The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 31

A traditionally dressed Turkmen sells traditional Turkmen hats at the Sunday Market. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas -- could this be the traditional Turkmen Santa?

--Friday, 04 December 98-- $1 = 11,500 manat
The newspaper "Neutral Turkmenistan" announced the state budget for next year and listed revenues of 20,561,603 million manat and expenditures of 20,838,829 million manat. This is a major break with the past since the numbers reflect nearly all government revenues and expenditures -- something we have been recommending for some time. They used to say that the budget was more like 6 trillion manat.

Also in today's paper was the announcement of several appointments and dismissals, including the dismissal of a Deputy Minister of the Ministry. One wonders how are these decisions made. On the other hand, like some other "corporate" cultures that I have known, this is a blame culture and someone has to be the fall guy.

It rained at night, heavily I think, for there were puddles everywhere in the morning.

--Saturday, 05 December 98--
I went to the Russian Market to do some shopping and then walked back to my apartment and dropped off the stuff I bought. Then I decided to walk to Ashgabad's one department store and see what was cooking there. When I entered a young girl walked up to me and begged for some money. She was about ten years old, with a pretty face and sandy blond hair. She held out her hand pushing it against my arm. I said, "Nyet" and kept walking. She said, "Yes, give." and walked on beside me, pressing against me, her hand extended. She was so up-in-your-face that all I could think of were the most aggressive Gypsy beggars in Bucharest and just the memory made me mad so I steered her into obstacles but she adroitly ran around them and was back pressing up against me in a flash.

Reminded of Bucharest, I asked her, "Gypsy?" pointing at her and she nodded with a broader smile and said, "Yes." Now I was really mad but I couldn't figure out how to shake her; she stuck to me like glue. Finally, I made a dash for the door knowing that she would follow me all over the store but not outside. I picked up speed, taking longer steps but she matched me pace for pace. Only when I was outside was I free from this obnoxious Kremlin gremlin. But I never visited any of the stores in the Univermag.

The technique of these Gypsy children is to press against you with their body, their arm extended while they mouth the begging words in as many languages as possible. You are assaulted by touch, by sound, by shear persistence and they don't take "NO!" for an answer. It is an overwhelming experience when it is new and you are likely to cave in. Later, you learn that Gypsy begging is an industry and does the children you give the money to no good at all. After all, training people to be beggars is not much of a career goal. Now, I give only to the elderly and the disabled. But still, it tears your heart out.

On the way home I stopped in the Carpet Museum Shop to price some carpets. On my way out I met Vadim. He said he is leaving for Kiev in Ukraine tomorrow night. He went on to say that I was one of his best friends and wanted to be sure to stay in touch with me. He asked me if he had my address in the States and I said that it was on my card that I had already given him. He said that he wanted to be sure to have my address so he copied it down in his address book. Go figure.

There was a Saz concert at 6 PM at the Aina Restaurant. Most of the works featured a talented flutist who could really make that pipe whistle. I walked back with Gary and Richard and what a pace Gary set! Gary roared along, moving deftly around the puddles and the potholes in the sidewalk. I got back to my apartment in record time.

The concert made me think how music is an international expression. Tonight we were listening to music in the Western tradition but recently I was intrigued by the music the driver was playing on the radio. "Is that Turkmen music? I asked. "No, I think it is African." And this in Ashgabad.

13 is an unlucky number but Friday the 13th is not an unlucky day. They don't have a baker's dozen but they do have a Devil's Dozen. Black cats are bad luck (recorded in Pushkin story). Walking under a ladder is not bad luck. Even numbers of flowers are for the dead only. Broken mirrors are bad luck. Whistling indoors means you will loose your money. (Actually, you get reprimanded for whistling even in a car. They don't seem to appreciate whistling here.)

People here who have a toothache medicate it by holding a hanky against the part of the mouth where the tooth is. They believe that this makes a difference.

The Telephone System
The phone system here sucks worse than in Bucharest. Every day the phone will ring with no one there. There are frequent disconnections. It is so bad that if you get a wrong number call (a quite frequent event) and say the person is not there, the calling party immediately calls back assuming that they had a wrong connection the first time. Very frustrating. It has reached the point that when I get one of these calls, I unplug the phone for 15 minutes rather than put up with the second and sometimes third call.

Dialing is another random experience. I have come to expect that I will dial a number three or more times before I decide that the line is actually busy or that no one is there. We take it for granted that a busy signal doesn't really mean the line is busy but rather that the phone system has screwed up yet again.

Perhaps that is why the bigwigs here have multiple phones in multiple colors with some "call in only" phones. Apparently the red phone is the "government phone." One official I deal with has two phones, one red and one white. The Deputy Minister has two phones that I could see, both red. Another official has two green phones and one aqua one. Another official I visited has three phones: red, yellow-white, gray white AND a fax machine. You have phone status here when your phone works.

I love it in Ashgabad.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley