Beyond the fluttering flags
rise the rime-coated Kopet Dag mountains on a chilly New Year's
--Friday, 01 January 99--
The rain started in the night and continued all morning, becoming mixed
with snow that didn't stick. I was glad to see snow and glad to see that
I wouldn't be seeing very much of it.
Tonights Russian lesson was on food and they used real food which
turned out to be mostly vegetables (yuck!). Radishes, onions, carrots,
beets, etc. Thank god for the potatoes.
Walking back with Grant and Elene, we walked by a man on the corner of
the street one block beyond the Embassy. He had a haunted look in his
staring eyes. Grant and Elene didn't seem to notice.
The rain had stopped earlier in the day and the sky was clear with occasional
wispy clouds that floated across the full moon but didn't obscure its
--Saturday, 02 January 99-- $1 = 12,000 manat
I got up at about 8:30 and looked out the window. No clouds anywhere.
It would be a bright day.
en I left to go to the Russian Market I realized that yesterday's puddles
now had frozen surfaces. Many had that frosty pane of ice that has air
underneath it and sounds like breaking glass when you step on it. Crunch,
break, snap, crush! I zapped every one that I could find. Yes, people
were staring at me but I didn't care. With glee and abandon I danced from
frozen puddle to frozen puddle. Sometimes life can be wonderful.
The air was still which was nice because the temperature was close to
freezing -- the coldest it has been here since I arrived. Off to the south,
the Kopet Dag mountains were covered with rime. They looked like a gigantic
brown pasty that had been dusted with powdered sugar.
I went over to the Iceberg cafe to buy some beer and on the way there
I met someone who I just knew I had met recently but I couldn't put the
time or place. He reacted similarly. I said, "We have met recently,
where was it?" He didn't seem to understand my American and replied,
"Come with me. Let me give you 50 grams." This was getting interesting.
"Fifty grams of what?" He opened his leather jacket and showed
my a bottle of vodka in a pocket. "I go to my friend's house. Come
with me. We share fifty grams." "Thank you," I said, but
I can't today." "Maybe another day," he said. "Yes,
perhaps. S'novem godem [Happy New Year]."
--Sunday, 03 January 99--
I was up early, well before the dawn. It was another cold day, about zero
centigrade (32 F) with clear, bright sunshine. Beautiful to look at, brisk
to be in the midst of.
Allen and Emily came by and we went to Tolkushka. It was crowded but with
many fewer people than usual. I got some Czarist currency requested by
a friend but nothing else. It was really a tour for Emily. I told her
about the light blue-dark blue nylon Montana outfits that are as common
here as jeans are in the states. We both got into counting how many of
them we saw. I swear that every Turkmen man in Ashgabat owns one and wears
--Monday, 04 January 99--
Murl, asked me to come over for a quick meeting. I did and at the end
he said to me, "Last Item. Tomorrow is the Celebrity(?) Bowl with
Tennessee and Florida State. If you are interested it will be on the TV
at my place at 6 AM." This was a difficult decision. Could I really
get up early and watch a college football game without beer? It was a
tough call but I decided to put my misgivings behind me and go. Patriotism
sometimes makes difficult demands on one.
Russian Lesson tonight. I actually understood a few words. What could
--Wednesday, 06 January 99-- $1 = 13,000 manat
Recently when I was shopping with the Volodzha, he made me buy a bottle
of a soft drink called Kvas. When I looked at him quizzically, he said,
"Night, drink, drink, drink," and snapped his finger against
his neck three times, "Morning, Kvas, Kvas, Kvas!" With such
a compelling explanation, I had to buy it. It turned out to have a flavor
that is a meld of cola and chocolate. Odd and a interesting but since
I am not crazy about either, I discarded the remainder. I have to save
space in my refrigerator for the bare essentials: beer, bacon, butter,
bread and champagne.
--Thursday, 07 January 99-- $1 = 13,500 manat
I bought two Turkmen carpets and today UPS took my rugs for shipment to
Chicago. The UPS guy wore a brown uniform, was handsome, and very friendly
and helpful. Just like the States. Maybe some things are universal?
The quoted price was $239 but they accept payment in manat at the official
exchange rate of 5,355. It cost me 1,280,000 manat!
--Friday, 08 January 99-- $1 = 13,700 manat
The rose all brassy goldness on a cloudless day. The temperature is mild
so the day will be very comfortable.
I have begun to notice that the sun is rising earlier and setting later.
It seems to early to notice this but I swear I can tell. Elene and Grant
noticed the same thing so perhaps I am not imagining it.
Turkmen and Bacon
When I got up this morning, I fried up a half-kilo of bacon for the office.
I discovered a delicious Hungarian bacon in the Russian Bazaar and bought
four kilos of it. It is so good I can barely leave it alone so I thought
I should share it with the staff and I brought what I didn't eat of the
bacon to the office.
Ed and I frequently bring fruit or cookies to work. Later in the morning
we are given a dish with the fruit or cookies on it along with coffee
or tea. Today, I got some dry biscuits but not bacon. I asked if the staff
enjoyed the bacon and Eleonora broke out laughing. "Yes," she
said, "it went very quickly." I guess so. I had forgotten that
in this country, bacon is actually a delicacy.
As to the religious issues involved -- Turkmenistan is technically a Moslem
country and Moslems are forbidden to eat pork -- I heard a quote from
an unnamed Turkmen who said that "We took from Muhammad only what
we could fit in our saddlebags." Immensely practical.
After Russian class I walked back to the Exclusive Restaurant with Grant
and Elene. The restaurant has entertainment, three young ladies who come
into the room in various forms of skimpy attire and dance to recorded
music. From what I could see, this place is going to be a success. By
the end of the evening, all the guys were at one end of the table discussing
the impeachment and all the women at the other end, discussing whatever
it is that women discuss when they are alone.
Above, the universally popular
light-blue, dark-blue nylon sports clothing
that is worn by so many Turkmen males in Ashgabat. These outfits
were for sale at Tolkushka.