The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 09

--Monday, 05 October 98-- $1 = 6,800 manat
The Sounds of Morning
First there was the drone of a mosquito in the middle of the night. Later the first crowing of the rooster signaled the arrival of pre-dawn. Then, for the first time, I heard the muslim call to prayer but still there was no light visible. Then came the sound of water filling the toilet reserve: it was 6 o'clock. Later the gracious dawn gave her light to the city. Later still, the squeaky electronic cricket chirpily announced seven o'clock. Time to rise and face the day.

I went to the bathroom and turned on the faucet. It burbled and burped and spit small amounts of water; it back-fired and reluctantly yielded enough water for my lusty dribble of a shower. The week had begun.

An Expat stopped by the office to say that he had reports from several sources that the dollar was over 7,000 manat on the weekend.

We had a hard quote of 6,800 this morning. The implication of this is that the local currency is depreciating relative to the dollar. This is good for those with foreign currency to exchange but bad for anyone selling imported goods. It may also be a harbinger of economic instability.

Ed went to the bank to get some dollars that had been wired in. When he got to the head of the line the teller told him that he had marked over a single character so he had to come back this afternoon. He did and he was told that the bank was closed. This is a disturbing phenomenon. If foreign nationals with dollar denominated accounts are prevented from accessing the money problems are well out of hand. Fortunately Grant's assistant knew someone in the bank and Ed was allowed to withdraw dollars. It was just confusion -- this time.

Above is the bull that supports the earth. When it shakes its neck, there is an earth quake. The golden baby is the Turkmenbashy.

--Tuesday, 06 October 98-- $1 = 7,000 manat
Today is a holiday, Remembrance Day. It commemorates the day in 1948 that an earthquake of force 9 on the Richter scale toppled the city at 4 AM. Apparently 160,000 people died but since Stalin felt that Socialist Paradises didn't have disasters, the official report was more like 14,000 dead.

The city was redesigned with wide streets, wide sidewalks and low buildings on a sorta-kinda grid pattern. Five stories is high for a building here. It gives the city a nice feel.

What doesn't give the city a nice feel is the lack of street lighting. Even where there is street lighting I swear there is no illumination. This is a dark place at night.

And then there are the sidewalks. They are filled with hills and valleys, sunken manhole (personhole?) covers and all manner of foot wrenching treachery in the dark. You learn to walk carefully here.

Since we are contract employees, we work on holidays. The ministry is located on the edge of the government center plaza and a large crowd gathered at the huge statue of the big bull. The statue show a giant bull with the earth balanced on the back of its neck and the tips of its horns. There is a myth here that that is how earthquakes occur: every so often the bull gets tired and shakes its head and there is a quake on the earth above. See the attached picture.

The Turkmenbashy (Head of the Turks) arrived in a car that he was driving. He got out from behind the wheel and someone jumped out from the back seat and attempted to put a suit jacket on him. He was moving one way and the guy the other. It wasn't easy. Then he walked on the red carpets to the point where he gave his speech. I feel like reporting the speech the same way Casca does in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." Casca: "Cicero gave a speech in Greek." "What did he say?" Casca: "I don't know. 'Twas all Greek to me."

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley