The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 36


Above, a handsome specimen of a horse. This is one of the breed of Akhalteke horses of which Turkmenistan is so proud. These horse carried Seljuk and Ottoman invaders all the way to Constantinople and were noted for their beauty and endurance. The are claimed to be the ancestors of the Arabian horses so noted in history.

--Friday, 25 December 98-- $1 = 13,000 manat
A reader writes:
"Please do recount and experiences of Jesus in the land of Muhammad."

The land of Muhammad, yes, but only nominally. They even eat pork here and refer to it as "the other white meat" or "white mutton." VERY FEW people go to a mosque and liquor is available everywhere. This is not a country that is passionate about religion. I feel comfortable here.

To understand Christmas here, "in the land of Muhammad" you have to remember that for the better part of this century, the Soviet government disapproved of religion and did what it could to discourage it. So the celebration of Christmas as a religious holiday was discouraged and the much less religious holiday of New Years was encouraged -- after all, the people need holidays. So, over the years what we think of as Christmas (gifts, trees, family, celebration, etc.) became merged into the New Year celebration.

So December 25th is just another day here without any special significance whatever.

But That Is Them and We Are Us
Today is Christmas Day and Julie and Paul Hamlin had a Christmas brunch at 1 PM. Murl Baker contributed a cooked turkey (God bless his soul), I provided the makings for Mimosas and a half kilo of cooked bacon. Everyone had a good time. There was a lot of conversation and much enjoyment of the food.

I listened to a young man who works for the British Embassy in Moscow and lives there. I said that the KGB is still active although without much of a purpose. He said they will enter your apartment and leave a sign of their presence such as turning off your freezer or taking a dump in your toilet and not flushing. Based on my wide experience in these matters, I said, "The least the KGB could do would be . . ." but he interrupted by saying that they do it "Just to keep the pressure on." Hmm. Rude. Very rude is what I think.

I took some of the deserts back to the office at 3:30 PM and surprised everyone by showing up. Edjegyz called me aside to ask me if I was going home at 6 PM and seemed very confused when I said I would be going home early today. I found out from the driver that Edjegyz had put some fish she had bought in the car and was hoping for a ride home.

Above, another image of a beautiful horse.

Tonight is my second Russian lesson. It is sure confusing in the beginning. I fared better tonight but got totally lost at the end when the trainers asked for names of family members. Since I have no children, I assumed they wanted to know about parents and grandparents. When they pointed to the pictures on the wall they were naming grandchildren as my grandparents. Confusing at the time.

Grant, Elene and I stopped at Dynasty, a restaurant across from the US Embassy. It has a very European ambiance and a fascinating Western oriented menu that includes a Chiliburger. I will have to have lunch there soon.

I was studying my Russian vocabulary at 1 AM when suddenly the electricity failed. It was just another periodic power outage that is so common here. We had one in the Ministry building last week that lasted over an hour so I sent the staff home 15 minutes early. [Please don't report this to my employers!]

It makes me want to know enough about horses to appreciate these wonderful creatures for their full worth.

A Confession
On the Eve of the New Year it has come to my attention that the Special Persecutor has expanded his activities to target those who disagree with his views. Apparently infuriated by my participation in the 70 percent of Americans who do not think the President should be impeached or removed from office, he has commenced an investigation into my activities here in Ashgabad. Press leaks directly from the SP's office indicate that he will allege substantial and credible evidence that I knowingly and willfully misspelled the name of the city in which I currently reside.

I appeal to the American people to listen to my side of the story, to judge for themselves the truth or falsity of the charges made and to do that before any referral to the House of Reprobates is made. What I tell you now is the truth! Or at least not technically false.

I admit to an inappropriate relationship with the Cyrillic alphabet. I sometimes mistype Ashgabat but about this I have a problem. When Turkmenistan was a Soviet Republic the only spelling was in the Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet and the transliterations ended with a "d", mostly. Sometimes with a "t" but I insist the "t"s were in a majority.

Now, while Russian predominates as the language of government and business, the country has a new official language, Turkmen, and a *new* Latin-like alphabet to express it. And now, the official spelling of the capital city is "Ashgabat" in this new alphabet. I admit to this now but I swear I did not know it when I did the deed. I further insist that the "t" of the Turkmen alphabet is really the same as the "d" of the Latin alphabet.

What am I to do? With all good intentions I have mislead untold numbers of people into thinking that the name of this city ends in a "d" when there is reasonable and credible evidence that I knew, or should have known, that it does or should have been seen to be ending in a "t".

How should I respond to this ethical dilemma? I intended no harm to the national interest, I only wanted to have a good time writing emails that described my experiences in this far away place with a strange spelling name.

Who will believe that I have not been asked to lie when the President never personally told me to tell the truth? Clearly I will have to live with this stain on my blue-tinted escutcheon. I can only say that I am determined to work out my term here and to go on doing the best job that I can do to preserve and protect the American Way -- regardless of the alphabet it is expressed in.

And I further promise that from now on, "Ashgabad" will be spelled as "Ashgabat". It rhymes better with Gazette, anyway.

Happy New Year!!

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley