The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 05
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 here.

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.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley