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
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
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
--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 bell weather 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
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
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.