The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 44

Above, the main entrance to Tolkushka. The Islamic touch has charm but people actually enter from about four different locations.

--Monday, 18 January 99-- $1 = 14,000 manat
This may be celebrated as Martin Luther Kind day in the States but I don't get any holidays at all so it is "Rabota!, Rabota!, Rabota!"

It appears that the Turkmenbashi has issued a decree that increase teaching hours from 14 to 24 a week. The effect is to require the dismissal of about 40% of teachers in elementary and secondary education. The near retirement people got the axe immediately and then they figure our who is next.

Tonight’s Russian lesson consisted of an onslaught of transportation vocabulary. More tough going.

--Tuesday, 19 January 99--
As I was toasting this morning's bread, I heard tires sloshing through water. Could it be? I went to the window and saw that it was: there had been a rain during the night to create really large puddles everywhere! Since this city gets little rain, it has no storm drainage system so puddles form easily. Yet this was clearly the biggest rain since my arrival.

--Wednesday, 20 January 99-- $1 = 14,500 manat
I saw part of the Bill Clinton's State of the Nation speech this morning. All I could think of was Christmas day. Under his "tree" there was a gift for every group. Day care, more cops, improved education, and even more military spending. I heard later that Pat Robertson said that as far as he was concerned the speech ended the impeachment process. We shall see. It certainly would be wise to end this quickly for our country has become the laughingstock of the world.

Training starts today. I arranged for the driver to come by half an hour early today so that I would have a chance to be in the room for final checks.

The training went fairly well but was very draining. By evening I was zonked but I had to go to my Russian class. The things one will do just because one has paid for them. I was totally zoned out. It was less physical exhaustion than complete mental exhaustion. Everyone noticed it. But so what?

Grant told me that the rug situation has changed radically. He called UPS about shipping it and was told that the tax has gone up. He went to the taxing agency and discovered that the untaxed meters have been reduced from six to 3.48 meters and that the tax has been more than doubled to about $25 per square meter. There was some confused gobbledygook about how he should have bought his rug from the Commodities Exchange which is even more confusing considering he did buy it from a government store. The Lonely Planet guide book said don't try to ship a rug out of Turkmenistan -- and that was when things were simple.

A friend wrote about using bubbles in the center of a cup of tea as a good luck device: "You know that bubble in the center of the tea thing...well I found a quarter." Clearly this constitutes definitive proof that putting bubbles from the center of your tea behind your ear bring financial benefit.

--Friday, 22 January 99-- $1 = 14,500 manat
Today's dawn was cloudy and there are still a lot of puddle around but this afternoon the sun came out and things cheered up a lot.

I went to the Russian Market to get some tea and stopped in the kiosk in the meat section that carried bacon in the past. As I walked up to the counter, the man recognized me and said, "Bacon?" "Da," I replied. "Zaftra," he responded. So I may get some more bacon on Saturday. We shall see.

I head a man was in Ed's office talking rather loudly. He turned out to be an optometrist. When I walked in, he glanced at me and correctly estimated the prescription strength of my glasses. Later, he came into my office and told me that I needed to bathe my eyes with the urine of a *young* cow. Now where in Ashgabat am I going to find that? The apteka near me didn't know anything about it.

--Saturday, 23 January 99-- $1 = 15,000 manat
Went to the Russian Market to try to get some bacon. The guy in the meat section told me to come back in 5 minutes so I walked over to photograph the Grand Turkmen Hotel and the Tower of Power. 25 pictures later I was back and bought four packages of bacon at 30,000 manat each.

On the way out I ran into Paul Hamlin and told him about the bacon. He said, "You mean this bacon?" and held up a bag with Ringa bacon in it, "It cost 20,000 manat." "What? I paid 30,000!" So my friend had probably gone to some of the other vendors and hiked the price to sell to me. Very entrepreneurial but I will shop more the next time before I buy.

Walking home I ran into Jeff of the Peace Corps and, Mike, a PC friend of his in from the provinces for the weekend. I invited them to a lunch of bacon and cheddar cheese omelets. Twisting rubber arms turned out to be easy so we walked back to my place. It turned out that Mike was dating a young lady by the name of Ludmilla from whom he was expecting a call at 1 PM. Jeff told us that someone at the PC office had claimed that Mike was dating a 12 year old. Mike explained how he knew for sure that she had just turned 20 and Jeff said that they had to let people know to protect Mike's reputation. I said, "No, let them eat their hearts out!" I waved some cheddar cheese under his nose and he called the PC office and asked them to forward the call here.

Today I saw some kids playing a game. This is the first time I have seen kids playing at anything but soccer or basketball or indulging in some sub-component of general mayhem. Each boy would take turns throwing a stick at three tin cans piled one on another and then run to a spot on the side of an imaginary rectangle. I didn't stay long enough to get much of a sense of the game.

--Sunday, 24 January 99-- $1 = 15,500 manat
At dawn a fog had gripped the city but by ten it was burning off. The fog and the chill last longer at Tolkushka but I went anyway. It was a crowded as ever. I bought a few pieces of jewelry for gifts.

The fog burned off in the city and it was clearly going to be a glorious day. I decided to walk down to the Neutrality Arch and get some more photos. On my way I met a handsome young Turkmen at the bus stop close to Maksim's. He was shorter than I am and had a slight build with a bright smile. I felt sure he would talk to me so I said, "Drazvouztia." He said, "Hello" -- so much for my attempt to pass as Russian.

He spoke very little English and I now proudly flaunt my very little Russian so we tried to chisel a conversation out of a large stone of ignorance. It was tough going but we were both interested in trying. He made some kind of comparison between Turkmenistan and the US revolving around pay. He said he worked, worked, worked but he got no or low pay and indicated that he knew it was different in the US. We do have the minimum wage and prompt payment of salary which are very good ideas but just a shade beyond the ability of my Russian to express. He asked me about what I thought of Ashgabat and I said, "Ashgabat osheen harashow." (Ashgabat very good). We parted no worse for wear,

I walked on to the Arch and while walking to the War Memorial I met a young man who asked me the time of day in quite good English. We got to chatting and it turns out that he is a Pakistani returning to his country after spending two months in Ukraine trying to study to be a commercial pilot. He was solidly built and neatly dressed in gray slacks and a sport coat with a dress shirt open at the neck -- he was dressed very much the way many Turkmen men dress.

He said that it was very cold in Ukraine and the school was not what he thought it would be so he was returning by Turkmen Airlines but had a five day layover in the City. like everyone I have met, he was very friendly.

All in all, it was a very nice day.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley