The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 38


Above, Lenin, the maker of the Russian Revolution. If he had lived, what would it have become?

--Tuesday, 29 December 98-- $1 = 12,500 manat
Edjegyz invited me to a New Year party but I already had the engagement with Allan and his girl friend so I had to regretfully decline.

I found out that both Princess Anne and the Prince of Wales visited here two or three years ago. Maybe this is a trendy place after all.

--Wednesday, 30 December 98-- $1 = 12,500 manat
Eleonora asked me if it was OK for Tanya and the driver to go to the Wholesale Market. I said OK and gave Tanya 240,000 for two cases of bellwether Efes beer. They were supposed to return in 2 1/2 hours, a rather over generous time estimate I thought. Not much later I went into Eleonora's office and the driver was talking animatedly and everyone was paying close attention. It turns out that Tanya had 300,000 manat stolen from her in the Russian Market. She uses a purse that has an open compartment on the side and she put the 300,000 manat there where it could be seen by anyone.

At 4 PM there was a "celebration of the 5th anniversary of the State Academy of the Arts" at the Exhibition Hall (4 PM) on Jitnikov 33 Street. There were many paintings and drawings, some sculpture and ceramics. All in all rather nice.

Russian Lesson tonight. Ninety minutes really flies when you are totally confused.

I noticed that my favorite store is now carrying Efes once again. At 5,000 manat. When I arrived the bellwether can of Efes cost 3,500 so the increase in cost is 43% in three months which tracks the 42% increase in the value of the dollar. Where do we go from here?

I found out (again) that it is bad luck to shake hand through a doorway. I was standing near the doorway to the corridor and saw Mr. Orazov and I extended by hand through the doorway and wished him a happy New Year. He seemed unsure how to respond and then stepped through the doorway into the room and shook my hand.

Another amusing custom (superstition?) is that if you see a bubble in the middle of your cup of tea (definitely NOT a bubble along the edge!), you put your finger on it and pick it up and put it behind your ear (I don't know if the particular ear matters) and it will bring you money. I don't believe it for a second but it has sure made me pay more attention to my tea. And that warm water behind your ear doesn't feel bad in Winter either.

Mrs. Gurina came by with the plate on which we had sent the cake to her. She said that it is not appropriate to return an empty plate and gave me the plate with a package of hard candy on it. Charming custom.

Craftsmanship and Standards
Ed says, "They have no standards!" The cause of this statement is our discovery of yet one more staircase that has uneven risers perhaps it was another concrete sidewalk that was spalled, split, cracked and broken. Or maybe it was another 14 cm pipe that simply pops out of the ground in the sidewalk and bends and goes overhead somewhere.

This city is a litany to uneven sidewalks, pipes popping out of the ground and running overhead along the edge of buildings, ungraded connections between different buildings and, it would seem, to every other issue that is addressed in the States by professional standards.

How did this happen? My theory is that Communism was a vast conspiracy. The government insisted the system worked, the workers knew it didn't but had no say. So workers and supervisors alike decided that to get along, you had to go along -- and pretend that things worked. So poor quality work was approved by supervisors who were approved by their bosses, all of whom just wanted to get along (and maybe steal some stock).

Across the street from my apartment I can see four uninsulated heating pipes in a row that rise vertically out of the ground, partially blocking the entryway that runs through the building. The pipes bend and follow the ceiling of the entryway. Why weren't they planned into the construction of the building? In nearly all the public buildings I have been in, the heating system is added after the building has been constructed and in such an ad hoc way that it is clear that the heating system was not part of the building design. Why did this have to be?

I have another theory about why there are no standards here. In the States, standards are set by professional associations that have an interest in the matter. Groups like the American Water Works Association, the American Public Works Association, etc., set standards on pipe diameters, material strength, and the amount of illumination a light standard should emit. In the Soviet Union, free associations were not permitted. Every gathering was assumed to be an incipient anti-state development. Further, the idea that some group of people might set a standard that would require the State to act in accordance with it was unthinkable. So there were no associations and damned few standards of any kind.

Another problem with standards in a dictatorship is that they might be used to determine who was actually working: a frightening idea to the working class and to their supervisors who were in an unholy alliance to pretend that the system worked. No one could be allowed to see that the Emperor had no clothes. In this sense Communism was a self-delusional system. It demanded a conspiracy that the Emperor had clothes and there was no choice but to praise the quality of his garments.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley