Above, Turkmenbashi contemplates
the bust of Turkmenbashi.
--Wednesday, 17 February 99--
When plastic or paper plates simply could not be found, Eleonara suggested
that we should rent glass plates at 1,000 manats each for the party. The
staff found the company and it looks like a go.
Went to the Embassy to get a notarized photocopy of my passport between
2 and 4 PM. I asked about the police at Tolkushka) and was told that intensification
of inspections were periodic [read, "Not to worry!"] so there
was nothing to be done about it. He went on to say that he "could
never advise someone to refuse to obey a police officers instructions
to go to a station." He seemed to make a point about not advising
one to go with them either. What to do?
At three I went with Volusia to have my latest Teke carpet certified.
Once more I stood in line and paid my fee for the slightest examination
of the carpet. I would complain but it is the most efficient part of the
whole ridiculous carpet export system. The office is a bizarre environment.
Two bare bulbs are suspended at the end of cords hanging from the ceiling,
the only other light being from the one barred window. The fee of 31,500
per sq. meter is posted on the wall. The fire alarm system is on the other
wall. You wait patiently and receive disinterested service. And of course,
you pay the fee.
Several expats have been planning a trip to Bukhara for this week end.
Then some extremists exploded a small number (five to seven, no one seems
sure) of bombs in Tashkent in an effort to kill the President of Uzbekistan.
It might ruin their whole weekend.
I went to a "going away" party at the Nisa Truva tonight with
my ARCA Rusian trainers. I got Grant to set up Larry for a small joke.
Since Larry was frequently late for class (there was a sign on the wall
telling everyone not to be late), Grant would frequently announce, as
Larry arrived, "Larry apasdiviet" = "Larry late".
So, I got Grant to ask Larry what his last name was. Larry said, "Hoffreiter."
And I said, loudly, "Hoffreiter? I thought your last name was Apasdiviet!"
It got a good laugh.
Larry told us how strange he found trying to do things here. He said that
he went to the bank to get money on the first working day of the New Year
and everyone was there. He tried to get some money but they told him that
the first working day of the New Year was a holiday so he would have to
come back the next day to get his money. Go figure.
--Thursday, 18 February 99--
Ed and I are invited to an office lunch at 1 PM. We are celebrating the
President's birthday tomorrow and Flag Day as well. I later found out
that it is also Police Day.
It is a tradition here to have celebratory parties at lunch time, the
day before a holiday. We were invited to the budget office and had a delightful
meal with many toasts -- twenty toasts to be exact. Everyone there was
asked to make a toast and everyone did. About the only option you have
is when you make your toast so I made mine early.
I said, "I arrived in late September and I leave in late February.
In the five months I have been here I have been treated to Turkmen food,
Turkmen hospitality, Turkmen kindness and Turkmen curiosity. I have traveled
in many countries and many people have been kind to me but I can state
flatly that no where -- not even in Ireland -- have I been as well treated
as I have been here in Turkmenistan. So I raise a glass of wine to you
individually and to the Turkmen people as I wish you health, long life
and as much happiness as you can stand."
Ashgabat seems to be the land of the motorcycle sidecar. There is an astonishing
number of them here. When you consider the relatively small population
(about 500,000), the ratio of sidecars to the population is huge. I have
never had a ride in a sidecar and probably would enjoy one.
--Friday, 19 February 99-- $1 = 14,500 manat
The Cult of Personality: A Reprise
Even after five months in Turkmenistan I still find the cult of personality
hard to swallow. Some Westerners point out that the Turkmen people have
not had a state for over 800 years and that, in this sense, the cult is
devoted to nation building. I think there is something here but how much?
A while back, I received a newsletter for an American group that works
here. Among many other tidbits it reports:
"CELESTIAL PRESIDENT: This summer a meteorite landed in northern
Turkmenistan near the Uzbek border. Turkmen astrophysicists have petitioned
to name the object for Turkmenistan's President Niyazov, otherwise affectionately
known as Turkmenbashi. The request to name the object for a head of state
is thought to be a first in the international scientific community, although
some believe that celestial bodies were named after pharaohs in ancient
I asked various people when the Turkmenbashi cult started and I was told
that it was shortly after independence. Pictures sprouted everywhere on
government buildings and businesses, which is to say, EVERYWHERE since
the private sector here is small. A Russian news reporter interviewed
Turkmenbashi at the time and asked if he wasn't embarrassed to have his
picture everywhere. He said, "Why should I object if the people want
The November 9, 1998 issue of The Central Asian Post ran an article titled
"Perpetual President is named in Turkmenistan." The lead paragraph
stated "A day or two ago, Turkmenistan pompously celebrated its 7th
anniversary of independence. The government's high tribunal named head
of state Saparmurat Niyazov, 'Perpetual President'."
The article reported that "In 1990 he was elected President by 98.3%
of the votes. In connection with the adoption of the new Constitution
in June of 1992, the election was repeated and 99.5% voted in his favor.
In January of 1994, the National Referendum prolonged his administration
up to the year 2002. A total of 99.9% of electors supported this suggestion.
All these elections were conducted without any alternative."
The article reported that at the same time Turkmenbashi was awarded the
Hero Medal, the country's highest honor, which he had received only twice
before. Doubtlessly because of his modesty.
It was in the paper today that the recently redesigned 10,000 manat note
has be re-redesigned to add three medals to the chest of Turkmenbashi.
And on it goes.
Last Minute Invites
I had Delara call Asat during the day and invite him and his friend Maxat
to Ed's and my party. He wasn't there but she left a message. Tonight
Asat called me and we had a warm reunion. He came over and we talked and
talked. We reviewed the words that I had taught him and he accurately
remembered most of them without any hints. I told him that I had studied
a little Russian and he help me with some more Russian words. It was very
pleasant to see him again. He is definitely one of the sweetest people
I have ever met in my life. He has a natural friendliness and charm that
transcends social and cultural barriers. I think that psychologically,
he sees a father in me. He very much misses his father.