The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 56

--Thursday, 16 September 99--
For the third time since I arrived, the water is off in my apartment. I live in a complex called the Pentagon -- from the number of military officers who used to live here -- and we are supposed to have 24 hour water. But we don't. What we have is a water regime with an unpredictable schedule. It is mostly on but you cannot count on it.

I had received an email from an avid reader of the web version of the Ashgabat Gazette who told me that she had spent two entire evening reading it because her husband, Terry Reedy, was leading a People to People delegation to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and they were very interested in local living here. She told me that they would be in the Nissa Hotel and encouraged me to visit. I tried but they had no record of Terry or the group at the Nissa so I called Murl about the People to People people and he told me that they were due in his office in 20 minutes and he had not prepared his discussion points for them. I asked him to give my phone number to Terry and he said he would.

And so he did since I got a call from Terry who invited me to join his group for dinner at the Ak Altin where they are staying. I said that I had an engagement but might stop by later. He said he would have an empty chair at the table so I asked him to put a sign on it that said "Virtual Guest."

Geldey was to come by at 7:30 PM but he came by at 6:15 with his friend. They settled in and watched TV and I provided cheese and bread, but not enough, Geldey asked for more. Clearly I have to work on my hospitality skills.

Geldey seemed surprised that my bathroom had its own water heater. He was completely fascinated by my toaster; he attempted to operate it by pushing down on the top of the bread. He was surprised when I showed him the lever.

We watched Russian TV (Ulitsa Sesami = Sesami Street) and chatted lightly. After an hour, I told them that I was taking a taxi to the Ak Altin to meet Americans so they packed up and left.

I left just after they did and took an informal taxi to the Ak Altin. The car that pulled over contained three young men -- not an advisable situation if you are worried. I said "Tzirkus" (which is a block from the hotel) to the driver and he corrected me, "Tzirk?" I said, "Da," and got in. They were pleasant young men and tried to conduct conversation. In answer to various questions, I said I was here for "rabota" (work) and that I worked for a "firma computer" (you can translate that yourself). When they asked me if I was "Britanski?", I proudly replied, "Amerikanski." They nodded approvingly. I told them that I was on my way to meet Americans at the Ak Altin hotel and they very kindly went out of their way to drop me off at the front door. I thanked them, over paid for the ride and went into the hotel looking for the People to People people.

The staff was helpful and directed me to a special room on the M floor where I found the group observing a "traditional Turkmen musical performance." When the music ended I walked over to the table and Terry Reedy introduced himself to me and pointed out an empty seat at the end of the table -- it had no sign but I took it anyway. I got to talk to several people at that end of the table. Beside me sat a genteel woman of mature years. She asked me if there was anything that could be done about the harsh toilet paper here. I said that she wouldn't know how good she had it until she went to Romania where they used recycled sand paper. Terry gasped and gagged and sent a stream of beer geyser-like from his mouth. I must watch my phrasings in the future.

The hotel had a team of young Turkmen who danced for the group. This is the first time I have seen this. It was a well orchestrated performance emceed by a very pretty young lady who spoke superb English and didn't hesitate to push expensive jewelry and paintings by local artists. There was a big belt buckle offered for $300. There was some interest in it.

Terry introduced me to the group, and when the native dances and jewelry and painting sales were concluded, I got to talk to the group. They paid me a lot of attention. I was on a stage; I performed; they loved it. At the end I got a lot of thanks, handshakes and compliments. It was worth the trip.

--Friday, 17 September 99-- $1 = 14,600 manat
I got up this morning and the water was running. What a pleasure a shower is!

We had lunch with an Expat today who confirmed his previous story of a bomb going off in Dashauz. The story is that the government nabbed two Uzbekis and a Turkmen but nothing appeared in the media (surprise!). There were no deaths and possibly no casualties. The reason appears vague but is thought to be religion-based. Apparently the arrested Uzbekis come from a center of religious fundamentalism.

The press and other media in this country are completely controlled and only approved stories appear. The result is a magnification in the fascination of gossip. But experience shows that the gossip is often untrue and nearly always significantly inaccurate. The advantage of free media is that they tend to seek out the facts -- if only to upstage one another -- and allow the recipient an opportunity to make an independent judgement. Here you ask, listen, and wonder how much you hear is true. Little enough, I think.

Above, a worker applies a finishing cover of cement to the facade of a building on Magtymguly Street.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley