The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 46


Above, the four guys I met on the Neutrality Arch Plaza and the next day in Lenin Park (shown here). What do you suppose became of that bottle of "Fanta"? The three guys on the left are doing the famous Turkmen "squat." It may look like more of them than their shoes touch the bench but it is not so.

--Friday, 29 January 99--
I made a quick trip to the Russian Market for some of my favorite round bread. On the way back I saw a guy who shines shoes and realized that the dust was really taking a toll of my black loafers. I sat down and he proceeded to take my shoe off and put my foot on a small piece of carpet which he supported with the device that I imagined he would put my shoe on. He did the same with my other shoe and then proceeded to apply wax to the shoes and polish them.

Meanwhile an old man who seemed a friend of the shoe shine guy came over and proceeded to regale me with a long story. I got about one percent of what he was saying and that most prepositions so I can't really tell you anything about it other than the speaker was extremely pleased with his rendition because he smiled a lot and laughed at the key junctures. He finally wandered on and then my shoes were shined so I walked on.

Allan called me during the day to confirm our agreement to meet for beer and mentioned Vitaly would be there. After Russian class I took a cab over to the Iceberg Cafe to meet them.

We had a few pitchers of beer. Allan and Vitaly had some dried fish that are popular here and offered one to me. I said that I never liked to eat anything that stared back at me. Allan did get me to taste some of the fish -- after first snapping the head and tail off and peeling the skin off it. It was salty but rather tasteless. Not bad tasting, just sort of "no-tasting."

And then the Cafe just ran out of beer! Life in Ashgabat is rough. We left, not in a huff, just resigned. If you got in a huff over every service oddity here, you'd huff yourself to death.

I suggested that they come over my place for some canned Efes: Yes, the proverbial "bellwether" canned Efes, still selling at 5,000 manat to the can. We stopped in a nearby kiosk and bought some pistachios -- Allan likes to have pistachios with his beer -- and settled in to consume my supply of beer, munch pistachios and talk, talk, talk.

Allan spoke of the Celtics, of which he had heard. I told him of Bill Russell who had eleven World Championship rings and ten in a row! We talked (er, well, I talked, they listened) about what a great TEAM the Celtics were. I compared them with Wilt the Stilt Chamberlain who scored 100 points in a game that his team lost. Of Bob Cousey, Havlicek, and the others. Eventually they left.

Above, Shokrat poses with someone who works in Lenin Park. From the pose, you would think it was Shokrat's shovel!

--Saturday, 30 January 99--
I got up at 9:45 and managed to shower and shave before the water was turned off. Then I went for a walk along Magtymguly to the Embassy and then South through Lenin Park. There I met four young men that I had met on the Neutrality Arch Plaza last weekend. They remembered me and called me over. We chatted and they told me they were drinking Russian vodka. Or one of them was, because the one who spoke English kept telling me that the blond who was holding a bottle that seemed to contain Fanta was an algogolic. Everyone seemed to find this quite amusing and there was general laughter. I took some pictures of them and of a guy who works in the park. Turkmen do love to have their pictures taken.

I walked over to the Russian Market, my favorite shopping place in the city. It is amazing how much fun I can have trying to find toothpaste. Actually, toothpaste is easy, cheddar cheese has become the "problem du jour." Last week the only cheddar I could find was a half kilo block of "Ferndale" for which the guy wanted 350,000 manat. I said, "No!" He wanted about $23 pound! Gold sells for less than that, doesn't it?

This week I found a different vendor and the price for the same block of cheddar was 45,000, about three dollars. I snapped it up and immediately had fantasies of a cheddar cheese omelet and a pile of my stockpiled Hungarian bacon. Lunch was looking like the high point of the day.

At 1 PM invited a local friend over for brunch and he accepted even though it meant he had to get out of bed. What is it with this generation? He finally showed up and we enjoyed delicious cheddar cheese omelets and a half kilo of bacon between us. He stayed on and we chatted for hours. He brought a floppy disk with him and I gave him a bunch of pictures that I had taken and then I made a flier for his mother's charity event.

--Sunday, 31 January 99--
This morning my landlady came over with a prospective tenant so I decided to go to Tolkushka. The weather was sublime. Even at 9:30 in the morning it was already warm and the sky was a light blue with a thin haze that obscured the mountains.

On my way there I saw a new sign that I found really expressive: Lubricants Is Our Business. It gave me a warm feeling just reading it. At the market I bought some jewelry and a medal awarded to Soviet women who have at least ten children. Apparently the Soviets also believed that is some is good, more is better.

I called Ed to see how he was doing with his cold and he was improved. We took a walk over to the plaza surrounding the Neutrality Arch and then walked to the War Memorial. On the way back we stopped in the Exclusive restaurant and had some food. Ed's appetite is gaining strength and he is recovering well from his cold.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley