The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 34


Above, Maryam surrounded by Tolkushka vendors selling traditional Turkmen clothing. If you stop near them and show any interest, they besiege you with merchandise. If you are with someone else, they tap your arm and proffer their goods. At least the rug merchants can't do that to you.

--Thursday, 17 December 98-- $1 = 15,000 manat
The Ambassador, Steve Mann, had a Christmas party for all the Americans today. I called Chris at the Embassy and he told me the time is from 6 to 8 PM, dress is informal and I don't have to bring anything other than proof of citizenship for which a driver's license from the states does nicely.

I met Joyce at the entrance to the compound. She was stuck there verifying that everyone was not a terrorist. Perhaps necessary but not much fun.

On arrival the Ambassador was greeting his guests at the front door. I took the opportunity to gave the him the two pictures of him and the Saudi Ambassador that I had taken on Neutrality Day. He seemed pleased. He later came over to me and we chatted. I finally told him my name and he said that he remembered it from a meeting he had where someone had praised Ed and me.

He said that he had had a meeting with the President today and that the President was convinced he was doing things just right ["the truth of the way chosen"]. I told him that the manat was trading at 14,000 and that I had a graph. He asked me to send it over to him tomorrow. I did.

All in all a very sensible and pleasant evening; it was long enough not be be too short and short enough not to be too long. We sang enough carols to get in the mood of the season but not so many that they consumed the evening. There was a pageant involving the children and a Christmas tale that was short enough to retain its full charm. It was the best put together Christmas party I have been to in years.

I left when the beer was gone.

An expat who had been prevented from holding an event by lack of government approval, told me that the event was now on because he had written the President asking him to approve it. I said, "What did you say?" and he said, "Just a lot of flowery nonsense, but it was to the President. Then things began to happen." Some things must be the same in all cultures.

--Friday, 18 December 98-- $1 = 14,000 manat
We went to the American Center to return Ed's book and Roustam suggested we go to the Wholesale Market. Never having been there I said yes. It was interesting. A large area given over to vendors selling from kiosks and storage bins. Most things were available in volume but you could buy by the unit, the case or in greater volume as your interest or need dictated. I noted that the best price I could find on Efes beer was 4,400 manat per can. Thus, the wholesale price is now equal to the retail price of a few days ago. And on the price rises go.

The whole area of the market is built on a land fill that is at the end of the built up area on Turkmenbashy that is beside the long row of fountains.

Another first was a visit to a gas station. There is one beside the Wholesale Market. Only about half the pumps were in use so there were several cars in line for each pump. The driver paid the attendant and the attendant did something so the pump performed and we were on our way. The feel of the place was of the 1960s, with no refreshening. Gasoline here costs 400 manat per liter but if you are a foreigner you have to pay twice as much. That means that I can buy gas for about 80 cents a gallon at the official exchange rate and 23 cents at the black market rate. Pricing is not the governments greatest strength.

I managed to eat at the Nissa Hotel without ordering Pasts Sophia Loren. I had beef and potatoes instead and it was pretty good.

--Saturday, 19 December 98-- $1 = 13,500 manat
I tried to sleep late but nature conspired against me and I was up before 8 AM. The sky was still dark and it only gradually faded to a dirty, boring gray, uniform and flat in every direction. All I could think of was the nine days of continuous drear that we had recently experienced. Since the end of those dreary days we have had mostly partly cloudy/overcast weather. Generally there was some blue during part of the day so even when it was mostly overcast, it was still not oppressive. Now we seem to be returning to flat gray. We shall see.

My local store that used to carry my bellwether can of Efes was carrying it again and at the old price of 4,500 manat -- basically the same as the wholesale price. The nearby places that I had checked out were carrying Efes at 5,000 or 5,500 manat so I am curious how long it will stay at 4,500 manat.

I had found out that ARCA was sponsoring inexpensive Russian lessons so I went to their offices, filled out a form, listened to a lot more Russian than I could understand and agreed to come twice a week to improve myself. We shall see.

Maryam called to invite me to go to Tolkushka with her and Natasha tomorrow, "unless you are Tolkushka'd out." I thought about it and said that there was nothing that I wanted to buy so I should say no but I have found that when I wake up on Sunday morning, I realize there is nothing to do, so I go to Tolkushka where everyone in Ashgabad has already gone. So I shop till I drop. Maybe I buy something, maybe not but it is always an interesting experience.

For some odd reason, I have been able to stay on line at home for up to an hour!! This is in sharp distinction to my normal average of under five minutes. I took the opportunity to browse the net for info about Turkmenistan and then to update my web site myself. It was a genuine pleasure.

--Sunday, 20 December 98-- $1 = 13,500 manat
Another creeping dawn where black fades to a flat gray imperceptibly as the night crawls to its hiding place. You don't detect light so much as the subtraction of darkness.

Maryam and Natasha came by for me at 9:35 AM to go to Tolkushka. And so I began another shopping adventure. Maryam was buying Christmas gifts (as Ed was last week) so we went here and there looking for this and that. At one point she made the mistake of showing interest in some traditional Turkmen clothing and was besieged by woman selling nearly identical merchandise for nearly identical prices, each proffering her goods to Maryam. It was all there at Tolkushka. Click here for some additional pictures.

I bought a few more Soviet pins and, for some variation, some Czarist currency from 1898 and 1909. I even started to buy some jewelry for gifts. You can never shop too soon.

Though it was cold by Ashgabad standards, the usual huge crowd was there, moving, shopping, looking, pricing.

The sun came out this PM and made everything more cheerful. I had lunch at the Iceberg Cafe and had the incredibly delicious lula kabab. Delightful.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley