The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 57

--Saturday, 18 September 99--
I tried to sleep as late as possible and was up by 7:30. I went over to the Russian Market and bought some cheddar cheese (the existing supply is beginning to disappear). I didn't see Ed and decided to walk out the open end and see if I could photograph the van-vaulted ceiling of the market. On the last short flight of steps I decided to walk/slide down the bicycle ramp. The dust provided just the right slippage for me to have my feet go out from under me and I put my right hand down to cushion the blow. The result was that the base of the palm of my hand took all the impact from the fall. I got up and my wrist hurt intensely. I walked around for thirty minutes taking pictures but my wrist was aching ever more intensely. Was it broken or just badly sprained?

I cancelled my plans to go to the Iceberg Cafe and went home and put some ice in a bag and the bag on my wrist. The pain eased a bit and the swelling was minor. I called several people about an Ace bandage and Paul Hamlin told me that he had gotten one at the Central Hospital in the Business Center. I took an informal cab there and asked if the person in the pharmacy spoke English. She nodded "No," but motioned for me to follow her and she took me to a doctor who did speak English. He examined my wrist, pressed it gently, asked about movement and pain, and then said that if it swells I should come back for an X-ray. He took me back to the lady, applied an Ace bandage and told me that it would cost me 13,000 manat. With the cab rides, that amounted to $1.50. And this is at a private hospital. Go figure the economics.

Restored in my vigor, I decided to walk to the Iceberg Cafe after all. When I was walking through the outdoor part of the cafe, I was talked to by some men at a table. I said hello and they invited/insisted that I sit with them. One of them, Avis, spoke fairly good English (he told me that he is the painter son of Turkmenistan's most famous artist and though he uses a different name, his father's fame precedes him) and acted as translator. To my left was Volodya and across from me was Timur. To his left was Avis and across from him was a quiet person whose name I can't remember.

Timur, named after the Mongol Khan we call Tamerlane, told me he was from Dagastan and I mimed terror. Volodya told me that he was of Somanov blood (the same as the Romanov's, the last Czars) but that he made nothing of it -- and, indeed, he made nothing of it several times. He took a great liking to me and would grab me around the neck and pull my head beside his head and kiss the side of my face frequently. While he shook my hand repeatedly he respected the Ace bandage and was gentle.

Above, the group I met at the Iceberg Cafe. On the left is Volodya, on the right is Timur
and to the left of him is Avis, the artist and English speaker.

We poured several toasts of Stolnychskya vodka and we toasted an Arabic phrase that I can't remember ("Salam aleckhiem"?) several times.

I ordered some of the wonderful lula kebob and we chatted. Eventually the group split up and I walked home. I took a nap to prepare for the evening. It is very luxurious to awake slowly from a nap and to only gradually accept responsibility for being conscious.

We had a goodbye party for Roustam at Ed's place at 8 PM. Volodya came by and we took the three cases of beer that I had chilled and the bag of ice I had frozen in my imported ice cube trays to Ed's apartment and then Volodya disappeared for what seemed like hours.

The party was pleasant, there were a number of young ladies from the Peace Corps there and the men stared at them, sometimes discretely and sometimes not.

Above, some of Roustam's friends who came to the party to wish him well on his emigration to States.

People were very impressed with the LCD display on my Kodak DC265. When I took pictures, I showed the result on the LCD panel. A lot of awe.

And then the beer ran out and I went home.

--Sunday, 19 September 99-- $1 = 14,??? manat
I tried to sleep as late as possible and actually made it to 9:45. I felt good, got up and took a shower. It is an experience to shower with your right hand held over your head to keep the Ace bandage dry.

I walked over to Ed's apartment and we walked to the Haigler Bailly offices where Bhamey Shenoy's wife cooked us a curry lunch. It was delightful even though it was 100% vegetarian. I think this curry stuff could be great if they added meat to it.

But things are really somewhat worse than that. Partly because the government still thinks that it will be rich in the near future, there has been no real attention given to freeing the local economy here. Eighty percent of all business activity is still by government-owned corporations, about 5,500 of them. I have heard it said that only about one percent make a profit and pay taxes. The government doesn't bankrupt its own unprofitable companies so where is the incentive to be profitable? If there is little hope of major gas sales the government should be rushing to develop the economy but it isn't. The US government even reduced its privatization presence here recently in an expression of its dismay at the lack of progress.

An the way home I passed through the Russian Market looking for Ringa bacon. No luck. On the way out I passed by Shokrat (he is the second from the right in Gazette 46 picture). We recognized each other and we chatted briefly. One of the four guys that I had met on my first trip had gone to Israel, the others were in university and Shokrat was proud to tell me that he was working. His motions seemed to suggest manual labor.

The lack of an adequate number of jobs in the private sector is a problem that is being ignored here. This is unfortunate.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley