The last of the 58 statues
of Lenin that once populated Ashgabad. What would he say now?
--Monday, 28 September 98--
The Sunday Market
Yesterday I decided to go to the Sunday Market (Tolkushka Bazaar) and
asked the desk how to get there. The handsome, suavely English speaking
bellman said he would call me a cab. He did and said it would be here
in 15 minutes. "How much?" "Twenty dollars," but seeing
my disbelief, he said, "Fifteen or twenty dollars." I thought
about it at length for five seconds and said, "No, it's too expensive."
and walked out the door. As I reached the other side of the street I heard
someone calling me. It was the handsome, suavely English speaking bellman
who said he would get me a street taxi. "How much?" I asked.
"Five dollars," he said. "OK." He got a street taxi
(whatever that is) and told me to be sure not to pay the driver until
I had been returned to the hotel. Good advice which I followed.
The Sunday Market sells everything: fenders, food, goats, gears, shoes,
clothing, fruit, rugs, you name it. It is a colorful, sprawling caveat
emptor experience covering acres in a confused collection of trucks, walkways
and walls. The urban markets are completely practical in character while
the Sunday Market is both practical and fantastical. It has more people,
more goods, more shear vitality than any of the urban markets.
I walked around the entire market and bought nothing. Does that mean I
have transcended mere possessions? Or that I don't know a bargain when
I see it?
On my return, I walked around more of the city. I saw my first statue
of Lenin (my guidebook says it is the last of an original 42) placed only
a block from the American Embassy and fifty yard where some Turkmen women
sell local currency for dollars. There he was standing straight, pointing
the way to a glorious Communist future. What would he say now? "It
went thata way?"
There is an odd structure under construction near the office. It seems
to have three giant legs and a cylindrical core that rises over ten stories
and is not yet complete. Someone said that it was planned to put a statue
of the President on top of it and have the statue revolve and be flood
lit at night but the statue was made too big and the pedestal can't hold
it. One is tempted to see such a thing as metaphor, but that may be illegal
Security: How Big Is the Issue?
I have received a lot of warning about security, especially about getting
my wallet stolen. Ed told me that Farhat lost three wallets in the open
air markets -- one containing over $2,000. I see friendliness everywhere.
Of course, I leave my passport secured in my room and bring only a limited
amount of money.
My New Digs
At 6 PM Natalia took me to see my apartment. From the street you walk
through a rough concrete passage under the four story apartment building
and in an entrance at the end. Up a flight of decaying concrete steps
and it's the first door on the left. There is a bare bulb at the top to
light your way.
The apartment has four rooms designed around a central entrance way. The
most impressive thing is the door. It has a covering of wood but I think
underneath it is ALL steel. The lock is a big spring-fed square bolt that
I have not seen the like in the US -- not even in Brooklyn. The key is
most amazing: a six inch cylinder of steel cut at an angle with groove
of various widths. Again, totally new to me. When inside you can turn
a knob on the bolt and lock it in position so that even the key cannot
open it from outside. The door has two locks but they suggested I could
get by with using just one.
Of course, this is just he outer door. There is an inner door constructed
of a thick wood. It has two locks, one a dead bolt. Each door has a peep
hole. Alla, my landlady, told me that with the inner door closed, no one
could hear me from the outside. Since the walls are made of concrete,
I believe her. What does this say?
Most of the time was spent explaining to me how to use the key and the
bolt to lock and unlock the door. Quite an experience.
The landlady had printed out the hours that water was available ("We're
lucky, some areas of the city have no water at all.") and what to
do if the electricity should start to fail ("But that happens mostly
in the summer and should not be a problem now."). I am discovering
life as it is lived in Ashgabad.