The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 47

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 tomorrow].

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 Russian class.

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 announcement.

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 day.

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 Arch?

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?

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley