Sunday, April 12, 2015

Enjoying Some Family Time at a Pilgrimage Site.

Posing with some very friendly local women who kindly invited us to join them at their table for a meal.

After spending time visiting the Kalas (Kyz, Gyaur, and Erk), our next destination was the mosque and mausoleum complex of Hodja Yusup Hamadani.  Hodja Yusup was a Sufi scholar of the 12th century, whose teachings formed an important element in the development of Sufism in Central Asia.  He was buried here when he died in 1140 and today, the complex is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Turkmenistan.


The mosque here was one of the very few in Turkmenistan that was allowed to operate, albeit under tight control, during the Soviet period. The open-sided square mausoleum, towards the rear of the complex, is a modern reconstruction.

Our ride took us through the Turkmen desert.  More camels.  We watched a very large herd, the largest I've ever seen, pass before us in the distance.




We watched them pass until we saw the lone shepherd bringing up the rear.


We then spotted a smaller group grazing nearby.  We got out of the car to take a closer look at them.  I've never met a mean camel and these were absolutely docile.  We were able to approach within just a few feet of them and they were not scared of us at all!  Up close, I could see they were beginning to shed their heavier winter coat.  It will soon be very hot in this part of Turkmenistan.  We never saw a shepherd for this group of camels.  According to Jabbar, one is not needed as apparently, camels are very good at remembering where *home* is.  Amazing how they can orient themselves without any landmarks to prompt them which way to go.




As the last of the group passed us by, we got back into the van and continued on our way.  We soon arrived at the complex.


Dolat parked the car in the large parking lot and we all got out.  In front of us were the brick buildings that are the mosque and mausoleum.


Everything looked spanking new and spanking clean.  I was guessing much of what we were seeing had been reconstructed.  As for the cleanliness thing, so far, I've been very impressed as to how clean the places we've been to have been - there is rarely a piece of trash of any sort lying on the ground yet trash cans are also far and few between. I don't they have much waste here as disposable items are not a common commodity here. I've yet to eat at a restaurant or a cafe where plastic, paper or styrofoam were used.  It's a good thing.


Pat and I followed Jabbar to a small mausoleum. There was a small group of young women circumambulating the tomb. This was really our first time seeing Turkmen women, dressed in traditional clothes, and my impression was just how attractive they looked. The Turkmen outfit for women is a long, aline dress with long sleeves and a high collar.


The outline of the dress discretely shows off the woman's figure. Generally speaking, the women are of slender and slight build and their facial features are a distinctive mix of oriental and middle eastern. I didn't notice any of them wearing any makeup so if they did, it was with a very light touch.

There was an endless flow of people coming and going.  I didn't want to intrude so I just stood back and watched the goings on.  I figured I would wait until there was a break in the line before approaching the tomb myself.


Someone is always cleaning something.

The minaret.


I took advantage of a small gap in the line to snap a photo of the tomb.  I had to use my zoom lens so I still wasn't all that close to it.  It's okay; it was enough for me to see.


As I was watching the woman, I noticed Dolat approaching the mausoleum. He joined the line to walk around the tomb and pay his respects.  According to Jabbar, pilgrims will touch the bricks for good luck.


After a few minutes, Jabbar took us to the communal kitchen. Today, families have gathered to cook in the kitchen and share a meal. The place was a hub of activity. There were men, hovering over large wok like pots, ready to make the plov. Looking at the size of the each pot, I wondered who the heck these people were feeding. Each pot could probably cook up enough plov to feed a small army! Whatever food is cooked here is shared with family and whomever else comes along that looks like they would enjoy the meal. Uh.....that could be me :-)




Along one wall was a communal table atop which there were piles of plates and rows of cups and glasses. I asked Jabbar who provided all the cookware, dishware and utensils and he said that the collection belongs to the complex - built up over time from contributions from the pilgrims.



Just as we were heading to the communal dining hall, we crossed paths with two young women. In English, they asked if they could take our photo. Pat and I knew the routine by now so we gladly posed for a few smartphone camera shots. After the snaps were taken, we chatted with them. Both spoke pretty decent English. They were as fascinated with us as we were with them. Jabbar enjoyed the moment as well, especially since he did have to do the occasional bit of translating for us. He's also a very sociable man, by nature. One of the girls was with her family and the other was her friend.

The young girls are ever so sweet.

Shy beauty.

