"... When I had just begun my work in Turkmenistan, Igor and Natasha, who had lived there for many years, set me on the true path to the unfamiliar Moslem culture by telling me, among other things, “Pay particular attention to the faces of old Turkmen women, for they are truly remarkable.” They were right. The faces of the older women are lit by an enchanting glow from within. Why Turkmen faces more so than Russian? I do not know.
Once, when I was wandering in the mountains close to the Iran border and watching larks through my binoculars, I suddenly heard a snorting and raised my eyes. Right next to me was a herd of sheep being driven not by boys but by a single old Turkmen woman, following a donkey loaded with bags of usual shepherd’s belongings: a blanket, a smoke-blacked teapot, and simple food. I greeted her, but she moved on without any sort of response. A bit farther, she stopped the donkey, got a loaf of churek out of the pack on its back, broke off a substantial piece and, returning, handed it to me.
During this process her face remained virtually indifferent. It expressed no visible emotions, but had that same magic glow I described. This was one of the first unforgettable lessons in the discipline for which I later learned the erudite academic name of intercultural communication. After this incident, I have seen the reflection of that same aura on the faces of old people in many other places in Asia, on the faces of American Indians, and Polynesians on the Pacific islands.
It is clear that this is not a matter of nationality. It is an unintentional and visible manifestation of wisdom achievable only with age, and evidently especially so in older women. Just recently, when traveling in central Russia’s various far-off corners (that cannot always be reached even with off-road vehicles), I saw similar faces in Russian women. But I still do not yet fully understand why they should be less common and produce less of an impression. Perhaps non-European features seem especially expressive to me. Or, perhaps one watches the face of someone speaking a foreign language with more attention. It’s also possible that this is a result of the greater spirituality and less concern with material realities in these cultures. Or it could be that these faces really do contain more inner dignity. Or perhaps I simply have not fully learned to see all of this yet. To put it briefly, pay attention and you will understand what I am talking about.”