Thursday, October 8, 2009

New blog

I've decided to start up a new blog with the hopes that all the bad karma from this one will remain here and not affect my new posting to Ukraine.

You can read about my experiences in Ukraine here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


I've just been unofficially reassigned to teach High School English in Ukraine! It was my second or third choice after Turkmenistan, so I'm pretty happy.

I'm a little tempted to give Turkmenistan the one-fingered-salute right now, especially since I'm (hopefully) set with a new posting. However, I secretly do still wish there's someway for me to go there, and in the interest of not pushing this charred bridge down just yet, I shall refrain. Maybe I'm too nice a guy, maybe my self-esteem is too low for me to give up on a relationship so quickly, but I just want to say, Turkmenistan, babe, if you change your mind, I might just give you a second chance.

But Ukraine is looking pretty hot right now.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We just got a country.

The government of Turkmenistan has rescinded their invitation to the T-18 group of Peace Corps volunteers, only hours before staging. We were informed of this halfway through our staging presentation. They said they'd welcome a group in 2010, but not in 2009. It's especially strange, because we'd all been issued our visas by the Turkmen embassy in D.C., and they said they didn't understand what was going on either.

This means our entire Peace Corps group to Turkmenistan has been effectively canceled, and I won't be going there.

As you can imagine, the other trainees and myself are not in the best of moods right now. Some have given up everything for this trip and this amazing chance. All of us have had to say intense goodbyes, and mentally prepare ourselves for the journey ahead. I think it's fair to say all of us are dearly disappointed.

However, Peace Corps may still be down many of our paths. They're frantically trying to find programs for each of us, trying to add us to whatever country's program can take us. With luck, I can still ship out before the end of the year. In the meantime, I ask that you all join me in keeping those who sacrificed so much to come to Philadelphia in your thoughts, and for a quick and good resolution to their current plight.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The hard times, the easy times, the happy times, the sad times

Last night before I head out to staging. It's 1:24 AM. I've gotten all my stuff packed, finally, gone through most of my stuff and weeded out that which I don't want to see in 27 months, and said goodbye to many of my friends.

It's that last part that weighs on my mind now. The aches are already starting to begin, as I realize I won't see many of you for a couple of years. It's hard. But it's okay. While talking to Vicky yesterday, I realized something. This is supposed to be hard. It means I have tons of friends worth missing. If this was easy, it'd be sad. So I'm happy that this is hard. It's important to remember, this is a happy time, and happier because it's difficult. I've often said that my favorite flavor is bittersweet, and saying goodbye to so many good friends is one of the best bittersweet moments of my life so far.

Thank you all.

All right, enough of this sappy stuff. Time to catch some sleep.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Going to Turkmenistan is not without its challenges. I'll be isolated from family and friends for long stretches of time, without many of the comforts of home or even the culture that I'm just finally getting settled into. However, two sacrifices stand out to me as being particularly difficult, and I had to think long and hard about giving them up for service in Turkmenistan. The first of these is my fledgling facial hair.

One of the new things I tried this summer was to grow a beard. It was moderately successful, and I really like the goatee look on me, as I finally start to look closer to my age, instead of like I belong in my local high school. It may have just been minor chin fuzz, but I liked it.

Alas facial hair is seen as inappropriate for teachers in Turkmenistan, and it had to go.
However, before I shaved it completely off, I decided to experiment a little. I shaved off the mustache, to see if I could rock the soul patch for a couple of days.

The answer is no, I can't. I just look Amish.

So I took the plunge, and took the rest of it off.

While I'm a little sad to lose it, I toughed up, faced forward, and prepared to teach in Turkmenistan.

Goodbye facial hair. Hello Peace Corps.

However, one of the biggest sacrifices has to be giving up on seeing James Cameron's Avatar in theaters. James Cameron is pretty much my favorite director of all time, but the only one of his movies I've ever been able to see in the theater is Titanic (and I'm more a fan of his science fiction films). Avatar is supposed to be in mindblowing 3D as well, and the film looks amazing:

But in the end, life changing world helping service experiences DO outweigh having my mind completely blown and seeing what looks to be my new favorite movie ever, and I'll just wait for someone to mail it to me on DVD (hint hint).

Peace, Out.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Brief History of Turkmenistan

Many of you might not know much about Turkmenistan. I know I didn't when I first received my invitation from the Peace Corps (I believe I was aware that it was indeed a country). So to give you a better understanding of the place I'll be for the next couple of years, I figured I'd share my crash course this summer in Turkmenistan's history. Most of the information has been gleaned from sources like Wikipedia or other Peace Corps' member's blogs, as well as a couple of books on the country from my local library.

Turkmenistan is located right in the heart of Asia, just above Afghanistan, and above and to the right of Iran. In addition to these two, it borders Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. During older times, it was one of the key countries along the Silk Road, containing ancient cities like
Merv, the largest city in the world during the 12th century. Various empires have fought over the land, from Alexander the Great, to Ghengis Khan, to the Tsarist Russians. The Turkmen, the largest ethnic group in Turkmenistan, are descendants of some of the original Turkic and Mongolian troopers who rode with the Mongols on their conquest of Asia back in the day (known affectionately as 'The Golden Horde'). Traditionally, the Turkmen people were nomads, but modernization and colonization has converted most, if not all, to the sedentary lifestyle.

Turkmen Nomad with Camel and Traditional Telepek Hat (I want one.)

The majority in Turkmenistan are Sunni Muslim, and were converted by Sufi Mystics rather than through conquest or other methods. As a result, Turkmen muslims tend to be more tolerant of other religions. Islam in Turkmenistan seems to be mostly 'unofficial', with religion being more of a personal issue than a communal one. While other countries in Central Asia have had violence between secular governments and Islamic fundamentalists, Turkmenistan has little to no history (that I can find) of such religious violence.

Fast forward to the early 20th century, when the Russians took over Turkmenistan as part of the Great Game, and began 'Europeanizing' it. When the Communist Revolution turned Russia into the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan became the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, much of the government apparatus remained the same, and Turkmenistan joined the Commonwealth of Independent States, (the new 5 Central Asian Republics). Sapurmurat Niyazov, the leader under Soviet Rule of the country, became the first president of the country. After his death in 2006, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow took over as president, and is the current leader of the country (so if you see these names in the news, you'll know it's from the place I'm at!)

Most of Turkmenistan (something like 80%) is covered by the Karakum Desert. Some issues with Soviet irrigation programs have lead to increased desertification in the country as some of the arable land was unintentionally salted by evaporating water. However, beneath the sand, lies one of the largest repositories of natural gas in the world. One of the biggest issues in the development of the country is finding a way to sell that gas to the outside world. Currently there's only one pipeline leading out of the country, and it goes through Russia. Unfortunately, they use their monopoly on the pipeline to charge Turkmenistan below market rates for the gas and can use it as leverage in just about every negotiation with their former territory. One of the things I hope I can help with as a Peace Corps Volunteer is helping Turkmen people learn English so they'll be better able to deal with Western companies and hopefully develop some new ways to sell natural gas to countries besides Russia, and get a fair price for the resource.

Because of the abundance of natural gas, almost every place in Turkmenistan has electricity, which is good news for me, because it means I can use my laptop to write and continue making movies. They actually have an overabundance of electricity, and sell some to both Kazakhstan and China.

For my first three months in the country, I'll be located in Asghabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. From there, we do intensive language training, and learn how to teach English and give Health advice. We'll also be going to some of the villages around Asghabat, so the Peace Corps can see how we perform in different settings. After training, when we're sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers, they assign us to our permanent two year post. When that time comes around, I'll post here, so you can see exactly where in the world I'll be.

So that just about covers the basics of Turkmenistan, at least as I understand them so far. If you have any more questions, shoot me a comment or an e-mail. Keep in mind that this is all just book-smarts at this point; I haven't stepped foot in the country yet. I'm really curious how much of what I've read is true, and what it's really like there. When I find out, I'll let you know!



Saturday, September 5, 2009

About time I set this up...

With 24 days to go, I figured I'd jump on the bandwagon and get started with the information flows.

The goal of this blog is to share my experiences in the Peace Corps and in Turkmenistan where I'll be teaching English for the next two years. I hope you'll enjoy these stories from Central Asia, and that I'll finally have a blog I actually keep updated.

I also now have my mailing address. Please send me letters, starting now! They take about 4-6 weeks to get there, so letters sent now will probably arrive about 2 weeks into my training when I'll likely really, really need your encouragement!

US Peace Corps/Turkmenistan
P.O. Box 258, Krugozor
Central Post Office
Ashgabat, 744000
Ted Hogeman

Türkmenistan Aşgabat, 744000
Merkezi poçta
abonent 258, Krugozor
Parahatçylyk Korpusy, Türkmenistan
Ted Hogeman

Via Istanbul

Some tips: Please number your letters to me, as the mail system can get kind of wonky, and that way I'll know if I'm receiving letters out of order! I'll also have occasional access to e-mail while I'm there, but I really appreciate snail mail too. Also, be sure to write via Istanbul on all letters and packages, or else it goes through Moscow, and they're more likely to snoop through it. If you're sending me care packages, you'll want to include an inventory of what you're sending, and possibly wrap the box in colored tape, so that way I'll know if anything is missing.

And I'll try to send as many Turkmen postcards back in return as I can!!!