The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 55

--Sunday, 12 September 99--
Today there was an office staff picnic in Chulee, a forested spot in the foothills of the Kopetdag mountains about half an hours ride from the city. We meet at the main office at 8:30 and crowded into a VW-van-type vehicle and off we went.

When we arrived, the gate was locked and we couldn't locate anyone with the key. So abandoning the vehicle we walked the short distance to the camp site. We put the beer in the creek to cool off and Vitally and others prepared chicken and pork hash. The best fun of the day was talking to Ake of the WTO who is a navel war ship maven, especially about World War II. He was very knowledgeable and added to the conversation a lot.

I suggested to Ed that he personally publish all his government finance writing on the Internet. I described how it could be done quite simply (main page with links to book/article index pages with links to content). He said he was a convert and would do it.

--Monday, 13 September 99--
Ed went off to the National Economics Institute to lecture for over an hour. I should have gone but I didn't think of it early enough to suggest it.

Had lunch with Ed at the Exclusive. I had a lamb kabob that I didn't quite like and Ed had lentil soup and scrambled eggs. As he ate it he said, "Look at this, it's way too much," and continued to eat with evident enjoyment.

Tanya and Roustam told me that while I was back in the States, two money changers who were well known to regular users were lured to distant locations with a lot of money with them and murdered. The perils of business.

Geldey came by at 7 PM and brought with him his best friend (who I had met at the Iceberg and who I thought had invited me to his house) whose name I can neither understand nor pronounce. It seemed to me that he was showing off my place. His friend went into the bathroom and examined all my shampoo, lotions, etc. He seemed impressed. Perhaps this happened because my apartment complex has a reputation of Turkmen-style luxuriousness.

I fed them bread and cheese and they really liked the cheddar. I tasted it myself and realized that Ed was right when he called it outstanding.

Geldey asked me how old I was and I wrote down 45. He put his forefinger up, waved it back and forth in my face and said slowly, "Neeyet, Neeyet." I held my ground (I've gotten away with this before) and asked him how old he was. He wrote 32 which is about what I thought.

He asked me when I was going back to the States and I said, "November." I think he asked me to take him with me and I nodded "Yes," and mimed a satchel bag in front of me and told him to get in it. I latched it on the top and then stood up and jauntily walked away with it. Smiles all around but Geldey repeated the request several times. My reply was always the same.

Turkmenistan is the graveyard of motorcycle sidecars. You see them tooling around everyone. What is so rare back home is commonplace here. I wonder why?

--Tuesday, 14 September 99--
Had lunch at the Central Restaurant on Turkmenbashy street. It is neat, clean, nice looking, and run by Chuck Cakici who, not surprisingly, I ran into there. We had a pleasant conversation and he helped me get the kind of hamburger that I wanted.

Above, a view of the Russian Market. You can see the grand concrete columns rising to support the elaborate "fan vaulted" squares that constitute the cover for the open market.

Later, at the Russian Market, I bought the rest of the log of that Red Cow cheddar for fear that it would disappear before I could stock up. Fortunately three logs remain so we shouldn't be without a good cheddar for a while. I found out that it is made in Australia. Anchor, my favorite butter is produced in New Zealand. My mind boggles at the thought that somehow it is profitable to ship these perishables the great distances from there to here and sell them at a reasonable price (to a foreigner).

At night I called Serdar, who had spent a year in a U.S. high school, and we chatted on the phone. I asked me what I was doing and I said I would probably go for a walk. He volunteered to accompany me and I agreed. While waiting for him, the bell rang and it was Geldey. It was my fault, when we had parted, he had said Tuesday in Russian but I had confused it with Thursday. I told him that I was meeting a friend and he left in a philosophic mood.

Serdar and I met at the cafe across the street. He looked different from how I remembered him but I couldn't quite place it. When I asked him, he said that he had shaved his head for the summer. We walked past the War Memorial, down to the Neutrality Arch, under it to see the shops, then over to the Iceberg Cafe. The latter was completely dark except for the light from the shashlik fire. They had no electricity so they could not clean glasses and dishes and thus had to close.

The night was so mild that I wanted to sit outside, so we walked back to the park that crosses Magtymguly at Novoi and sat down to have a beer and a coke respectively. During all of this Serdar talked of his plans to run his own business, be it miniature golf, a disco or other plans. But even he admits that he lacks the necessary capital. I suggested that he needs to work running someone else's business to get practical experience. He didn't really agree with my recommendation. His drive to own and run his own business is very strong.

While we walked, he said that he appreciated the chance to practice his English and that maintaining fluency is important to him. From the way he said all this, it was clear to me that he lives in fear of losing it.

As we sat sipping our drinks, who should walk by but Verdi, someone else I knew from my prior trip. He looked at me and stopped. I shook his hand and we chatted. I explained to Serdar that I had met Verdi on my last trip. We invited Verdi to have a seat and he did and we chatted for a while and then exchanged phone numbers. Eventually he walked on to wherever he was going.

Serdar and I came back to my place and I loaned him some CDs and "Analyze This" on DVD. He said he would get back to me and went home. Friends do make for a pleasant evening.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley