The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 20

Yellow dressed performers make a "7" to indicate the number of years of independence. In the stands behind the "7" is a human map of Turkmenistan and on either side of that are plywood symbols of ears of wheat. In the foreground a military cohort parades.

--Tuesday, 27 October 98-- $1 = 7,500 manat
This is Independence Day in Turkmenistan and we are guests of the government. Yesterday, Eleonora got our tickets and gave them to us. She told us that the show started at 10:30 AM but we had to be there an hour earlier. Today she took us to the first security barrier and wished us well.

No problem. When we got to Sector A we found many other expats there. We stood in the shade and, pretty much on time, the show started, once again with Turkmenbashy driving his own car. [We have figured out who runs this country: the chauffeur.]
The military band played the national anthem and people sang it while the flag was raised on a pole in front of the audience. Turkmenistan's anthem is much prettier and much more singable than ours.
Then eight cohorts, 100 men strong, of various components of the armed services marched past the presidential reviewing stand. They walked with the high step and high arm movement of the Soviet Army. The band paraded last.

Then hundreds of young children rushed out in front of the President and danced native dances for a while. It was a large group but it was well choreographed and pleasant to watch in the bright colors of their costumes.

Thirty minutes after it began, it was over. We had planned on being subjected to two hours of gargantuan display. Now what to do? Lunch at the Nisa Truva with Ed. We invited the office but everyone was on a diet or had a previous engagement.

After lunch we went to Ed's apartment for him to get some local currency and we went to see if a bookstore less than a block from his apt was open (no!) so we went to the Russian Market which was quite crowded with out-of-town visitors. I got some soap and orange juice and Ed showed me a wine shop that carried dry wines (hard to find in this country of dolce).

At four we left for the soccer stadium (a recently completed, big bucks waste of money) since we were told to be their an hour early. The crowd was intense but we managed to get into the section for VIPs and took our seats high up. We had a good view of the field.

The show was late in starting. It made up in length what it lacked in variety. It was as if Busby Berkeley has come back from the dead and had choreographed the whole thing. Ed thought that there were 10,000 performers, all in costume. I just assumed that everyone was used twice (two costumes) so there were only 5,000 performers and 10,000 costumes.

In the above modestly staged tableau about 100 people waved blue strips of fabric to imitate water (the Caspian Sea), others walked sailboats back and forth, and others were mermaids(?). In the background, other people did other things.

What ever the number, hundreds of people would simultaneously rush onto the field and form visual patterns while dancing in circles or lines or whatever other geometry was called for. The geometries changed, the costumes changed, the scenes changed but it was all the same.

Directly across from us were three sections of students(?) who held up cards that collectively spelled out the number of bushels in the grain harvest, showed a map of the Turkmenistan, etc., and periodically, a giant picture of none other than Turkmenbashy himself. All I could think of was Communist China.

We left before it was all over because it was getting cooler and the presentations were basically repetitive. More and more photos of Turkmenbashy, more squadrons of girls in brightly colored suits running around forming patterns. Click here for one of the pictures of the Turkmenbashy used in the Stadium show and two pictures of women in traditional dress.

I turned on the TV when I got home and saw more of the show. It was a bit easier to take when you could walk out of the room to get a beer and check email.

When it ended, the fireworks started. They were pretty and I had a good view since I live only three blocks from the stadium.

--Wednesday, 28 October 98-- $1 = 7,000 manat
Today is also part of the national holiday and I strongly approve of the idea. We should do the same thing in the US.

Ed had mentioned that he had had a party in the summer and I decided to have a party in my apartment a week from next Saturday (November 7th). I thought I would have it at 8 AM but Eleonora pointed out that the light would be better at 7 PM to help people find the apartment. Roustam suggested that a map would ably supplement my narrative directions. And so these things came to pass.

Ed and I had lunch at the Nisa Truva where the waitress is cute and very nice but has an American vocabulary of about 11 words. I was interested in trying the cheeseburger there but was reluctant to order it as it always came with all kinds of dreck all over it: cucumbers, pickles, mayonnaise, butter, lettuce, mustard, and only God knows what else. I had Roustam right down the Russian for a "burger, cheese & and bun" which converts to "gamberger without lettuce, without pickles, without ..., without ..., etc." It is a lot easier in the States.

At home tonight I tripped over the phone cord and disconnected my computer connection to the telephone. I am suffering withdrawal symptoms as I type.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley