The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 50

The back of the now disappeared statue to "Sahatmooradov" who lived from 1898 to 1938 and in that brief period managed to do enough to rate a monument in a park. Who is he? What did he do? I was unable to find out.
Above, another view of the "Sahatmooradov" statue showing a strong profile and the solid placement of the hands.

--Saturday, 20 February 99-- $1 = 15,000 manat
Tonight is Ed's and my party. This morning I was up at 8:30 and after doing the usual, I had a strong urge to take a walk. It was clear that the day would be very warm, possibly even hot. The high would be in the seventies and maybe the eighties. Amazing. Even the locals say that there has been no winter this year. I take all the credit.

I walked south on the street that edges my apartment. In a few blocks I came to the Teke Market. I didn't need anything but a stroll through a market is always an interesting experience. The are the sounds of the meat men hacking a carcass into saleable chucks and the inevitable sellers of blaring music; there are the sights of the blood stained pig's feet heaped on the counters, the bright varieties of colorful vegetables (orange carrots, yellow apples, deep red pomegranates, green scallions, hazy brown onions) and the flower sellers; and of course the smells of raw vegetables, meat, and spices, sundry in variety and unknown to me in name.

I continued walking south and came to the park behind the new Mejlis building, the one that had the statue of the forgotten leader. I noticed that he was even more forgotten than he was last week: his statue had been removed and the decaying marble platform had been hacked to ruins. The stone veneer of a memorial to someone who lived from 1898 to 1938 lay in piles at the base of the monument. The statue itself now was in the dust bin of history. And so things go here.

I continued walking south and discovered a large area of devastation in the middle of the large block behind the now statueless park. For hectares all around me the buildings had been razed but the land not leveled. I guess they will put more government monuments here.

Walking on I reached Turkmenbashy Street and headed north to the War Memorial and then through Ataturk Park with its relatively modest statue of the great Turkish leader to Lenin Park and then the Russian Market. In the midst of the smells, sounds and sights of this, the most interesting market in the city, I spied out some Nescafe Gold for only 85,000 manat (it used to be 35,000). I grabbed it since I knew Ed will want it.

I walked on home and arrived just two hours after I left. Altogether an invigorating walk.

The apartment was so warm I had to open the windows to let some air in. Just as I was doing this there was an insistent tweeting of my door bell. I looked through the peephole and saw an elderly woman. I usually don't open the door for people that I don't know but something made me do it this time. She said something in Russian and all I could get out of it was "tarielki" so I decided that she wanted to borrow a dish, so I said "Da" and went to the kitchen to get a dish and tried to hand it to her. Her next speech in Russian indicated that she didn't want a dish but that she had a bunch downstairs. I finally remembered that we had rented dishes for the party so I went with here and, sure enough, she had 75 ceramic dishes on her steps. She is my neighbor and had taken delivery on my behalf. I thanked her and lugged the stuff upstairs.

Later a guy came by and we managed to agree that he would come by at noon tomorrow to pick them up. And I don't have to wash them either.

Eleonora arrived promptly at 4 PM and later Jamal and then bringing up the rear, Tania. They chopped, sliced, and arranged on platters. I concentrated on the really hard work: chilling the champagne when the fridge is filled with three cases of beer.

People were arriving even before 7 PM and they came steadily. I knew almost everyone and it was fun to see them again. I kept circulating, encouraging people to eat and drink, chatting with everyone. They knew that I took Russian lessons and one asked me when I would take Turkmen lessons. I said that I looked forward to the opportunity since it would be the first time that I had studied a non-Indo-European language. That seemed to go over OK.

A number of people were taking pictures to commemorate the event. I posed many more times than I usually do but one has to be nice with one's guests however picture crazed they are.

The dancing was slow to get started but about 9 PM someone turned off the lights in the dance room and changed the music to George Michael. Suddenly there was a bunch of tight couples taking advantage of the ambience.

I tried to talk to everyone (I figure that fifty guests actually came) but that means that I didn't talk much to the people that I liked the best. There is a price to being a host.

For a special appetizer I cooked up a kilo of Ringa, the great Hungarian bacon you can get here, and walked around with it mounded on a platter. People would say, "No," but I would say, "Oh, go ahead, it's bad for you." They all surrendered then. I got to circulate only twice and it was all gone.

By 11:30 PM nearly everyone was gone, just a small group of guys remained. When they decided to go they all got up and moved all the crap from all the rooms into the kitchen. That certainly helped.

All in all it was a fun time; I am glad Ed and I did it.

--Sunday, 21 February 99-- $1 = 15,500 manat
I was up at 8:30 and feeling pretty chipper. That was until I looked at the sink! Plates and glasses, platters and bottles piled everywhere. My work was cut out for me. Thank heaven the water was on.

I filled up all the empty bags with the trash, emptied the half-filled glasses, threw all the used plastic glasses away, washed the platters and plates (but not the rented ones -- dirty return is part of the contract).

The dish rental man didn't come at noon so by 1 PM I decided to go for a walk. I was an odd day, the weather was conflicted: the sky was bright blue but peppered with angry gray clouds and the air was very crisp and gustily windy. If you stood in the sun with no breeze, you were immediately hot. If you stood in the shadow, you were immediately chilly. Walking around in the play of sun and cloud, stillness and breeze, you were alternately hot and cold and sometimes both at the same time as a cold breeze chilled your front while a hot sun cooked your back. Schizophrenic weather, not suitable for much walking.

I did manage to have a late lunch outdoors at the Iceberg Cafe. For the last time I had their wonderful lule (lulah) kabob, that delectable mixture of ground lamb, onions and seasoning. Yum. Yum.

Above, the sun rises on Frankfurt Airport, one of the busiest in the world.

--Wednesday, 24 February 99 to Saturday, 27 February 99--
The rest of the week was a rush of last minute purchases, "do it now or forget about it" visits to friends and favorite restaurants. I had yet another dinner in a Turkmen household but they very kindly served it at a table so I got to sit Western-style in a chair rather than lounging on a rug. The food was good and voluminous. It included monti (lamb ravioli), plov, dolma (stuffed grape leaves), and a cabbage leaf wrapped thingie. Shades of food that I first thought were Greek cuisine but which I now realize is Turkic in origin.

Friday, they had a little cake and champagne going away office party for me. It was sweet and the cake was good but just enough to displace lunch but not enough to displace dinner so when I got home, I went out to the Iceberg Cafe for some shashlick. I ran into a bunch of Peace Corps people there and joined them. I was anxious to get rid of my local currency so I bought pitchers of beer for everyone and we had a good time.

I left for Chicago at 3:10 AM, an obscenely early hour. The staff actually came to see me off at the airport. A charming gesture but also a testament to how little there is to do in this country.

I got a lot of sleep on the nearly empty flight to Frankfurt which was essential since the 777 to O'Hare was filled to the gills and no rest was to be had. The nine hour flight to Chicago was tolerable, even if just barely so.

By 1 PM I was in my apartment. By 1:30, I was ordering a plain double cheese with small fries at McDonalds. It is great to be home where you can get real food.


A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley