Я начинала свою карьеру бухгалтером. Вскоре я поняла, что хочу делать то, что поможет мне реализовать мою креативность и расширить кругозор. В рамках этого я записалась на курсы актерского мастерства и танцев. Это те формы искусства, которые помогли мне принять и развить мою творческую натуру и непохожесть на других, реализовать потенциал и не бояться идти дальше. У меня всегда был острый глаз и я любила наблюдать за окружающими людьми. Также мне было любопытно видеть, что происходит с друзьями и не только, вокруг меня, какое воздействие это оказывает на них и на то, что они чувствуют. Так родилась идея этой книги. Некоторые из изображенных событий произошли в реальной жизни со мной или моими друзьями, а что то являeтся плодом чистого воображения и домыслов.
I started my career as an accountant. Slowly but surely, I realised I wanted to do something to fulfil my creative side and broaden my horizons. As part of this I signed up to acting and dancing classes. Those are the forms of art that helped me to embrace and cultivate my creativity and otherness, to realise my potential and not to be afraid to explore. I always had a keen eye, watching and observing others, curious to see what’s happening to friends and people around me and the effect it has on them and their feelings. That’s how the idea of this book was born. Some of the events portrayed happened in real life, either to me or my friends, while some are just figments of pure imagination and speculation.
Отрывок из прозы “Tales of a Girl from the Land of the White Gold”
It’s late spring and getting hotter every day. Which is to be expected in a country like Turkmenistan. I don’t want to be me at the moment! After graduating from the university, I’ve been doing nothing for a year. Not by choice though. Time at home is spent cooking, cleaning and doing other domestic chores that I am fed up with. It’s the things that need to be done and take effort, but not paid. Being penniless means that I am not able to go out whenever I want or do whatever I want. Impeding my ability to move out and live independently. Trust me, it’s no picnic to have no job or any prospects after finishing university. Not just any university, the Institute of National Economy, one of the privileged educational institutions in the country. But hey, who needs a diploma from the most prestigious uni in the country? It’s very simple, to get a job in my specialty, any specialty, you need to be connected or to know people at the right places, which my family doesn’t. It’s also not easy financially, as we all are living together at the moment; my sister Deliya, who is expecting her first child with her husband Arslan, me and my Mom. Despite both Mom and Arslan working hard, we are not living a life of luxury, as money is spent on all the necessities, such as food, bills etc. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on who you speak to, my younger brother has just moved to Minsk to live with my uncle, despite my Mom hating the idea. But what to do when your son pleads with you day and night, but to allow it? Of course, we miss him, especially Mom, as he’s her youngest, though by far not the easiest child. The only consolation is it’s one less mouth to feed, not that I would ever say that to her. Nonetheless, I try not to let any of it dampen my positive and optimistic outlook on life, which is one of the advantages of being young.
Despite living in the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, it’s a small town, with a population just over four hundred thousand. Usually not much is happening, but the whole town is buzzing with the news of a new hot spot opening in the centre of town. Not just any spot, but a five star hotel to be called Ak Altyn, which translates from Turkmen as White Gold. The country is rich with mineral resources, such as oil and gas and the main agricultural produce is cotton (white gold), hence the name of the hotel, Ak Altyn. The rumour is that despite being commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, it’ll be managed by part Swiss part Turkish company. Excited, I immediately send my application and frankly, don’t even care about what job I get, being happy with anything as soon as I get to do something and get paid. Getting the job interview at the hotel, which is scheduled to be opened in a few months, is both surprising and exhilarating. And it couldn’t come at a better time, feeling me with such hope.
I am scared shitless about the interview, not only because it’s in English, a language I mainly understand but can’t speak, like a dog! but also because it’s my first interview for a job, hello adult life! Despite the nerves, I am determined to get the job, even if it means learning English by day and night.
Finally, the day comes and having no experience at what to expect or what to do, I do the only thing I can, look presentable. Wearing a black bodycon dress bardot style with a polka dot ruffle, coming from and around the top of the dress, which is possibly a little over the top, but I don’t care. If anything, I am counting on my looks to secure me a job, being as arrogant as only a young girl can be. So, at 2pm I show up at the provided address, outside what still looks like a building site. After being taken inside the building, I’m left to wait in front of a closed door.
Racked with nerves, I don’t wait long and a few minutes after 2pm, I am invited inside the room, where two men are sitting at the table. One is an older man with a big moustache and wise, kind eyes, who is the General Manager of the hotel, Ibrahim Ozdemir. The second one is a tall man and he is the head of the food and beverage department, Mehmet Erdogan. Of course, all of these are learnt much later. Right now I am just anxious and nervous, desperately trying to hide it. The interview doesn’t take long, mainly because there are a few questions and they all require simple answers, like ‘yes’ and ‘no’. By the time I leave the room, I can’t remember what I’ve been asked, but I am glad that I managed to understand and answer them. Now I just have to wait and see and possibly pray that they like me and offer me a job.
A week later I receive a letter offering me the job, making me extremely happy. I am to be a waitress in a restaurant. I am more than fine with that, as it means good money plus learning and improving my English. In the chaos of the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, we are hit with unemployment, so it isn’t important what you do, but being able to support yourself by having a job and paying your bills. Getting a job in a five-star hotel, run by Turks feels more than fortunate indeed.
There are still a few months before the hotel is due to be opened and the management organises the English lessons for the staff. We are not being paid yet, but getting free English lessons feels more than generous. We are split into different groups based on our levels of English and by the departments. The classes run daily from Monday to Friday for four hours with one break in the middle. Attending the first class sends shivers down my spine, as I realise my English is weaker than I thought and that’s after learning the language at school and at the uni! So, when the break comes, which is both needed and welcomed, I’m contemplating the idea of doing a runner. Also I have this nagging thought that I don’t belong here, way over my head and will soon be found out. Hello the inferiority complex, I can’t go anywhere without you! Having talked myself into staying and in a rare bout of bravery, I vow to finish the current class, also attend all the future classes and do well. I guess, I am driven by the desire to have that job and to be able to achieve something in life, even though I am still young at 22. Therefore, I carry on with the classes and make sure to do the homework as well, so I can learn as much as I can in the short time. It is easier at home, as Arslan, whose English is really good, is helping.
I can’t say that after three months of intense English classes, I am able to carry a conversation in fluent English or recite the poems, but I am more confident and can take an order from the customers when needed.
Meanwhile, all the waiting staff is divided between two restaurants and one bar. I and a few others are selected to work at the evening restaurant. Thus, Jenny, Valera, Oraz, Vovka, Tessa and I or in other words the chosen ones feel fortunate and elite. A week before the opening, we all gathered at the hotel to get the uniforms. The restaurant’s uniform consists of a pale yellow shirt, a dark red vest and a skirt for girls and trousers for boys of the same colour as the vest. When it’s my turn, I grab a mini skirt, put it on and look in the mirror. And that’s when I almost cried. I’ve worn mini skirts before, but I don’t like what I see in the mirror. Determined to look my best, I try on a few different skirts, pick a length below the knee and finally satisfied, look around me. Most of the restaurant staff is young girls and boys and of course the girls all go for mini skirts, even Alina, who is the oldest one and is around forty, is getting a mini skirt. Wondering if I made a wrong choice, I talk to Jenny and Tessa, who I’ve become close with.
‘Do you think I’d look weird, wearing a longer skirt?’
‘Not at all. You should wear whatever makes you feel comfortable,’ Jenny offers. ‘I am sure you can exchange it for a shorter one later, if needed,’ adds Tessa.
‘I guess, you’re right.’ I smile at her, grateful for support. And as per her wise words, I exchange my skirt for a shorter one in a month’s time.
Finally, it’s the opening day. To mark the occasion, the management brings over experienced waiters from Turkey for the first two nights, assigning each of us to shadow them. Basically, our job is to follow them, help them and do everything that they ask. Watching them serve the tables at incredible speed is like watching a magic show, it’s fascinating and scary at the same time. I am fascinated by their skills and am scared that I won’t be able to do the same when the time comes.
Having this profound believe that I am incompetent, that there’s always someone is better and more skillfull, is deep seated and exhausting. I remember when I was a teenager I was comparing myself to my sister all the time, who is only a year older than me. It would usually go like this: I don’t have a nice body like her, I don’t have a slim waist like her, I don’t have a beautiful voice like her, I don’t get noticed by boys like her etc. I know about the siblings’ rivalry, but it wasn’t that. We were and still are very close and supportive of each other, but it always seemed to me that things came easier to Deliya. One example, when we were studying music, she would practise half the time I did and pass the exam with a higher mark. I guess she possesses that confidence and assurance that I lack. I also blame it on my bad karma. Another example is our teeth. We both had crooked teeth, but mine were so much worse, adding to my insecurities when I was growing up. Having said that, I had corrective surgery to straighten them when I was 19, thanks to my Mom who made it her mission to find a dentist, willing and able to help. In her relentless quest, she stumbled upon Vladimir, the young doctor, who just happened to finish his PhD in dentistry in Moscow. By that time, we’ve seen so many doctors, I lost all hope, but not Mom. She took me to see Vladimir, who not only saw the challenge, but was excited by it, took my case and delivered promised results. The transformation is incredible, in one day I had gone from ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. I am showered with compliments and praises. After hearing it from more than twenty
people, you start believing it yourself. Consequently, the teeth fixing didn’t get rid of all my insecurities, but most.
My twenty third birthday comes and goes as I get acclimated to a new job. I am getting better and more comfortable with it. Getting used to spending hours standing on my feet and doing evening shifts, at the same time enjoying the pay. Even after giving away half of my salary to Mom to cover the food and other household expenses, I am still left with enough money. Working along Tessa, Oraz, Valera, Vovka and Jenny for long hours, feels like having another family: we are working together, partying together, going to picnics together and knowing everything there’s to know about each other.
The first time in my life I am surrounded by people with the same interests and goals, striving for a better life. Together we are creating a lot of memorable moments. Some of them are happy, like going to a nightclub after working a late shift and dancing like there is no tomorrow. Sometimes during slow dances, I dance with Valera, as we are by far the best dancers among our friends. Having a certain level of trust between us, we do twirling and pirouettes, turning heads. In spite of being fit as dance partners, I don’t see Valera or other boys for that matter as potential boyfriends. I guess spending so much time together and knowing each other’s flaws makes it difficult.
Some moments are incredibly funny. This one time, I am scheduled to work at a banquet, dedicated to a cooperation between the UN and Economic Cooperation Organisation. It takes place in a banquet hall and is attended by no less but Prince Charles. We are all required to wear white gloves, while going around serving food and drinks. Understandably, the turnout is huge and it’s difficult to get through the throng of people at times, especially while carrying trays. When the time comes to serve dessert, we are given the trays with sweets. For the ease of getting through the crowd, while carrying a tray with pavlova, I try to hold my tray over my head. Suddenly, bumping into someone, I lose my balance, tilting the tray with sweets backwards and everything on the tray falls behind me on the floor with a squishy sound. You’d think it embarrasses me, but no, I start laughing, almost hysterically, then squat down and start scraping everything from the floor with my gloved hand, putting it back on the tray and going away with it.
I am not embarrassed by it, not in the slightest, as there is only one thing that I hate and it’s to be put at the centre of attention. One night I, among others, work at the dinner organised for the management of the hotel and their guests. As if it’s not stressful enough already serving them, Mr Ozdemir, the General Manager of the hotel, who knows every single worker, calls my name. Dumbfounded, I present myself to his table and then follow his instructions to go to the stage, where the grand piano sits proudly. What I don’t expect is to be ordered to play for the guests. I have no idea how he found out that I play the piano in the first place, but I am guessing his intention is to show me off. For me, it’s the worst moment of my life, as I can’t say ‘no’, but to play something, all the while thinking that I am not good enough to be up there. I am not even sure how I manage to play something and not die from the embarrassment. To add to it, my friends come up with jokes, the best one is
delivered by Valera that goes something like ‘we could pay better than you, even if we were to play with our feet’. He only stops seeing tears running down my face. He finds and squeezes my free hand, as I use the other one to wipe the tears away.
‘Margo, I am sorry, I was just joking. You were really good up there.’
After that, I beg Cesar-bay, who is the head waiter and our boss, to tell Mr Ozdemir to not make a habit of it.