The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 52

---Friday, 3 September 99--
I did some shopping today for the essentials I didn't manage to pick up last night: salt, matches for the gas stove, bread and Efes beer.

Yesterday was my first full night in country; my sleep was deep but fitful. I slept intensely for short periods (45 minutes to an hour) and awoke with a start. The pattern repeated until I got up at 7 AM.

My first day at work consisted of meetings with Ed, introductions and re-introductions to staff at the ministry. Everything and everyone was cordial and pleasant. It was like coming home. And I felt almost no jet lag.

My new apartment is smaller than my last apartment but still adequate in size and amenities. It even features 24 hour water. Apparently the area used to be the place to live for high party officials. The apartment is filled with Turkish imitations of Turkmen carpets. Most people here can't afford an original.

Last night I went to see if ARCA had a Russian class running (it didn't) and to locate a nearby reliable source of Efes beer (I didn't). On the latter point, more expeditions are called for. While I didn't get to sign up for another Russian course, they did persuade me to speak for an hour to an English class next week. What will I say?

I stayed up 'til 11 PM trying to get my body in tune with the local times. I did slept better, at least more continuously, than the night before.

Today, I felt the jet lag that I didn't feel yesterday, that blah feeling that affects your whole body. It became hard to focus mentally, even to stay awake.

Roustam gave me the information on Internet access and I succeeded in getting my email sent with only the usual problems of busy signals and lost connections. In comparison with my first trip, this is communication heaven.

--Saturday, 4 September 99--
Met Ed at the Russian Market for a shop around. He got some fruit and I looked for some Ferndale (Russian) cheddar. Ed did OK but I didn't find any cheddar.

I walked over to the Neutrality Arch then over to the Palace of Congresses (now finished on the exterior) and then down to the park that used to celebrate a Turkmen Communist leader (even the pedestal is gone now) then over and around to MEF.

Above, the view from the Neutrality Arch looking south. The National Library is in the lower right hand corner. Above it the new tribune is under construction. Across Novoe(?) Street a new building is under construction. Across the street from it you can see the domes of the Hall of Congresses where the Mejlis will meet.

I was struck in all of this walking by the increase in the construction of white marble government buildings and the demolition of older structures in the way of the government center expansion. The expensively constructed tribune in front of the Presidential Palace has been demolished and a bigger tribune facing the Presidential Palace is under construction on the grounds of several apartment buildings that were demolished behind the national library (a huge, gray concrete square edifice draped in white marble).

This afternoon my stomach produced an ominous burbling sound. I have heard that sound before and it never suggested anything good.

--Sunday, 5 September 99--
Up periodically during the night and up for certain at 8:30 AM. Read "American Sphinx" for an hour or so and then decided to take a walk. On my walk I noticed the imposing Sulieman Demeril Mosque and walked over to it. To my surprise it was open and I walked in to the "atrium" part and would have gone into the mosque itself but the custodian mimed that my bermuda shorts were not appropriate. So I went back to my apartment, put on long pants and came back with a camera.

Above, a view of the Sulieman Demeril Mosque domes from inside the open courtyard. The mosque is modeled after the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

Photography is allowed outside the mosque proper but not inside. I took some pictures and then went in for a view of the mosque. The floor was completely covered with a seemingly single expanse of carpet that was composed of rectangles the approximate shape of prayer rugs. The mosque is big but not huge. Still, it had a capacity of several thousand. Stained glass windows, arabesques, quotes from the Koran in Arabic script, beautiful blue tiles, an atrium on the front designed to provide some shade regardless of time of day or year, charming fountains with tinkling water, soaring minarets that seems too big for the building.

I walked over to the Iceberg Cafe and had a delightful lula kabob and several beers. I finished reading "American Sphinx" and enjoyed it to the end. Back home and to bed early.

--Monday, 6 September 99 (US Labor Day)-- $1 = 14,600 manat
The weather was mild today and being out-of-doors was very pleasant. I was almost glad that I had to go outside to get to Ed's office from where I now have my office. My stomach stopped burbling and I felt fine.

Today, Labor Day, was the first day that BAH gave as a paid holiday to the local staff (but not to me or Ed).

Ed and I went to lunch at Hazar. They had a pepperoni pizza on the menu and I ordered it. It had enough peppers to be just barely spicy but lacked the "oni" entirely. I wasn't surprised.

It seemed a slow day that I found hard to focus on my work but I did get started and will concentrate better tomorrow.

The door bell rang, the phone rang. I ignored it all.

--Wednesday, 8 September 99-- $1 = 14,700 manat
I finished a first draft of the capital budget pages, showed them to Ed and will have them re-translated tomorrow.

The phone rang tonight and I answered it. There was silence. I said, "Hello?" several times but all I could hear was the sound of a short exhale and then a disconnection. This happened three times. I resolved not to answer it but it didn't ring again. The door bell did however. It was Geldey and I was glad to see him. He told me that he had spent the day picking cotton and that his back hurt. We had a beer and relaxed. It was very pleasant.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley