The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 35


Above, the onion domes of one of the two remaining Russian Orthodox churches in Ashgabad. Restoration has been underway for about ten years.

--Monday, 21 December 98-- $1 = 13,700 manat
Another lovely dawn. Crisp, clear, with an early chill that hinted of warmth later on. Like a crusty grandmother who shouts at you to get out of bed but you know she will be nice to you later.

I wished everyone a "Happy Winter Solstice." There was general confusion about what I was talking about. What else is new?

Today's Neitralny [Neutral] Turkmenistan said: "The construction started of a new 4.2 km 6-lane high-speed highway to connect the International Airport of Ashgabat with the Turkmenbashy Palace. Another important 8 km road will be constructed from the Ostrovsky Street to the Annau highway to connect Ashgabat and Kipchak settlement (the birthplace of President)." Apparently, Turkmenbashy likes to visit his relatives.

I went with the driver to the Carpet Factory to get a catalog that they have. The Director wasn't there and the only thing the woman produced was a copy of the yellow covered book they give away at the Carpet Museum Shop -- and she wanted 10,000 manat for it. No luck. I will have to try something else.

Serdar came over tonight. I am beginning to think that he does it so that he will have a place to be while he stays out late to train his parents that he stays out late. We chatted about sundry things and I gave him back the library book on rugs. He shook my hand three times before he left.

--Tuesday, 22 December 98-- $1 = 13,700 manat
At Tolkushka recently Natasha pointed out something she called nahss. It is a forest green powder they sell in small bags for 1,000 manat (about 8 cents). She said that it was "a very weak narcotic." She said that people snuffed it like they used to do to tobacco. If it acts like snuff I can see eyes and noses running, and fits of sneezing. Yet tobacco snuff survived until the cigarette became popular.

I asked Roustam about nahss and he said it was "Turkmen tobacco" and that you put it under your tongue. Hmm.

I asked Serdar about nahss and he said that it was made of ground herbs and chicken shit. He didn't make it seem very appetizing.

Eric, Roustam and I walked over to the Russian Market and chatted. I asked Eric about his back ground and he said that he spent five years in the Army as a helicopter mechanic and then got a BA in Business before entering the Peace Corps. He was wondering what he should do after he left the Peace Corps in two years. He wondered if he shouldn't go back into the military since he will be eligible for a pension in ten years. I suggested he ask people who had already left the Peace Corps.

I asked Eleonora to call the Director of the Carpet Factory about the catalog we could not get there. She told me that the phones at the carpet factory have been turned off for non payment of the phone bill.

I checked out my local store and it was out of Efes. It did have the cheaper Marmara so I bought that. I wonder what the cost of the restock will be?

--Wednesday, 23 December 98--
This morning Eleonora and I went to the Carpet Factory to see if we could get the catalog they have that Richard showed me. The same woman who didn't know about it on my last trip produced it under Eleonora's expert questioning. It was only 15,000 manat (Richard got it free).

Then we went to the Museum Store and I got a second copy of the free catalog they have and it was 15,000 this time. The bound book "Turkmenistan Carpets" they sell for only 25,000. Go figure.

Office Birthday Parties
A birthday is a big thing here, bigger even that in the States. The individual sits in his/her office and people come by with flowers and bouquets, and everyone enjoys food (sala, plov, salami, deserts, etc.) provided by the birthday person. Other staples of the party include champaign, home made wine, vodka, and locally made Cognac (some of which is quite tasty). There is a lot of animated talk and a general good time as people come in shifts because of limited seating.

I was in my first traffic jam today. It was at the corner of Navoi and Gorogli and lasted from 6:05 PM to 6:08 PM. Quite an experience.

Above, Natasha lights candles for the departed.

--Thursday, 24 December 98-- $1 = 13,300 manat
At her suggestion I went with Natasha to visit to one of the two Russian Orthodox Churches in Ashgabad. It is a modest brick structure with two onion domes, tucked away beyond the end of Magtymguly and behind the Iranian Embassy compound at the western end of the city.

Constructed in the 1890s, it survived the Communists who converted into a warehouse and the great earthquake of 1948. When Turkmenistan became independent it became a church again and for the last ten years great effort has been put into restoring it to its former role. The process is about 70 percent complete with all the interior murals above three meters complete.

Natasha and Julia bought some bees wax candles. They put some in a round container in front of the alter, lit them and told me that these were for the living. There was a place to the left of the alter where they lit some candles for the dead.

This is the first Russian Orthodox church I have seen. It reminds me of the Orthodox Churches I saw in Romania: Small and intimate. Here the style of painting made less use of gold and seemed a little less mystical.

Above, Julia lights candles for the living.


A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley