The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 48

The "second" Russian Orthodox church in Ashgabat. The building is here seen from the cemetery surrounding the church; the small onion domes rise from each end of the building.

-Tuesday, 09 February 99-- $1 = 13,500 manat
The weather today is unbelievable. It must be 75F or more. The are small puffy clouds in the sky and the sun pours down its warmth. You could get a sun burn if you took your clothes off and lay down outside -- as the day beckons to you to do.

--Thursday, 11 February 99--
An expat told me of his experience at Tolkushka last Sunday. He was showing around the foreigners who were invited to participate in a presentation when suddenly uniformed and plain clothes police showed up and demanded that the foreigners come with them to the police station at Tolkushka and present their papers. They refused and the police started pulling them fiercely by the arms, attempting to drag them there. When they could not physically do it, they left and returned with their superiors who talked to and then told the police to leave the foreigners alone. Later on while still shopping they were accosted by more police officers who made the same demand. This time someone from the Embassy showed up and calmed things down by showing his diplomatic papers.

Later I spoke to another expat who told me that he had had a somewhat similar experience at Tolkushka the same day. In this instance papers were demanded and were shown. The police even accepted business cards. They told everyone that in the future they should carry their passports with them.

--Friday, 12 February 99-- $1 = 14,500 manat
Ed and I sent out the invitations to our party today.

I called the Embassy's Consular section to invite someone to the party and took the opportunity to tell him about the Tolkushka affair. He said he would look into it but was explicit with me that Americans should NOT carry their passports with them, just a photocopy. In this country nothing is real until it has a colored stamp on it (I have seen internal Ministry documents with as many as seven on them), so I asked my friend if he could provide some sort of colored stamp on my photocopy and he assured me he could and would if I came by the Embassy between 2 and 4 PM on Wednesday. I will.

Another Russian class tonight, and I have decided it is my last -- at least for a while. I have been faithfully attending these classes for three months, three times a week, an hour and a half a session. It has been interesting, frustrating, informative, and useful but my mind's eye is turned toward home. Like Anteus I need to plant my feet on native soil. I need to eat real American food, bacon cheeseburgers, thin crust Pepperoni pizza (I haven't been to Regina's Pizzeria since before I went to Romania), and ice cream (to name but the first things that spring to my mind).

--Saturday, 13 February 99--
A beautiful sunny day with no clouds whatever. The beaming sun soon got the upper hand on the slightly cool air.

On the way back I went through the Russian Market to pick up some of the tea that I use at the office. I found the Cherry tea that is imported from Holland and was surprised to find that it had increased in cost by 90%! From 10,000 manat to 19,000 manat.

The Signs of Homesickness
Being irritated at the little things that never bothered you before. An example is the stove in my apartment. When I first arrived I thought it was great that the gas burner actually turned on and that with a match I could light it. Now all I notice is that the frying pan tends to slide along the odd iron grill that separates the pan from the flame. What was cool a fee month ago ("It works!") is now an irritant ("I doesn't work right!").

--Sunday, 14 February 99-- $1 = 14,500 manat
To Tolkuchka or not? Not. I am tired of the place. I want to go home.

I went for a walk this morning over the railroad tracks and then along them on the North side. As I neared the train station I headed into the North side of the city. Eventually I found the cemetery I had visited last October, the one that contains Ashgabat's second Russian Orthodox Church. I walked in the gate, past the plaque with the fateful date of 6-X-1948, the date when a earthquake of Richter scale 10 hit the city and killed 140,000 people. A short walk up the road was the Church. It is set in a small compound of five or six building. It is long and low and has modest gilt onion domes at each end. I went inside the church and found a service underway. The priests were behind a screen praying loudly and in the room the audience responded in a musical chant. The air was filled with incense.

I left the church and walked across the cemetery and then along a confusing collection of streets that eventually led me to the elevated pedestrian overpass the crosses the railroad tracks at the train station. Two more blocks to Magtymguly and then the walk home.

Later, I went out for my second walk of the day and headed toward the Botanical Garden by way of the Zoo. The latter was a pretty sad affair with small dilapidated cages and animals that frequently radiated unhappiness. A large and impressive bear walked listlessly backward and forward in his cage. A mangy lion lolled in his cage, apparently exhausted from the effort to stay alive.

The Botanical Garden was less depressing partly because it consisted of plants that don't normally object to being kept in a small space and because it was closed. I couldn't tell if it was closed for the Winter season or for Sunday. It mattered not, on I walked.

Two and a half hours later I arrived back at my apartment. Surprisingly, nothing had changed.

--Monday, 15 February 99-- $1 = 14,300 manat
I have heard of more hassling of foreigners at Tolkushka. I am glad that I took the hint and stayed away yesterday.

To my surprise I got a letter at the office from Vadim (Tim) Galan who used to work in the Univermag and taught me my first Russian word, maslo = butter, and who had moved to Kiev in Ukraine. He has successfully moved to Kiev and while the weather was nice when he got there everything is currently sinking beneath a white blanket.

He went on to say: "Oh, yeah, I'm settling in. I need to get Ukrainian passport and stamp in it. First people say you need to get a passport where to put the stamp. But second people say no, first you need to get a stamp but then to get a passport. It's crazy." It would appear that the former bureaucrats of the Soviet Union have found a warm home in Ukraine.

Tonight is the last night of my Russian lessons so I decided that, having been a faithful attendee for 35 lessons, I was going to play hooky this time. I was delightful to have the extra time to myself.

--Tuesday, 16 February 99-- $1 = 14,500 manat
I set my clock to get up early so that I could catch that bitch Linda Tripp on Larry King. I felt normal for the first time in weeks. I was disappointed to discover that they must lag the LK shows here because the show was a Madonna rerun. Now I have to consider whether I will get up early tomorrow. Life is tough.

We went to the American Center for Ed to get some reading material and we went to the Univermag. I dropped off Vadim's letter to his friends in the shop and we looked for instant coffee for Ed. We did find Nescafe Gold at the Moscow Transit but they wanted 320,000 manat for a fair sized bottle. Ed found a "Columbia" brand for only 40,000 and went for that. I found some Ferndale Cheddar for only 75,000 a kilo so I bought a kilo for the party. Yum, yum.

The staff have been searching since last week for paper or plastic plates for the party and simply cannot find them. They were told that they could get them in two weeks but I was not able to delay the party and my departure that long. I guess we will have no cakes or crumbly foods of any kind.

The Ashgabat train station seen from the north. One of the few remaining Soviet stars is visible here.
The rail yards north of the Ashgabat train station on a cloudy day.

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© 1998-99 Joe Kelley