The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 03
Where Am I?
I am always curious where I would be if my current location were miraculously transported to the U.S. Ashgabad is at latitude 37 degrees, 58 minutes north, which means that, if moved to the West Coast of the US, it would be just north of San Francisco (latitude 37 degrees, 48 minutes north). This is useful in figuring out the length of the day at a point in the year but not all that useful in figuring out what the local weather is like.
The climate in Ashgabad seems to be like the climate in Phoenix, Arizona. Very hot in the Summer and very chilly during the night in the Winter. We shall see.
My First Financial Adventure
I needed some local currency so I went to the front desk of the hotel and asked if I could convert $20 to manats. "Yes," said the bellman behind the desk. I gave him the $20 bill and he said to wait, that he had to walk across the street. He did and spoke to someone who was idling on the other side. Five minutes later he returned with my 110,000 manats. Ed had told me that the exchange rate was 5,350 to the dollar but that the black market rate was closer to 6,000 so I figured that I had already paid the tip.
Several sources had warned me about the flies in the open markets (which I have yet to visit). Tonight I went for a stroll in the streets around the hotel. I discovered a long, straight park about a short block wide. There was an open air restaurant, Maksim's, at one end so I sat down to think about the day.
Then I noticed the day glow blue of bug buster lights on the tops of poles set at regular intervals. I could hear the random soft snapping as the bugs were lured to their final zap. Then I scratched by leg and then my forehead. What kind of bugs were not attracted to the blue electric flames? then I scratched my arm. It seemed as though I could feel each hair as it returned to its original position. I started feeling things crawling on my legs. ... A welt raised itself on my forehead.
Suddenly the random popping became a steady sizzle at a higher volume and a stream of smoke reached up from the bug popper. To judge by the sound and smoke, a moth the size of my palm must have succumbed to the ultimate temptation. I began to worry about my wool suits. This was going to be a tough assignment.
The residents of Ashgabad have something in common wit the residents of Bucharest: They all seem to stare at me on the street. As I walked around I noticed the curious but neutral stares from nearly everyone: "Who is this man?" every look seemed to say. The curiosity seems to fade once they decide I am a foreigner.
First Notes on Fashion
Men here wear dark shoes, dark pants, and long sleeve shirts of a light fabric but no particular design. Many women wear a traditional costume that is rather pretty: a long, loose dress that falls to the ankles with long loose sleeves. The fabric is frequently of a solid color but sometimes an intricate pattern not unlike that of the traditional rugs for which Turkmenistan is famous. The gown is cut down the middle of the front or has a square neck but in either case the neck is edged with an abstract pattern. (See the attached file for a picture of a traditionally-dressed woman at the Sunday Market.)
The traditional head gear women do wear is basically a scarf of a colorful and pleasant design. It is frequently a floral print folded in such a way that all the knots that keep it together are hidden under the neat flat exterior panels with one corner of fabric protruding at the side of the back. Sometimes a contrasting scarf is worn for a highlighting effect. One woman I saw was wearing a scarlet dress, a red and green flowered head piece and a black and gold silk scarf. All in all the appearance is very attractive and doesn't seem old fashioned at all.
In Ashgabat (large cities are usually avant-garde places) women frequently wear nothing on their heads, letting their long hear fall to and beyond the shoulders or tying it up in a knot. Mohammad would not have approved.