The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 21

Above, a Turkmen soldier kneels holding the flag saluting 30,000 Turkmen who died in World War II as a wedding party takes pictures.

--Thursday, 29 October 98-- $1 = 7,000 manat
I finished the invitations to my party and started delivering them. I will have help with buying and preparing the food so all should go well. All I have to do is pay for it.

I had to rush out at 5:40 to get butter and bread. The butter turned out to be rancid and the bread cost me 2,500 manat. Way up from the 1,000 of a few days ago. Was I ripped off? Or is this the new price?

A number of the houses in Ashgabad have pipes dripping warm water that hang way out from the roof over the sidewalk. I asked about it and the staff said that these are overflow valves for the heating systems. The Soviets had a different meaning for "district heating" than we do. It means that there is a plant that provides all the hot water (heating and bath water) for a district of the city.

Possibly OK so far but these plants are sometimes combined with manufacturing operations that often also had trash collection and snow plowing responsibilities. How do you privatize such a company?

--Friday, 30 October 98-- $1 = 7,200 manat
I registered at the Consular Office. There was no charge. This is not as obvious as it might seem. Overseas our government is committed to charging for every service it can but it keeps a small list of exceptions. Since registration is for my safety and the Congress thinks that is something everyone is entitled to, I do not have to pay to register.

Above, a Turkmen woman in traditional garb walks towards the center of the memorial.

The only other service that the Consular office does not charge for (that I know of) is notarizing an absentee ballot. Since voting is a fundamental American right, the State Department has yet to bring itself to charge for notarizing a ballot. I notarized a ballot once in Istanbul and it went quite smoothly until the official asked me to wait a moment. He went over to a machine and I could hear gears turning. He returned with a receipt. I looked at it carefully; it was a receipt for $0.00. That's right, for zero dollars. Truly a bureaucratic triumph, of sorts.

While I was consuming my rare, free service the security seemed intense. I was observed by a guard all the time I was in the building. Chris was there and I gave him five invitations to my party and he promised to deliver them. He told me that he didn't think many of the Embassy staff would be there (at my party) because the new ambassador, Steven Mann, was arriving at 3 AM that morning and had requested them to be at his house that evening. I said that I had no problem inviting the ambassador to my party and he said, "Do you have another invitation?" I said , "Let me personalize it."

In the evening I took two empty Fanta bottles and went over to the Iceberg Cafe. This time I walked over to the outdoor charcoal grill and noticed several ground meat kabobs. "Great!" I thought. So I sat a nearby table and waited for my favorite somewhat-English-speaking waitress. I ordered barininya shish-kabob and she went over to the grill and returned to say there wasn't any. I motioned her to follow me and walked to the grill and pointed out the shish-kabob that I wanted and she said, "Lula." "Lula," I echoed.

I returned to my seat and she brought me my "lula" and it was as good as the original stuff I had eaten when there the first time. It was so good I ordered another. Yum. Yum.

On the way out, I had the two 1.5 liter bottles filled with their locally brewed beer for about $2.75. I was set for the evening.

--Saturday, 31 October 98--
I went to visit the Mir market on Turkmenbashy and to find the Disco near the Business Center. Well, I tried. I took the Cruiser out and bicycled up to where the long line of fountains start and didn't find anything, in particular no Mir market. I turned around to head back to town and was coasting down the sidewalk when I noticed the International Business Center. Since that is where we are meeting Roustam and he had said that the Allegro Disco was a three minute walk from there, I coasted around the corner looking for the Disco. I found a market (Mir?) with a number of stores around it but no disco.

I coasted on home and continued up Turkmenbashy after Navoi until I noticed the War Memorial. Without doubt this is the nicest, cleanest, best designed and constructed spot in the city. It commemorates the 30,000 Turkmen solders who died in World War II. I took a number of pictures. I also finally understood the relationship of the Presidential Palace, the Earthquake remembrance monument, the "Peace Arch (that will soon host a bigger than life size statue of Turkmenbashy himself), and this monument. Everything is integrated into one plan. Definitely a showcase project ana a pretty good one at that. It is a pity that this country can't afford it.

On my way home, I bicycled past the bookstore that is never open and discovered that it was open. I made a mental note to stop in on my way to the Russian Market.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley