The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 24

Above, my house key compared with a pen. I think of it as a weapon as well as a key.

--Thursday, 05 November 98-- $1 = 7,950 manat
I asked the office staff if there were any movies in town. When we got it agreed that I meant cinemas, they said yes but I would be the only one there. The movies are all Russian and old at that. The foreign movies that do get here are all dubbed in Russian by one man who speaks all the parts and is well known here for his nasal monotone. I guess I won't be going to the movies soon.

--Friday, 06 November 98-- $1 = 8,200 manat
The preparations for the party are moving into high gear. I went over to my apartment with Tatiana and Vlad to move Tatiana's home entertainment center into the apartment and teach her how to use the key. No she is not a blond, the key is highly unusual and requires heaving pushing to use.

--Saturday, 07 November 98-- $1 = 8,200 manat
My party!! I made an investment in this party of about 1,600,000 manat ($200). Turkmenistan is a country where you can spend like a millionaire on the cheap.

A whole crew from the office and the ministry helped with the shopping, the washing, the slicing, and the displaying. I did the hard part, I chilled the beer and wine. Don't laugh, in a small refrigerator this is no easy matter. You have to add the items to be cooled very carefully, just so many at a time, making careful judgments about the mass of each item and the length of time it will take to chill it to perfection.

People began arriving even before 7 PM. Soon the party was in full swing. The office crew were there in strength, determined not to miss a single moment. A couple of Peace Corps volunteers snuck in (the PC disapproves of volunteers hobnobbing with expats -- it's that "total immersion" thing, you know).

Several American speaking Turkmen came, some had learned American from Peace Corps volunteers, some had American teachers, some just jump at an opportunity to improve their American speaking skills. All were interesting and added to the party.

Ed contributed the loan of many dishes and Tatiana gave me the use of her home sound system. In addition to financing all the out-of-pocket expenses, I bought a stiff, slim, dark long salami and a lighter, short, somewhat softer, wide salami -- that should fit everyone's needs, I thought. Of course, no party of mine would be complete without the American touch: Pringles: the fancy touch: Caviar; and the sweet touch: Turkish Delights (jellied candy or is it candied jellies?).

It's fun to serve things at a party and it gives you a good reason to circulate and listen in on the conversations. I walked around with the Turkish Delights and offered them to my guests. Most people would look with desire in their eyes and say, "Oh, no thank you." I would say, "Oh, go ahead, they're BAD for you!" It worked every time and the candies were gone before I could complete a circuit.

One of my guests was Nancy Jackson from the Embassy, a serious baker. She brought German Chocolate cupcakes. The frosting was "el perfecto" and the cupcakes were lighter than air. Yum, yum, yum.

It turned out to be a beer drinking group and by nine thirty I realized that I would be out of it shortly, so while the dancing continued in the dining room, Serdar and I walked the block to my local store and bought 20 cans of beer. I took the opportunity to invite Muchammed who waits on me regularly and his friends Natalia and Slava. The last two agreed to come and did stop by for a while.

It is not possible to predict people. I invited Tim, who was very friendly to me in his store and who seemed to be an energetic young man but he turned into the party's couch potato. He got up twice, each time for food and elsewise sat in his stuffed chair and talked to the person beside him. If no one was beside him, he sat still and did nothing. When he left he told me energetically what a good time he had had. Go figure.

I wanted to distinguish my party from others so I saved the caviar until it was clear who the late partyers were. They knew a nice touch when they saw one and volunteered all sorts of information about how to serve it. Maryam was more than pleased to tell me to put a big dab of caviar on lightly buttered toast. She demonstrated the technique for me several times. Evidently she does it really well, judging from the look on her face as she swallowed the caviar.

By midnight the party was over. "Late enough, early enough," I thought. Vlad, Tatiana and one or two others were dressing to leave so I forced them to take the remains of the cut meats, vegetables, and cookies. I had to really twist their arms but I got my way.

And so the party ended.

--Sunday, 08 November 98--
I woke up about 8:30 and contemplated the clean up. Not so bad, really, since Edjegyz and others had done some clean up during the party. I emptied the sink out, scoured the apartment for empty beer cans and champagne bottles, stacked the dishes, moved the dining room table back into the dining room and commenced washing: glasses (you always start with the glasses), cups, dishes, silverware, bowls, platters. As I was getting to my last pile, the water went off -- it was 10 AM sharp. What a country!!

I filled nine bags with trash, piled them near the entrance and took one bag down to look for the trash bin. For fifteen minutes I circled the block and toured the off-the-street backs of the buildings. No place to throw the trash!! And no piles of trash to suggest that such a place did not exist. Where is it?

At 11:30 I walked over to the Circus, a building by that name that was built to house a local circus. I met Ed and others from the office and we went in to see the show. It was a one ring circus so my attention wasn't divided. They had a dog act (with a cat cameo), a couple horse acts, a hula hoop act, a rope skipping act, a gymnastic act, numerous clown acts for the transitions, etc.

The most interesting, or at least oddest, act was a two-sided ladder act with a man and a woman. First she stood on his head and he went up one side of the ladder and down the other. Then to show how good they really were, she stood and his head on one foot and he went up and down the ladder. Symbolic of the ups and downs of life?

After the excitement was over, Ed and I walked back to my apartment and I gave him his dishes which I had borrowed for the party. We walked to his apartment and then to the Russian market. "When in doubt or doldrums, go shopping!" Actually, there is much method in this madness as you can never be sure that what you want is available and, generally, some part of what you are shopping for is not available. For example, my apartment has exactly one glass in it [please remember, I only rent this place] so we had planned to buy plastic glasses. Nice idea, but they were not to be found so I made do with borrowed glasses.

When I got back to my place I decided to cook the pound of Canadian maple sugar cured, smoked bacon that I had bought a few days ago only to discover that it had disappeared. Where could it be? The next day I got the explanation, the ladies helping me had cut it up and served it with the salami, fish, spicy beef and other meats. It must have been good because it was all gone by the time the party ended.

This is less strange than it may seem at first sight. When I was in Romania I introduced bacon to two different people who tried it raw (not my suggestion) and fried and who each told me that they preferred it raw. Each to his own taste -- after all, I am addicted to black Twizzlers.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley