After a long night of concert, we had the unenviable task of waking up at 4am to catch a 6:30am flight to Turkmenabad for a day of workshops and concerts. Restless over my lost camera bag, I woke up at 3:30am, and got myself on out. I ordered some tea for the girls to help their morning bleary, and we sipped black tea and ate white bread as we tried to pull out of slumber. Unfortunately, Celia was feeling quite ill and was throwing up in the bathroom. I wasn’t sure if it was exhaustion or otherwise.
We took the embassy van to the airport and were joined by the CAO Courtney Doggart. We crossed multiple security check points, and serious pat-downs until we got to the gate. The girls are promptly passed out on the benches in various overlapping designs. An hour later, we arrived to Turkmenabad.
Not Turkmenbashi on the Caspian Sea as I had thought. Someone, perhaps it was John, had mentioned to me that Turkmenbashi (named for the former presidente) had gone ala Leningrad and had been renamed Turkmenabad, so I told the girls to get ready to dip our toes in the Caspian. Not the case. Turkmenabad was on the complete opposite side of the country, not far from where we were in Uzbekistan, when we had our last crazy long day when in Khiva and Urgench.
We arrived to a cold tarmac and were welcomed into the VIP lounge. Celia needed to expel again, and I started to suspect food poisoning. After a bit, a fleet of black Mercedes with tinted windows met us. We would be riding around in style.
As we stopped at a hotel for breakfast, I started debating scrubbing Celia for the day and putting her up in a room to rest; when Celia was puking a third time, I decided it would be best. I got Celia a room, some pro-biotics and a basket of bread to eat when she could hold something down, and tucked in the poor girl for a day of recuperation.
Down a Della, we then made our way in tinted Benz to the Specialized Music School. We were greeted with a phenomenal performance of student musicians waiting out front with dutars and rababs, strumming a classical Turkmen melody. After they finished their lively, lovely tune, we walked in the building and were greeted by another performance, this time a cool jazz piece.
As the Dellas were warming up, Shelby noticed that her bass wasn’t playing correctly. She opened it up and found that a part had cracked and separated- possibly a big problem. Luckily, one of the members of the jazz band that had just serenaded us had a contrabass. He offered to let her use it for the program, and the show later. We had the Ministry of Culture contact a violin luthier in Ashgabat and made arrangements for it to be fixed the following day. And the show went on.
We entered a room filled with girls in red dresses, with large metal broaches and two braids hanging down to their waists and a colorful square cap on their heads. The red dresses signified that the girls were in university, as opposed to green dresses for school girls. The Turkmen women were quite beautiful, with full wide faces and honey brown eyes. Some were more Asiatic, others more Turkic. The guys were dresses in suits with the square, colored caps on as well. On the wall, picture of the president playing music looked down on us.
The Dellas picked up without a pause without Celia. They all can sing, and are such talented musicians in their own right that they just switched up some of the pieces. The crowd absolutely loved them. In one cute song, Courtney the guitarists said that since there were so many beautiful girls in the room, she was going to play Hank Williams “Hey good looking, what you got cookin’?” Later a few girls came up and said how much the song met to them, because they consider Western girls to be so beautiful and didn’t really value their own Turkmen beauty. The irony is that 85 percent of the girls were gorgeous.
The Dellas performed their pieces, then the music school reciprocated. They did an incredible acapella song, then the aforementioned “California Dreaming.” They also broke out some traditional instruments to play for us. After the show, the school bestowed a bevy of bouquets on the girls. Then the head master came up and gave all the girls beautiful broaches, which he pinned on them. Seeing me, he told me to stand up. He then asked if I had a fiancé. I laughed and said no, and then made a motion that I was looking for one, and glanced back at the sea of girls. They erupted in laughter. I had a bevy of girls come up to take pictures with me after the show…
After the program was done, the traditional musicians jammed a bit with the Dellas, and the students came up to take pictures with us. I had many, many girls come up to take their picture with me, hoping perhaps they could get the broach.
The students escorted us out, and stood in full attention outside the school as we popped back into the black Mercedes and off to be guests of another museum tour. The lavish museum featured pictures of the president and his work with other world leaders, as well as interesting exhibits of life on the Silk Road, and life in the yert.
The girls discovered the wonders of Iranian feta, and have been living off Greek salad. I am on a borscht diet, and try to have a bowl a day. After a nice, leisurely lunch (ie girls sleeping head-down on the table), we headed on to the American Corner.
The American Corner was full of teens on the internet or reading American books. There were about 20 of them in the little conference room to have an opportunity to practice their English in a chat with Della Mae. The Dellas introduced themselves, their states and their music. It was a fun interchange, and I am quickly becoming a fan of the American Corner initiative. In a place like Turkemenastan, where internet penetration is probably counted on one hand, the American Corner is a phenomenal way to draw in youth and indirectly connect them with America.
After the American Corner, we headed over to see how Celia was doing. She had slept all day, and color had returned to her face. She felt comfortable enough to join, so we grabbed her and headed on to the show.
The concert was great. The crowd loved them. There were a lot of students on hand from the morning program, and they were dancing to the music. It is funny, I watch the Dellas play everyday, and I love their music a bit more each day. I find I have a new song stuck in my head on a daily basis.
And the Dellas did something I will never forget. Celia gave me a shout-out on a dedication before Sweet Verona. I was walking between the bottom and top half of the aisles, so I started waiving to the crowd. Celia laughed, and said I wasn’t shy. Then Kimber said, “And ladies, he is looking for a fiancée….” To which I blushed as red as the crushed velvet chairs, or the red dresses that the college girls were wearing. The whole place giggled. And our Min o’ Culture handler ran up to the tv cameras to make sure that did not end up on air. They sang my favorite Sweet Verona for me, and propped up against a pillar, I mouthed every word of the sweet song.
After the concert and a round of pics (the concert hall literally turned the lights off to try to get the throngs of autograph and picture seekers to leave the Dellas), we headed on for dinner in a blinged-out yert. Yep, a fancy fancy yert, where we dined on soups, salads and warm bread. There was even a salad ordered called “Man Salad,” which consisted of sliced tongue and mushroom in mayo. We caught a late flight back to end the long but fun day.