The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 11
--Thursday, 08 October 98-- $1 = 7,000 manat
One of the interesting things about visiting a foreign culture is bringing along some of the elements of your culture to share with the locals. Since I had become fascinated with the lack of Spanish Peanuts when I was in Romania, I thought I would bring along a can of them to Turkmenistan. I also decided to bring along a real rarity, maple sugar candy. So far, so good.
As it worked out, the maple sugar candy was old hat since Ed, also being from New England, had brought the same and the staff knew all about it. The Spanish Peanuts were an even bigger flop since, it turns out, they have them here already. Proof positive that you can try too hard.
I explained to Eleonora (our lead translator and office manager) my need for a shaving cup and some crackers for the peanut butter that I had brought from the states. I got the shaving cup but the driver bought pretzel sticks instead of crackers. They have cookies here but no crackers.
A friend of mine wrote to ask if I had found any fries or pepperoni yet. French fries are plentiful here but pepperoni is unheard of. The word "sausage" here means what we call a hotdog. Now imagine "sausage pizza." One of those mistakes you don't repeat.
Having said that, the food here is really pretty good. After Romania, I expected to have a tough time of it here but I have been pleasantly surprised. There is excellent bread, good pizza, superb shashlick (shish-kabob) and even tolerable hamburgers (but not MacDonald's or any other chain). There is even a small local brewery that makes good beer.
Beyond this, there is an Italian restaurant (in the Nyssa Hotel) that has a high quality menu. Good pizza, fine sturgeon, and a superb dish of fettuccini in a cream sauce with bacon and mushrooms. Yum, yum, yum.
--Saturday, 10 October 98-- $1 = 7100 manat
I took the Cruiser out for a spin this morning.
I went west and ended up heading out of town toward the city of Turkmenbashi before I turned around. I went down one of the few side streets for a while but the road surface got worse and worse, pothole merging with pothole until I decided it wasn't worth effort. So I turned around and found the road that my map said would lead me around the western edge of the city. It didn't; once more the map is screwed up majorly.
When the land here is left alone it seems to revert to a plain populated by members of the grass family that can stand the generally arid conditions. The image is brown and sere this time of year.
I think I seen more cats here than dogs. And I think the dogs all had owners with them and were mostly on a leash. This is in sharp contrast with Bucharest where huge numbers of feral dogs run loose in the street.
I finally ate at the Iceberg Cafe that had been recommended to me. The beer was opaque and tasty. It is unfiltered and unpasteurized. Real beer. I noticed people leaving with coke bottles filled with beer so they have take out. Great!
I also had a lamb shashlick that was very tasty. While eating it I was surrounded by three cats that sat there and stared in my eyes (when I would look) with that expectant look. I gave them my plate when I was done. The dominant cat took it all for himself.
Ed and I were invited to dinner at our reps home in the Embassy Compound. Two others from the Embassy joined us for parts of the meal. The food was a very American meat loaf refreshingly over spiced with ginger, a delightful and very unAmerican lime tea from Oman, and some wine, all in a Finnish prefab house in a guarded compound. The feeling inside was like a newly constructed home in some American subdivision.
Across the street from the American Embassy Compound are 23 hotels, side by side. Each was built by a different government ministry and not one of them has more than twenty rooms. They sit there, mostly empty but sparkling white against the drab brown of the arid setting. But some don't have working plumbing and have begun to decay already.
An object lesson in how not to do things.