Above left, the bust of a
Soviet era VIP. No one could quite identify him but some thought
he might have been a Central Committee member. Above right, the
shadow he decaying monument cast. "The old gives way to the
new," but never more so than in Turkmenistan.
--Monday, 01 February 99-- $1 = 15,800 manat
I had promised everyone whose pictures I took on Saturday to give them
the pictures at 11 AM today. So I showed up and met the grounds keeper
who insisted I have some tea. I gave him the pictures I took of him and
he was very happy.
Shokrat and Yevgeny showed and I gave them their pictures. We chatted
in the sun beneath Lenin's statue. Shokrat kidded Yevgeny saying that
he never studied and called him an alcoholic (again). They asked me about
when and where I worked and I told them. Yevgeny suggested we get together
again and we talked about it and settled on see-em chasoff zaftra [7 PM
The UPS guy came this morning and in nothing flat my two carpets were
on their way to Chicago. Hopefully, this will go as flawlessly as the
last time and with even less angst.
Russian class tonight. On my way there I realized that I was hungry and
wondered why. Then I noticed that I had a slight soreness at the back
of my throat. So the cold I thought I had kicked on Sunday has returned.
Last weeks training got written up in the country's one national daily
newspaper, Neutral Turkmenistan. I had seen a newspaper reporter in the
room during the second delivery but she didn't talk to me at all. It didn't
matter, the article turned out to be flattering to the training and to
me and she even described the content of the training correctly. She said
that I did not impose my beliefs on the participants but they came to
agree with my positions by the end of the training. The reporter concluded:
"Meanwhile, the majority of the specialists evaluated the seminar
held in superlative terms."
--Tuesday, 02 February 99-- $1 = 14,000 manat at the start of the day,
12,000 at the end. There is a currency sale tomorrow and perhaps the traders
are nervous. I heard that there is a rumor of devaluation and all the
currency exchangers are edgy. I heard that someone made the rounds in
the afternoon and found prices ranging from 11,000 to 13,000. These are
wild fluctuations for what is usually a more sedate market. This constitutes
the first exchange panic that I have witnessed here.
At 7 PM in Lenin Park I met Costias and Yevgeny. They are as interested
in improving their English as I am improving my Russian but their English
is only moderately better than my Russian. We exchanged greetings and
went to Maksim's where they drank fruit juice, I drank beer and we talked
and talked, trying to communicate. It was slow and it was hard but we
were all interested enough to pay the price.
After an hour of struggle we went to the Neutrality Arch and up to the
first level. We tried to go to the top for the view. "Ne rabota,"
the guard advised. The elevator to the tower was either not working or
was turned off. Hmm. We looked at the view through the windows.
After a while we went back down and they asked me when I was free again.
I said Thursday and we agreed to meet again and go to photograph the Suleyman
Demirel Mosque at night.
--Wednesday, 03 February 99-- $1 = 14,000 manat at night on my way to
Today I received an invitation in an envelope from the Pakistani Embassy
here with an invitation in Russian to a "Kashmir Solidarity Day"
reception, tomorrow at the Florida Restaurant. The invitation consisted
of one-fourth of a piece of photocopy paper with typed text and a line
where my name was hand-written in.
The invitation asked for an RSVP so we had the staff call and they were
told that our names had been put on a list but that it would be better
if we sent a driver over for the (engraved?) invitations.
We sent the driver over and he came back with more strips of photocopy
paper with our names hand written on them but this time in English. He
also brought the information that although the Florida was still written
on the "invitation" it may not be at the Florida at all and
we should call tomorrow to find out where it would be.
It is a statement about the excitement of life in this town that I would
even consider attending a "Kashmir Solidarity Day" reception.
--Thursday, 04 February 99-- $1 = 15,000 manat
My nose was running during the night and this morning I have a cough like
Ed's. I think my cold is a somewhat worse.
An expat told me that the Grand Turkmen Hotel had agreed to provide a
room for the International Women's Club which was holding an event to
raise money for orphans. Everyone showed up, orphans included, and the
management suddenly announced that it was getting near the President's
birthday and someone might want the room to host a party for Turkmenbashy.
So the women and the orphans had to be rescued by the British Embassy
which let them use a function room. This is a strange place.
Earlier I heard that the President had decided that top government officials
were driving old cars, so he ordered 100 new Mercedes. Who knows if this
is true? It is in line with his pronouncement that there were too many
dirty cars on the streets. I have heard of people who were stopped by
traffic police and reprimanded for having dirty cars since the President's
The cloudy dawn had turned to light sprinkles and this afternoon to rain.
I had no stomach for a possibly non-alcoholic (it is the "Islamic
Republic of Pakistan", you know) reception and even less for walking
around in the rain so I went home while Ed wanted to go to the reception.
I turned on the space heater full blast; time for nesting.
The next day, Ed told me that the Pakistani reception was indeed as dry
as the Karakum desert and nearly as dull.
--Saturday, 06 February 99--
I awoke to a cheerless gray light. Looking out the window I could see
that the it had begun to rain again. Not a heavy rain but a feckless,
misty one. Just enough to wet everything and turn a cool temperature into
a chilly one.
Out of habit I decided to walk to the Russian Market and buy something.
I didn't actually need anything but one can always find something to buy,
so off I went. Half way there I began to wonder what I was doing out in
such crummy weather. I finally turned around and came home. I bought some
Fanta, OJ and beer at Lezzet's on the way home.
My cold is in my chest and nasal passages. Last night a local advised
me to take vodka and hot pepper for it. Well, as a remedy, it is at least
more attractive than many I have been offered.
--Sunday, 07 February 99--
It was sunny and warm when I got up. Clearly it was going to be an outstanding
I walked over to Lenin Park then South to the Neutrality Arch plaza. I
went to the top of the Arch but the light wasn't as good as I hoped. Walked
South to the park that is on the other side of the Mejlis building. It
has a statue to someone titled "Sahatmooradov ha Mooradav."
I asked about who he was. Though he has a park named after him, only older,
longer-term residents had any recollection at all. He appears to be (recollections
were vague) another local hero from Soviet times. His monument is decaying
even now and is in the path of planned future government projects. Will
he vanish into history like the graves in the shadow of the Neutrality
I walked to the Exclusive and had breakfast for lunch and then walked
home and then went to the Iceberg Cafe to get some cheap beer. It is not
as cheap as it used to be because they raised the price from 11,500 to
15,000 for 1.5 liters (up 30%) and so inflation soaks into the economy.
--Monday, 08 February 99-- $1 = 14,000 manat
I heard that as an in-kind payment for some debt, Ukraine built a sugar
beet refining plant in Marie. The only problem is that there are no sugar
beets anywhere in Turkmenistan. And on it goes.
At Russian class tonight they announced that next Monday is the last class.
Thank God. My energy for this is running out for now.
Finally got my home connection to the Internet working again. How did
I survive these two weeks?