The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 18

Above is a graph of the rising value of the dollar and the declining value of the manat. The sudden dip around October 22nd is the impact of a sale of dollars by the Commodities Exchange.

--Friday, 23 October 98-- $1 = 6,500, later in the day it was 6,300. The rise of the manat continues. Where will it all end?

I have been posting the daily value of the dollar versus the manat for weeks now because there are economic forces acting in the economy that are important, fascinating and hard to divine. Since my arrival the manat has fallen against the dollar steadily. At a minimum this means that imported goods will become more expensive and in a country that can barely manufacture a matchbox, this is significant. Now suddenly the manat has gained against the dollar.

Grant told us that the Commodities Exchange sold some dollars a few days ago so the sudden rise in the value of the manat is an economic effect of that sale. Grant also told us that people who obtained a certain bank card were allowed to withdraw up to $500 a week from the bank at the official rate of 5,350 manat. They could turn around and sell the dollars at 8,000 manat. They could repeat the process the next week. Grant said that the bank had stopped issuing new cards but existing cards retain the privilege. I wonder how many bank officials have the card?

To show how temporary government intervention in currency markets can be, I have attached a graph of the manat's value compared to the dollar. The rising line is bad news for the local economy.

This morning as we waited at a red light, in the windless stillness the yellow leaves were falling from the trees so steadily that the air held dozens of them simultaneously before they silently slipped to the black pavement. They seemed like those giant white snowflakes whose quiet falling signals the beginning of a snow fall. Somehow it was sadness made visual, almost palpable. The light changed to green and we drove on, pressing the leaves beneath our tires.

We returned to the Ministry just in time for Maria's 50th birthday party. Maria is the prime contact in the Ministry for local government and has a lot of power over them. Ed and I were the honored guests. There was champagne, Russian vodka (I saw one lady take four shots over the course of the party) and a lot of food, including plov which is a traditional dish made of rice cooked with lamb and small amounts of carrot skin.

Just found out that for me to go to Merv, the ruins of one of the greatest cities of Islam, I have to have a special internal passport. I send a form letter a deputy minister and if he approves it, the letter goes to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which takes only ten days to decide if I should be allowed to visit a ruin. Eleonora told me that I could use a travel agency and they can get the answer in only seven days.

--Saturday, 24 October 98-- $1 = 6,700 manat but Tim told me that if I demand 7,000 I could get 6,900. The manat is falling again. Tim also told me that the police have arrested black market currency dealers (not customers) and held them for a few hours and confiscated their money. "The police are not highly paid," he explained.

UN Party at 11 AM at the Aina Restaurant Function Room. Ed wanted to walk there and I was a little amazed since I thought I had walked him out of any interest in walking again from our last trip. He made it in good form although he repeated worried if I knew where I was going. I did and we got there in good time.

The format was interesting. Various governments had arrays of table on which they displayed what they wanted to show. Most had food which was later given away to the attendees. I found a table that had piles of candy on it including a package of Twizzlers (black licorice sticks). When it came time to eat the food I went directly to that table and asked the person in charge if I could buy the Twizzlers. They are very hard to find in the states and unthinkable to discover here. She told me that the candy was for children so I asked, "Kids of all ages?" She agreed so I took the Twizzlers. I gave one to all the kids I came across -- and kept the rest. Many seemed not to have had them before.

The American exhibit consisted of just food and good food at that. Brownies, home-made apple pie (excellent), and chili -- all made and served by embassy people.

There was a table labeled "Romania." It was bare.

At the British table they had used books for sale. I bought Waugh's "The Sword of Honor Trilogy." Any book by Waugh is worth buying.

I broke down and bought some gifts which was probably a good idea as there is nothing but rugs to be had of local manufacture. At the Turkey display I found two candlestick holders made of glass. The base is guilt with real gold (or so I was told), then some pink glass, then some clear glass then the holder of the candle base is pink again and the top inch of the lip is gold guilt again. One is shorter than the others. At ten dollars I thought them to possess just the right quality of gaud to make them a perfect gift for a friend who checks my mail.

At the Pakistani exhibit they had a woman running a loom and actually making silk cloth. She worked hard shuttling that cock but I would not want to wait to see one meter's output. I bought about 8 meters of fabric that is about a third of a meter (14 inches) wide. The edges are both of varying widths of color (gold, black, blue) for about 3 cm (1 inch) and the center is all bright red. The price was $30 in real money (no manat accepted). I liked it but didn't buy because what can you do with a long strip of such fabric. Grant suggested the solution: Place settings. His wife knows a seamstress so I am all set for gifts. So I bought. This is for you, Rod, Mark, and Joe.

I thought I got a really good deal until I got went into the anteroom on the way home and discovered a similar role of fabric (this time forest green in the center) of the same length for $20. Of course, I bought that too.

While walking back along Magtimguly I met Serdar Akmuradov, who is the son of the woman who sold me the forest green silk hand woven fabric. We chatted it up quite nicely. I asked him if he would help me buy a carpet and he said he would. So far that is three people who have agreed to help me buy a carpet.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley