The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 41

This was my first view into an oven that bakes the delicious bread that I enjoy so much. It must be sticky dough to keep it adhered to the oven wall.

--Saturday, 09 January 99-- $1 = 13,500 manat
I slept late and got up at 10:30. Delicious. It was a mixture of clouds and sun with the clouds winning but the air temperature was quite mild. I ended up with just a heavy shirt on.

I walked to Univermag and looked in every shop and at last found a battery charger AND rechargeable batteries. I have found rechargers in several places but no one seemed to realized that you have to have rechargeable batteries as well. One person even tried to sell me regular batteries along with a recharger.

I checked the Russian Market for bacon and was told there was none. They said they would have it again "sabato" which was kindly translated for me as "next Sunday." We shall see.

Someone mentioned to me that they called the Central Bank to make a withdrawal and were told that everyone was in the mountains planting trees for Turkmenbashy and that they would be there until Monday late. Since Tuesday is Memorial Day here, they were told to call back on Wednesday.

The above oven has its stockpile of wood that will be reduced to embers to cook the bread.

I walked over to the Iceberg Cafe to get some lula kabob and beer and on my way back I noticed a goat skin on a railing. The house was at the spot where, last week, I had seen a man holding a goat of the same color by the horns. The goat suspected that something was up and was busy urinating profusely. On the ground were several long knives. I have never seen an animal slaughtered and wondered if I would learn anything by watching. I decided to keep walking.

--Sunday, 10 January 99-- $1 = 13,500 manat
I got up at 9 AM and had some toast. I answered my emails and then decided to go for a walk. The sky cloudy with sunshine breaking through, here and there so it seemed like it might be nice. The temperature was still mild.

One block from my apartment I noticed a woman baking bread on the sidewalk. Here and there in the residential districts the casual stroller will notice beehive shaped clay structures that are open at the top and have a draft hole at the base. They are about a meter (yard) high and have a mouth about half-a-meter wide. These are used to make the wonderful round bread that is sold through out the city.

This was the first time that I had seen the bread actually being baked. The dough had been prepared indoors and formed into round loves before it was brought to the oven which had also been prepared and had a heap of hot coals in the center. The woman baking the bread was shaping the round loaf to correspond exactly with a padded circular mitt that was on the table. She signed to me that she did not want her picture taken but didn't mind me photographing her bread.

She picked up a tool that was like a dozen thin nails all parallel and protruding from a handle. With this she poked the dough in various places. She turned it over and with a fork poked more holes in the bottom. She put her hand in a bowl of water and flung drops at the back of the dough and then put her hand in the mitt part of the pad and picked up the dough, walked over to the oven, leaned over the open mouth put the pad into the oven and slapped it against the side of the oven, gently pealing the mitt off as she finished this dexterous move.

I looked inside and saw four or five loaves cooking in the heat. I wonder how she decided how they were done?

I walked over toward the Embassy and stopped at the Art Museum that is in park with the statue of Magtymguly. I am told that this is the site of the first Baha'i Temple in the world. The Soviets tore it down around 1956, made a park, and used the doors from the temple as the doors for the building now housing the Art Museum. It is small in size and actually nice to visit. It has some rather old paintings (one had the date 1521 painted on it) and some new paper models of architectural designs.

One room was guarded by an elderly man who dozed in a chair. The other guard was an Argus-eyed crone who followed me from room to room to make sure that I didn't apply graffiti to anything. In a large room toward the rear, the paintings became more contemporary. A woman was silently pulling and pushing a damp mop across the expanse of floor. She paid attention to no one.

I walked out the way I had walked in, the crone following my every step, suspecting the worse. I passed the elderly man who seemed unmoved.

After my cultural interlude, I walk over to the park beside the Embassy and then South through Lenin park and over to the Tower of Power. I walked down the street beside the Congress building until it ended at Chekov Street. I even used my new found Russian by saying "Eta Chekova?" to a woman crossing the street. She replied, "Da," and then went on for a minute pointing in various directions and providing a lot of information -- not that I was able to understand a word.

Across Chekova was the Eighth of March street, sort of the Daiza Banking center of the city. Sure enough, there were about a dozen Turkmen ladies selling currency. I walked up the hill and made a big round turn that brought me back ultimately to the Daiza Banking center but this time everyone was gone. There must have been a raid, I thought, or, on the other hand, perhaps banking hours on Sunday are strict.

I walked up Chekova and then into the side streets so I wouldn't have to listen to the traffic. On to my apartment. It was a quick walk of about 150 minutes. Refreshing.

I was told that when someone steals from a Daiza bank representative and it is discovered, all the Daiza representatives proceed to beat the living be-jeezus out of the thief under the theory that theft from one imperils them all. Such an episode was reported to me by a witness who also volunteered that the police joined in the melee, kicking and striking with all the others. "The police were beating up someone on the street?" I said in shock. "Yes, they get their cut from the Daiza Bank so when you steal from the Daiza Bank, you steal from them." A kind of logic, I suppose.

I went to bed at 8:30 PM so I could get up at 2 AM to go to meet Ed at the airport. When we got there, all the short term parking spaces (the first row) were filled to we had to park in the long term parking (rows two and three).

We split up into two parties because we were not sure what exit he would use. He came through the UP (Unimportant Persons) room and announced to us that it was faster than the CIP (Commercially Important Person) room. Live and learn.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley