The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 27

Above, the multi-million dollar home of the National Museum. It is across the street from the string of 23 hotels in a part of the city called Berzingi.

--Tuesday, 17 November 98-- $1 = 9,300 manat
Ed came into my office to tell me that the President had criticized the minister responsible for finance, a whole list of companies, the banks and the Ministry for a variety of shortcoming. The minister in charge of financial activity was exiled to the culture ministry (which is not in the cabinet) and a working group formed to deal with the budget.

The criticism of the banks is very interesting because the head of the central bank was rumored to be in line to replace the head of our Ministry. As always, it is very hard to know if it's true and what it means.

--Friday, 20 November 98-- $1 = 9,950 manat
We had a tour of the carpet factory scheduled for 10:30 AM. I went with Ed and we met Serdar at the American Embassy and walked to the factory. Fascinating! We saw a modest size room that had about ten looms. At most of the looms, two to four women sat on a bench and were tying colored wool knots to wool woof strings. When a line is done, they pull a thick string through the warp and bang on it with a special heavy tool that is about the size of a garden spade but ends in vertical pieces of metal like a comb. The women really whack the thick string and the noise is audible all around the room. Then they remove the thick string and pull a warp thread through and start tying knots again.

There are an average of 340,000 knots in one square meter of a Teke carpet (the local design pattern from the tribe around Ashgabad). We saw one carpet that had 400,000 knots to the square meter. It could almost stand on its edge. We also saw two women working on a small loom that was arranged horizontally rather than vertically. They were making a carpet that held the image of some guy (Turkmenbashy?) but had not reached the face portion so I am not sure who it was. I was told that most of this type of carpet is done for the government. They are used as presidential gifts and Turkmenbashy gave one to Clinton when he met him in April. I asked if Monica's face was on it.

We were told that it takes 3 to 4 women about three months to make a 2 meter by 3 meter carpet. Wow. Now I know why there is so much fascination with Turkmen carpets. Serdar told us that when the rugs are finished they are taken to homes where people walk all over them to get the knots settled just right. Think about it! They even break in the carpets for you.

Lilia translated TGIF into Russian for me: Slava Bogu Sivodnia Piatneetza. I loudly declaimed it in the office and apparently it was heard way down the hall where people were struck by the expression since they don't use it here. Ms. Gurina came over to inquire who said it. Every one had a good chuckle.

--Saturday, 21 November 98--
Today I slept in and late. It was delicious. I finally got up about 9:15 which was good because that way I had time to shower before the water went off for the remainder of the morning.

I decided to go the National History Museum. I stood on the street near the curb with my arm out a little. Before long a car pulled over. It was driven by an older man dressed in Turkmen garb. Over a shirt and pants he wore a smock coat of dark brown. He sported the traditional white beard, Lincolnesque in cut and allowed to grow straight and long. On his head he wore a Turkmen hat. These hats really have to be seen to be believed. This one looked like something sported by a Baltimore counter lady who had had her big hair burned by a hairdresser on acid and then subjected to weeks of bad hair days. No other description will do.

He dropped me off across the street from the brand new domed two-story structure that houses the National History Museum. The building is set in the midst of nothing and way back from the road. It has long covered porticos plunging out from each side and pushing forward toward the street, rather like the colonnade that defines St. Peter's Square in Rome. At the end of each portico, a winged horse lifts a hoof in approval.

In front of all this is a fountain and in front of that is a set of flag poles and in front of that is a parking lot and in front of that is the street.

I walked and walked and eventually reached the ticket window. To my astonishment they wanted TEN US DOLLARS for an entrance fee and they would not take manat! Get this! The government's National History Museum won't accept the government's currency. This speaks volumes.

I just turned around and left. I wouldn't give 10 cents for the whole thing. I have heard the entire first floor is given over to Turkmenbashy's life and great achievements. Boring!

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley