The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 28

Above, the collection of concrete squares sporting "fan vaulting" that provide shade for the Russian Market in Ashgabad.

--Sunday, 22 November 98-- $1 = 9,800 manat
I had arranged for Serdar to be my interpreter for a trip to the Sunday Market. Serdar wants to start a rug exporting business and I would anchor the USA end so he wants me to have experience in understanding carpets and I want to learn about them too.

Serdar arrived wearing reflective sun glasses that didn't quite cover the notable black eye he was sporting. He said it was from someone who tried to push him around and he claims to have got the better of the deal. I told him he should tell people he had an argument with a door and "if you think I look bad, you should see the door!"

We walked around Tolkushka looking at the better carpets, asking prices and discussing quality. At one point a college student standing beside me said, "Hello," and I introduced myself. He said his name was Balkan and he was from the region of Turkmenistan called Balkan. It took a while to get this straightened out. He is a language student at the university and likes to talk to English speakers. I gave him my phone number and told him to call me. He heard us talking about wanting to see a silk carpet and said that he had seen one, a double sided carpet. He led us to it and I admired it but at $2,000 it was way beyond my budget although it really was high quality.

That night I got a telephone call from the guy selling the double sided carpet who told me it was available for only $1,650. Hmm. Serdar says that he finds Americans naive about these things.

--Monday, 23 November 98-- $1 = 9.500 manat
At Noon, Ed, Roustam and I went next door to the "National Library Named After Turkmenbashy" (that's a quote from the Director's business card) to view some rooms that we may want to use for training.

I asked the Director if the Library had Internet access. She said that had been awarded it by the British Embassy but they had not had time to install it. Go figure.

We were told that there was a restaurant in the basement that could provide our participants coffee and lunch so we went to see it. We were shooed away from the restaurant's padlocked front door even though it is supposed to be open for lunch. Roustam went around to the back entrance and got us permission to go inside. Quite a facility. It had curved walls with some fancy mirrors on it, a bandstand (made of 18 inches of solid concrete) and a back room entered by a doorway whose door consists of a rotating two meter wide wheel.

We were introduced to the Director of the restaurant and asked him about the hours and he said they were open from "10 or 10:30 AM to the night." And yet the restaurant was closed, as we spoke, at Noon. We asked about the menu and we were told, "What ever you want." This must be the dining room for Kafka's Castle.

Went to a 6:30 piano recital at the Music College. All the concerts here start at 6:00 or 6:30. The playing was very good but the music was mostly esoteric although this crowd liked it well enough. There was no program so I am not exactly sure what was played but I did hear Mozart, perhaps Debussy, and certainly a lot of angst-ridden Scriabin.

Walking home we met Vlad who was walking our way. After we dropped Ed off Vlad and I walked on. He asked me if I was married and I said "No wife, no kids, no tuition payments." He laughed.

The Specialness of Shopping Here
At home you know where to go and how much to pay for whatever you want. For commonplace goods, food, etc., the only issues are convenience and price. So you price shop -- when you have the energy. Not very interesting.

Here, there is an excitement in food shopping: Will you find what you need? How much will it cost? Where will you have to go to get it? You scour the market, looking in every display chest, you ask your friends about food sightings, you, in short, really SHOP.

Most important of all is the question. "Will they have it?" I bought 250 grams (a half pound) of Anchor butter when I had more than three times that amount at home already just because I wasn't sure I could find it again easily. Back in the States, running out of butter means an elevator trip to the first floor market.

Nearly always shopping means outdoor shopping. My favorite spot is the Russian Market where you and the vendors are protected from the sun by a dozen soaring concrete columns that extend out to giant squares ten meters on a side. Each square has a geometric pattern of concrete "fingers" that spread out from the column and interconnect like fan vaulting in a gothic cathedral. Underneath, sheltered in the shade, vendors sell colorful piles of fruits, vegetables, meats, and whatever else they have.

Caveat Emptor
I knew I would be going on a hike in the Kopet Dag mountains and I wanted to be sure to be able to take as many pictures as possible. So I went to the Russian Market and bought four Sony AA batteries. They were wrapped in plastic and Sony is a good name. When I was on the hike my existing batteries died and I put in the Sony ones. They were completely and totally dead. The LCD display would even show up. Bummer. The following week I went back looking for Duracell batteries, you know, the kind that have that gimmicky tester built into each battery. Well I found the Duracells but the tester indicated they were dead too. The "Best Used Before" date on the side was 2003.

While I was looking for the batteries I came across some Super Glue and bought a tube for about $2. There is a chair in my office that has a rung that pops and this would be the perfect thing to fix it. Ed helped me fix the chair. I opened the Super Glue very carefully because the directions warn that the stuff "glues flesh in seconds." Ed held the rung apart and urged me to be careful. I was. Slowly I pressed the end of the tube, gradually pressing upwards. Just as I reached the neck of the tube, enough glue for two tiny drops appeared. For all practical purposes, the tube was empty. Oh, well.


Click here for two more pictures of the Russian Market.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley