The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 40


Beyond the fluttering flags rise the rime-coated Kopet Dag mountains on a chilly New Year's Day.

--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.

Tonight’s 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 chilly brilliance.

--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 it frequently.

--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 be happening?

--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.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley