Textiles from Turkmenistan

Last week my husband had to travel to Turkmenistan for his job.  He travels quite a bit, but this country was a challenge.

Turkmenistan is mostly desert, located just north of Iran and Afghanistan, and it was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. So the population mostly speaks Turkmen, with a little Russian thrown in, and my husband was working with a Chinese company.  He doesn’t speak any of those languages.  But even though few people speak English, American dollars are one of the two currencies accepted.

It has a totalitarian government.  Reporters without Borders called it the second worst nation for press freedom in 2012, coming in behind North Korea.  About ten years ago, the former President for Life closed all the hospitals outside the capital city, this in a country the size of California.

So this was a little worrying to me.  If there was a medical issue, or if an official wanted to pick up some “auxiliary income”, communications could be a problem.  In fact, even before he left, my husband had communication problems – he couldn’t make definite arrangements for a way to get back from the work facility, to the closest city 2 hours away, and then from there back to the capital of Ashgabat.

Thankfully, he had an uneventful stay.  He had one day to sight-see a little, and leaving an open-air market, he saw a little old lady with a table set up on the street.  He went to check it out, and found the perfect gift for me!

hand-knit socks from Turkmenistan

Hand-knit socks and camel toy from Turkmenistan.

These are handspun and hand-knitted, I’m guessing from camel or goat hair.  They look rough, and you can feel little plant burrs and seeds in the yarn, but they are so comfortable.  They are so precious to me, because this is the kind of craft that disappears when modern culture comes on the scene.  They cost the equivalent of $8!

I wish I could talk to the little lady who sold them.  I bet we would be able to communicate with sign language.  I would love to know what animal the fleece came from, whether her family raised those animals, if she did the knitting herself, who taught her to knit.  From the little I have learned about her country, I cannot imagine the changes she has seen in her life, but I think we would find some common ground in textiles.