The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 10

Above, the Cruiser, in all its glory.
--Wednesday, 07 October 98-- $1 = 6,900 manat
I asked the staff for help in finding a bike. Our driver, Volutzia (a very common name here) volunteered to assist. Today he came by to show me what he had found. Everyone said that the Turkish bikes were no good and that I should get a Russian bike. Volutzia took me to a store that had a Russian, red, folding bike in the window. There was no bolt for keeping the two parts together so we went to a nearby market and he showed me a "Turkish" bike, a new, gaudy, over-appurtenanced monster.

It is called a "Cruiser" and weighs about as much as one. It has a generator that powers lights fore and aft, day-glow orange splotches, day-glow green plastic gizmos, two rear view mirrors, a kick stand, a water bottle, a hideously bright, multi-colored what-not carrying case, a speedometer/odometer and 24 gears. In appearance, this is the very strumpet of bicycles. And according to the brass label on the front, it is "Made in Taiwan."

That is the concept: the reality is different. Nothing works except the speedometer/odometer, the kickstand and the tires. Nothing! The frame is too small for my height, the seat swivels like a drunk in a disco, I can use only three gears, the rear view mirrors are like antennae that serve only to flash reflections of the sun into my eyes and the brakes don't slow the bike in less than 50 feet. And I was grateful to get it.

The merchant pumped up the tires, adjusted the breaks and I bought it for $110. We put it in the trunk of Volutzia's car and got it to my apartment. Progress is measured in small steps.

--Thursday, 08 October 98-- $1 = 7,000 manat
The government here is faced with some difficult choices. Because the pipeline to Russia was turned off about 18 months ago (nonpayment) revenues are way down, way, way down. They have to figure out a way to cut costs but that almost certainly means creating unemployment and that spells trouble.

There is talk that next year's budget will be for salaries only. A grim decision and a silly one as it is almost impossible to accomplish work without spending money on more than staff. There will be clinics with no bandages, etc. and it makes no sense, other than keeping people from becoming restive. The problem is further complexified by the fact that the government owes two months of wages to all its employees and in this country that means almost everyone.

The Exchange Rate:
Eleonora told me a Turkmen woman who is not young is referred to respectfully as Daiza and so many of them are engaged in currency exchange that people now ask for the rate quote from the Daiza Bank. There is even a slight pun here since there is a Daihan Bank (Peasant Bank). Today the rate is 7,000 manat to the dollar. It has risen 2,000 manat since I arrived and the speed seems to be accelerating.

The impact of this on the general population is hard to assess. On the one hand this means that all imports will be rising in price and this country imports a lot of its consumption. On the other hand, a portion of the imports are consumed by expats like me who are relatively price insensitive.

More Than the Currency Fell Today
The weather turned blustery and cool this morning. There was some blue in the sky but the temperature was all Fall. This evening it was even cooler and misting steadily. The temperature had dropped 50 degrees in 24 hours. In the car, Tatiana stated that it would be like this from now on. "Until Winter?", Ed asked in amazement. "No, until Spring." She went on to say that while they do not have snow that sticks here, everything becomes covered with filthy wet dust.

One day recently I had noticed that the mug of water that I used to hold the water I used to brush my teeth had black grains of something at the bottom. Because I had filled the mug with Coke before I had filled it with mineral water, I wondered if the Coke had the black grains. A few days later I noticed that the bottle of mineral water had a residue of black grains at the bottom. I asked in the office what they might be. "Perhaps the minerals in the mineral water." The water was produced locally and the label said (beyond the statement that I should keep it in "dark room") that "Allowed a small natural sediments of mineral salts." Who allowed this? I didn't. Now I watch my mineral water more carefully.

Fortunately, I am neither sick nor sick of this place.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley