The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 26

A can of the "bellwether" Efes beer currently priced at 4,500 manat.

--Sunday, 15 November 98-- $1 = 10,500 manat
Ed and I went to the Russian Market and I shopped with glee. We searched for butter and bleach, we bought raisons, fruit, bread, cookies and whatever else tickled our fancy. It was fun.

On the way home I stopped at Laze's for my ten beers. And then it happened: a can of (imported) Efes beer was now 4,500 manat's, up from 4,000. I have been tracking the decline in the value of the manat and have been wondering when I would see the effect on imported goods. There the evidence was, a 12% rise in my favorite product, one whose price had shown great stability. Henceforward I will refer to it as the "bell weather" can of Efes beer.

The Sunday Market
Went to Tolkushka, the Sunday Market. Mostly I just wanted to experience it but I needed AA batteries for my camera so I used that as an excuse.

I got a ride from an ungraceful driver who wanted 10,000 manat (over a dollar!) and then balked at driving me to the entrance. I paid the 5,000 manat I had agreed to and walk 200 meters/yards to the entrance and noted that I was making better time than the cars.

Tolkushka is a giant amalgamation of too many cars, too many people, dusty lanes, car exhaust, and countless little booths and ground displays. The aisles are crowded with humanity of every type, pushing and jostling, looking and offering. The very name, Tolkushka, comes from a word meaning "pushing against." No market was ever better named.

Everything in the universe seems to be on sale here, from late season melons to carrots, from goats to rugs to old Soviet medals but, at least today, no Duracell batteries. I would swear that if you wanted to buy a nuclear warhead, this would be the place to find it.

I decided to take the bus back to the city. Several leave every minute but there was quite a pushing match underway to get on them. The women, being feminine to the core, pushed hardest. The old ladies pushed hardest of all, grasping bus parts with bony hands and heaving themselves in body checks that a hockey player would been proud of. I got myself on the bus by cleverly maneuvering myself into the center of a phalanx of babushkas and was swept by their assault into the bus.

The trip to my stop took ten minutes and I handed my 1,000 manat note to the fare taker, a boy about four years old who succeeded in balancing himself on the bus's dashboard regardless of the sways and bumps produced by the potholes and the drivers attempts to swerve around them.

All in all, another day at the Sunday Market.

Serdar arrived around 2:30 PM. We were chatting in the foyer when the buzzer twitted and we looked at each other. It was Asat with his Russian dictionary in hand. I said, "I thought you were coming at 7 PM." "Yes, but I have something I must do then." "Come on in," I said, thinking, "when it rains, it pours."

We all went into the living room and Serdar and I chatted while Asat listened. Serdar wanted to set up a business as a guide to foreigners. I gave him my opinions on the topic: He needs a business card, a flier with proposed tours (shopping, historical, communist, Turkmenbashy, etc.) and that he needed to realize three things about all his potential customers: they are a bit nervous, they want to be entertained, and they have time to kill. I went on at length, even designing a business card for him. Serdar likes to spend time with Americans.

He finally asked if he could use my computer to check his email. While he was doing it, Asat taught me numbers and I taught him body parts (eye brow, chin, wrist, etc.).

Then we sat around my Macintosh G3 while I showed it off. They were both impressed. It came to be 7 PM and Asat left. I gave him a feather. He was too confused to decline my generosity.

Serdar stayed on and we talked and talked about an endless succession of meaningless items. He left at 10:30 after borrowing my Central Asian guide book, accepting six postage stamps and shaking my hand many times.

--Monday, 16 November 98-- $1 = 8,500 manat
This morning is an example of the dictum, "Never get up early." This morning I violated this sound advice and all it did was get me was trouble. First the water wasn't on so I couldn't shower. So I futzed around with my emails and the kitchen and the horns, etc. The water came on an hour late and whatever. So by the time I was ready, Voluzhia rang the door bell, indicating that he thought me late. So remember: never get up early!

I sent official government postcards to my mother and my aunt. I decided to translate the cover phrase "Bayramynyz gutly bolsun!" as "Having a grand time, wish you were here," for my mother but it came out "The guilty boys will be punished!" for my aunt. Ah, the travails of translation!

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley