passport and visas.
- Verify that luggage meets the size and weight limits for international travel.
- Obtain a personal passport if you plan to travel after your service ends. (Your Peace Corps passport will expire three months after you finish your service, so if you plan to travel longer, you will need a regular passport.)
- Obtain 10 passport photos for use in-country.
- Complete any needed dental and medical work.
- If you wear glasses, bring two pairs.
- Arrange to bring a three-month supply of all prescription medications (including birth control pills) you are currently taking.
- Make arrangements to maintain life insurance coverage. . Arrange to maintain supplemental health coverage while you are away. (Even though the Peace Corps is responsible for your healthcare during Peace Corps service overseas, it is advisable for people who have pre-existing conditions to arrange for the continuation of their supplemental health coverage. If there is a lapse in coverage, it is often difficult and expensive to be reinstated.)
- Arrange to continue Medicare coverage if applicable.
- Bring a copy of your certificate of marriage or divorce.
- Register to vote in the state of your home of record. (Many state universities consider voting and payment of state taxes as evidence of residence in that state.) . Obtain a voter registration card and take it with you overseas.
- Arrange to have an absentee ballot forwarded to you overseas.
- Purchase personal property insurance to extend from the time you leave your home for service overseas until the time you complete your service and return to the United States.
- Obtain student loan deferment forms from the lender or loan service.
- Execute a power of attorney for the management of your property and business.
- Arrange for deductions from your readjustment allowance to pay alimony, child support, and other debts through the Office of Volunteer Financial Operations at 800.424.8580, extension 1770.
- Place all important papers—mortgages, deeds, stocks, and bonds—in a safe deposit box or with an attorney or other caretaker.