Just as we wrapped up our time with them, another group of young women approached and asked to take our photos. And so we did. We are like celebrities here :-) 

We're popular photo subjects.

At one point, there were so many people around us, I wasn't sure who I was suppose to be posing with for a photo. I figured I would just pick a person to stand next to and if that wasn't the right person, someone would tell me.

We have our fans :-)

The two young women who originally approached us were still standing nearby, watching as we had our photos taken. Before we knew it, they had invited us to join them for a bite. We got an invitation!! I was so pleasantly surprised and touched by the gesture. Of course, I was glad to accept! Truthfully, I was less interested in the food than seeing what the communal dining room experience was like. Walking towards the dining hall, I thought to myself that in all the years I have lived in the US, I have never, ever been invited by a stranger to enter their space and have a meal. I will forever be touched and humbled by the kindness, generosity, and hospitality of the people I meet on my travels overseas!

The communal dining hall.

We entered the large dining hall and took our shoes off before walking any further on the carpeted floor. The room was filled with several rows of long, low tables. Families were already gathered around a few of the tables some of which had already been set with food and drink - ready for diners to come and enjoy!

The table next to ours.  All very neatly laid out, waiting for hungry eaters to dig in.

*Our* table is the one on the far right.

Our two young hostesses.

We followed our young hostesses to the far end of the room where their table was and took spots on the carpet in front of the low table. I am sure we were a curious sight for others in the room - I could sense their eyes on us. Our young hostesses seemed to be thrilled that we had accepted their invitation. Their table was not yet set so as they proceeded to do so, we all chatted.

Soft hearted Jabbar planting a kiss on a young boy's cheek.

Soon, a group of young men came by and joined us all. It turned out that they were classmates and friends of our young hostesses. They sat behind Pat and Jabbar and struck up a conversation with the young men.  You can tell from the smiles on the faces that everyone was enjoying themselves.




Like Sergei in Termez, Jabbar also wanted to encourage the boys to speak to us in English as a way of getting them to practice. Understandably, they were a bit shy at first but soon that veneer came off and they were fully engaged in conversation. You quickly learn that it doesn't matter if the choice of word is not always correct, that there are the frequent grammatical errors and the sentence construct might be off. What's important is that you get them to convey their message, to listen carefully to what they are trying to say, and to (gently) correct them so as to help them improve their English language skills. I've always found the young people to be keen and eager learners.

While Pat and Jabbar were chatting away, I was watching our young hostesses set up.  Bit by bit, the spread of food was laid out.


There's always time to pose for a photo.  Such lovely girls.  You can see the mix of east and west in their facial features.

These two happy and cheeky BFFs caught my eye.  The one on the right is the brother of one of our young hostesses - you can tell from his eyes who his sister is.  Everyone we met in her family seemed so happy and I think it's because of the strong sense of community that they have here.  I wish we had more of that communal approach to life back in the US - we're sometimes all too much about ourselves and the result we are self alienating. 

Just look at those smiles.  There were a lot of giggles as well.  These two munchkins were a delight to be around.



The two girls worked fast - probably from having done this countless times before.   In no time, all the food was put out in dishes and bowls, drinks ready to be served.




Soon, the mother of one of our young hostesses came to the table. She told us she is a teacher by profession. Her English wasn't bad but not as good as her young daughter's.

As everyone was chatting and having a good time, our young hostesses cut up some cake and laid out some sweets. We wanted to know if they had baked the cake themselves and through the giggles, we figured out it was store bought. It was a big cake - could easily serve a couple dozen people. We indulged as we could which was not much as we were pretty much unintended guests. It was unbelievably thoughtful and considerate for them to have invited two complete strangers to partake in a meal. I am certain that if we could have stayed longer, we would have been treated to a full meal. But, we still had places to go to so in fact, we couldn't stay long.

On Jabbar's cue, we got up and said our thank you's to our hostesses and mom. We then left the dining room.  Just as we stepped outside the door, we encountered an elderly gentleman.  Turned out he was the patriarch of the family that we had just spent time with.  We had to have a photo taken with him.

Grandpa standing on the right.  He has a lovely family!

After our last photo op, we  and headed back to the van where Dolat was waiting for us. On our drive away, we all reflected back on what I am sure will be one of my more memorable experiences of this trip!

Next, it was back to sightseeing - we had two mausoleums to visit.