The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 32

Above, some of the medals that I have bought at Tolkushka. The upper right is an image of Joe Stalin.

--Sunday, 06 December 98--
For the ninth day in a row the morning was gray and featureless but at time went on, the sky lightened and actually allowed some blue to show through. Wow!

I took the standard taxi service to the Sunday Market where to my surprise the fog persisted rather intensely, along with the cold. Once we were off the main road, there was mud everywhere. There was a thin mud slime that covered the access road surface disguising the water-filled potholes with a brown glaze. Discovering a pothole was sometimes a jarring surprise.

Once the driver turned off the access road the mud deepened and took on a sinister quality. I got back to the road and walked into the market. I was at Tolkushka. Now to shop!

I wandered through the crowd and got used to being jostled from behind, always by women. They have a two-jostle system here: first when they push up against you to pass and then when they pull that large plastic bag they have in their hand past you. Nobody seems to notice it and nobody seems to take offence, so I decided I shouldn't extend my leg suddenly and trip the latest babushka who had an appointment more important than mine.

The vendors who sell old Soviet medals are beside the rug merchants and here I found a few more memorials to Soviet achievements. There I met Louis who works for the Peace Corps and Jeff who is a PC volunteer.

We chatted briefly and then got down to basics: silk and wool carpets. Louis had been to the market on Wednesday and bought a silk carpet for $350 from a Turkmen who spoke French. We met the seller again and in short order Louis' defenses collapsed and he bought another silk carpet for $300. I deduced from this that it is not wise to speak French and I am glad the four years I spent studying that language had no impact on me. And Louis still has to pay authentication and shipping fees. Louis is one wild man.

Yet even I succumbed to temptation and bought myself a half meter by meter Yolmud carpet for $30. There is an advantage to leaving your money at home: this was the biggest carpet I could afford to buy.

We took the Teke Market bus back to the city and I invited both Louis and Jeff to have bacon and eggs at my apartment. Both jumped at the word "bacon" and I hardly had to mention eggs. We had an entertaining conversation over our late, salty and delicious breakfast. Louis is from Chicago and at his request I showed my Virtual Tour of the city. Jeff from California wanted to see my tour of San Francisco. They left around 6:30 or seven after much protesting by Louis that he had to go here or there and do this or that. It was a fun time.

Tim/Vadim called to say that he was leaving at 4 AM to go to Kiev and he wanted to thank me for being his friend. I said I would send him a letter to confirm his address. He thanked me for everything again. Go figure.

--Tuesday, 08 December 98-- $1 = 11,600 manat
We went to a Moslem funeral event today. The men were in one place, outside, and the women in another, inside. All the locals had to wear hats but Ed and I were exempt from that because we are foreigners. We sat on chairs facing a steel platform covered with a carpet. The locals crossed their legs and sat on the carpet leaving their shoes under the platform.

In the center of the platform was a piece of plastic that held bread and other foods. We were served some plov that was prepared in a large pot/wok in the yard.

One of the platforms had an elderly Turkmen in traditional dress. Periodically he prayed. Everyone lowered their heads, looked at the palms of their hands and remained silent. At the end of the prayer, everyone put the palms of their hands to their face and pulled them down almost as if they were washing their face.

Roustam has a watch with Turkmenbashy's picture on it. One year every student was given this watch. It is big and clunky and heavy and you have to wind it.

Today, the statue of Turkmenbashy on the top of the Peace Arch actually rotated a bit. We were staring at it in disbelief when a woman walked by and said, "He is worth of it." Clearly, the Turkmenbashy is not without his supporters.

The Weather Here
When I arrived at the end of September, the weather was hot and sunny, rather like Tucson, Arizona. Then in late October the weather became blissfully dry, cool, comfortable. In late November, a tetchy, testy chilling humidity that goes right through your bones and sucks the warmth from your flesh settled in. There is little actual rain, rather it is as if some mad scientist had invented a way to get water out of the air by condensation so intense that puddles form in the street.

There are long periods of continuous gray for days on end. The psychological Impact is significant. The gray air settles like a miasma over the city. I hope the monotonous weather breaks soon.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley