The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 51

--Tuesday, 31 August 99--
"I would like you in Ashgabat as soon as possible after July 19th," Ed had said and since Ed already had approval for my return to Turkmenistan, I thought I would be on my way quickly.

But in government approvals require approvals that can cascade up the chain of command. When the waves of heavy decision-making had run up one shore of the governmental ocean and down the other enough times for everyone to be bored by it, my return was documented with an invitation letter.

So, six weeks after the time i had planned on going, I finally received my tickets and prepared to fly to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. With this much warning I had been piling up things I needed to take for a long time. There would be no repetition of almost leaving my black over-the-calf business socks at home. This time I was fully prepared for travel and business.

Preparing for being in a foreign country takes a lot of careful planning. Two days before my departure I made it a point to go to McDonald's for breakfast. It would be my last chance to get a sausage biscuit with cheese and an extra hash brown. I expected the trip to Ashgabat to be strenuous and I wanted to be prepared.

Yesterday I made it a point to go to the North End Cafe and have eggs over easy, well done hash browns, bacon, and burnt, buttered, white toast. It would be a while before I would be able to dip butter-soaked burnt toast in runny egg yolks. Another craving under control -- for a while.

Today's preparation for the flight from Chicago to Ashgabat via Frankfurt consisted in eating three times before I even left for the airport. I figured that this would make me "food independent" at least until Frankfurt: I would be able to reject the worst excesses of airline "food" that would likely cross my tray table.

This is more important than it may seem. If you are hungry when a cabin attendant plops some seething vegetarian monstrosity on your tray, your higher faculties may be vanquished by your stomach aches and you might consume something you would have consigned to the slop bucket in a less desperate moment. Traveling can be hazardous to your health. Be prepared.

I packed my bags using the same principle I have used for my last two trips: I set aside clothing that was old or that I didn't like or that didn't quite fit and chose it for the trip with the plan of leaving it there (it is amazing how little clothing Peace Corps volunteers bring with them) and returning with light bags.

I left for O'Hare at 5 PM which left plenty of time for a traffic jam on the Kennedy, so, of course, there was hardly any traffic on the road. Check in went smoothly and I waited at the gate for 1:45 minutes for the flight to board. When the plane left the gate, it toured O'Hare for 20 minutes looking for a place to take off which it eventually succeeded in doing.

The flight to Frankfurt was 8 hours and 45 minutes which put me on the ground at 12:30 PM local time or 5:30 AM my body (Chicago) time. I ate only the desert on the dinner tray and medicated myself with several Becks. I tried to sleep but I continually awoke from muscle pains, moved part of my body and then fell back into a fitful unconsciousness. By 3 AM my joints wouldn't stand it anymore and went on a coordinated attack so I got up, abandoned all hope of rest, and washed my face. Clear, bright daylight seeped into the cabin through the mostly closed window shades. Now my body thought it was 1 AM but by eyes saw a different -- a widely different -- time. And my body just wanted to be left alone. This is what jet travel does to you: it pits your time sensing systems against each other and prevents your body from resting. The greater the distance you travel, the greater the time conflict and the greater the aching need for rest in a bed where you can stretch your limbs all at once to their limits.

Your body is confused about time but sure about tiredness. As your internal clock reaches your normal rising time, your body systems start pumping out a "rise and shine" chemistry but the light tells your eyes that it is early afternoon. In this physical confusion and fatigue I stumbled through the Frankfurt Airport.

To the extent that I could focus on it, the International Terminal at Frankfurt reminds me distinctly of a factory. The physical design barely hides the conduits, pipes and wires in the ceiling, the color design seems to be based on black, gray and a sullied white. It all has a utilitarian and vaguely grim character.

While there I decided to have some Rotberg Hefelweizen (translation: German beer) which turned out to be murky and unfiltered. I decided I had had enough when my lips sensed a long hair on the brim of my glass. I may have been in Germany but it was still an airport.

Above, the view of my second sunset of the day from the Frankfurt International Airport terminal.

My connecting flight on Lufthansa left on time and we landed in Baku at 11:30 AM my body time. Locally it was 9:30 PM: I had experienced my second sunset since departure. Most passengers left the plane, leaving only about 30 of us for the final leg to Ashgabat. My body was tired, my eyes were tired, my mind was tired -- and I was bored or perhaps my mind was just dazed. At least "American Sphinx" was a good book. I dozed while reading or at least trying to read. The disconcerting fact is that you can be obliged to sleep without getting any benefit out of it.

--Wednesday, 1 September 99-- $1 = 14,700 manat

The plane landed in Ashgabat a few minutes before midnight and I was met by Ed, Tanya, Roustam and Volodya. I was nice to see friendly faces. While under dozed and over dazed, I still had time and energy enough to notice that the CIP (Commercially Important Person) lounge no longer carried Grand Marnier. I had tried to buy a bottle on my last trip but they didn't like the age of my twenty dollar bills and rejected my purchase offer. Now with crisp hundreds, there was nothing I cared to buy. International consulting is tough work, filled with self-denial.

After nominal delays we were on our way to the city and to my apartment in time for intense, dream-filled but fitful sleep. The rest that I got that night consisted of brief but fierce dreams that terminated suddenly, probably because my body thought it was the afternoon, not the middle of the night. I have noticed that my body takes a puritanical view of any deviance from the norm. It seems to want to get even with me. Given this harassment it was easy to be up early though I knew I would pay for it later in the day. Another adventure had begun.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley