The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 29

The last statue of Lenin in Ashgabad lords it over the park named after him.

--Wednesday, 25 November 98-- $1 = 10,000 manat
This evening I decided to go for a walk down Magtymguly. I turned before reaching the Embassy and walked to Lenin Park. I strolled around the last statue of Lenin in the city. He stands on a pedestal with his hand pointing toward a corner of the park. People here tell me that his arm is outstretched in that way to tell the people that they are headed in the right direction. Curious, I walked in that direction, wondering what was right here. Someone else seemed inspired in the same way but in the park's overlapping areas of shadow and darkness it was hard to make out who it was.

I paused under the trees that Lenin seemed to designate and soon my fellow traveler did as well. I glanced at him and saw a man in his twenties, slim, well dressed. He moved past me and settled into a bench in the darkness. I sat on the same bench and asked him if he spoke English. To my amazement, I had at last discovered someone who spoke less English than I did Russian.

We did manage to exchange names; Geldey was his, as best as I can pronounce it. We discussed how little we could understand one another -- this one can do at length but it doesn't really constitute progress. We tried mime and tactile communication which, being truly international, gave us a better feel for each other but only at a basic level, all subtlety was missing. So we made do, smiling in the shade. Conversation isn't always necessary.

It was time to leave so I said, "Dom" (home) and gave the names of two major streets near where I lived. He indicated that the lived much further away in that direction. We left the park at the same time and walked down Magtimguly in the direction we both lived.

We walked by couples hugging each other to ward off the cold, though to me the night seemed mild indeed. We walked through Pushkin Park which had but a small bust of Pushkin to oppose the towering statue of Lenin across the street. Two people have rarely stood for such different things.

--Thursday, 26 November 98-- $1 = 10,000 manat
Thanksgiving Day. I suggested to Ed that we treat the staff to a good lunch at the Alten Restaurant and he agreed. Lunch was pleasant and the food was good. Everyone was in a good mood. Ed presided and all had a good time.

--Friday, 27 November 98-- $1 = 10,000 manat
I went to a Donors Meeting sponsored by the UN. Much was said that indicated the problems that this country faces: social, economic, financial.

Social problems include the fact that since independence, the government has dropped the last two years of required schooling. This is the equivalent of graduating high schools students after their sophomore year. Now Turkmenistan students don't meet the basic requirements to apply to any college in Europe except Turkey which makes a special exception for Turkmenistan

Economic problems include the fact that warehouses are full of useless merchandise that cannot be sold and that the government continues to have a stranglehold (80% of all economic activity) on the economy. And the man at the top seems to think that everything is hunky-dory.

Financial problems include a black market in currency that says its value has declined by more than 50% in ten weeks which will inevitably drive up the price of my imported beer. This is serious!

I have heard experts remark, "The economy doesn't function, it has ground to a halt, nothing works here. The textile factories have 50 billion manat worth of cotton stock that is unsalable, worthless."

The modest bust to Pushkin, perhaps Russia's greatest poet.

That timeless movie "Casablanca" was on TNT tonight. In the midst of many great lines, one stands out above all the others: The Claude Rains character, Major Renaud, says at one point "I am just a poor corrupt official." From what I hear, he could be alive and working in any number of government jobs.

--Saturday, 28 November 98-- $1 = 10,100 manat
I had my first instance of rudeness today. At about 10:30 PM the phone rang and I said, "Hello." A man spoke Russian at the other end of the line, I said, "Nyet par russky" and then he said, "f--king a--hole," and then hung up. Go figure.

So, after being in this country for ten weeks, I had my first instance of rudeness today.

--Monday, 30 November 98-- $1 = 10,000 manat
Ed didn't come out of his apartment to the car this AM so the driver went in to get him. The driver quickly returned motioning for me to go back with him. I did and discovered that Ed was locked in his apartment. Ed said that he woke up during the night because he thought he heard a squeak but went back to sleep. This morning he found that locking bolt system that he never uses had been tripped (during an attempted burglary?) and had sealed the door shut. The gears are stripped and he couldn't open it at all.

We tried everything, including have Ed toss us the keys through the barred windows. Nothing worked. Ed had already alerted his landlady and she was sending someone over so I went to a contractors meeting at the Embassy. Ed was released later that morning. You can't be sure that anything in this country works.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley