The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 42


An eerie image of the Anau ruins in late twilight. You may have to adjust your monitors to see this one. Who says that bad photography isn't beautiful?

-Tuesday, 12 January 99-- $1 = 13,800 manat
A holiday in Turkmenistan, Memorial Day, in memory of the great defeat of the Turkmen around 1881 by the Russians who slaughtered about 15,000 of them. A work day for us consultants.

Well, if this doesn't beat all! My name appeared in an article on the top of page 3 ("On Various Things") of the January 9 four-page issue of the only national newspaper, "Neutral Turkmenistan." Titled "Christmas Celebration in the Orphanage" the article was little more than a list of contributors. Whatever happened to my low profile?

Just after I got home the door bell tweeted and it was a friend who said that he had a friend and a car downstairs and asked me if I was interested in visiting Anau, an ancient ruin near Ashgabat that had a famous Mosque that had survived everything except the 1948 earthquake. I considered the question at length for ten seconds and said, "Yes."

Twenty minutes later we were looking at the tumbled ruins in the growing gloaming. The light was poor for photos but that didn't stop me. I got some pictures of some of the mosaics, some odd things made of piled bricks, and eerie photo of a black outline of the ruin against an intensely deep blue sky.

--Wednesday, 13 January 99-- $1 = 13,700 manat
Today the most significant news was that of a great man leaving the country. His modesty forbids me naming him here but he knows who he is and why this announcement is here. National security prevents me from saying more. Please do not press me on this matter.

--Thursday, 14 January 99-- $1 = 13,700 manat
The office party for Gary Kelly's departure was in the Manuscript ministry building near the Embassy. There were about 100 people there and there was much animated conversation. Ed gave a toast to Gary that was a short speech. In this country, all respected toasts are at least a short speech!

At the end, Ed suddenly called me up to give my "May the road rise with you, ..." Irish toast. Natasha, who translated, had to ask my meaning more than once but she got through it. Then I gave Gary the "May you be in Heaven a half an hour before the devil knows you are dead" toast. For some reason, that one never seems to get translated.

I met George McLean of Catholic University and Father Andre, a Polish Priest and a very pious one at that. He told me that the Apostolic Nuncio had told him to be patient on the issue of registration (you need 500 believers in one city in order to "register" so you can legally hold religious services). So he is biding his time. Given that they mustered only about 20 people for Christmas Mass (including two Episcopalians), it seems the wisest course.

I spoke with George and told him that I thought the current Pontiff had departed from the principles of Vatican II slowly but rather dramatically, departing especially from the principle of collegiality, the principle expressed so wisely and beautifully by Pope John XXIII. I went on in my quiet way to say that I thought the Pope was sincere but misguided, etc. He didn't really agree or disagree with me. But then, in Turkmenistan, the walls have ears. Who knows how Turkmenbashi feels about Vatican II?

--Friday, 14 January 99-- $1 = 14,500 manat
Getting my training approved has turned out to be a major production. Although government officials have had the agenda for weeks, they suddenly told us that it had to be approved and by the highest levels. This took a day but it did happen, so the things progress, however slowly.

Tonight's Russian lesson was the 11th and the first one where I did not feel completely at sea. There was a lot that I didn't understand but I understood why I was not understanding it. Now that's progress!

--Saturday, 16 January 99--
I woke up feeling chipper and decided that even though I didn't really need anything, I would go and poke around the Russian Market. There was no bacon to be had, not even for ready money. I did find some soap that is very soft and dissolves so quickly. The third thing that I meant to look for I forgot. I took a couple of pictures and walked home. It was noon now and I was hungry so I cooked up half a package of my stockpiled Hungarian bacon and made myself a cheddar cheese omelet. Yum, yum.

A Peace Corps volunteer that I met called and will come over tonight to get the Cruiser. He is buying it. I will miss the Cruiser but it has served my purposes and I don't like to ride a bike in cold weather -- I like to ride a bike in sunny, blazingly hot weather with the sweat pouring off me. Now that is pleasure.

Of course, each to his own.

A sample of the blue mosaic tile for which Anau was so justly famous. It appears that more and more of the ruin ends up as mementos for travelers. Why does the light and dark blue combination remind me of something?

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley