Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Turkmenistan
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.
- 1 Overview of Diversity in Turkmenistan
- 2 What Might a Volunteer Face?
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.