The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 58

Above, a comparative study of Turkmen (right) and American (left) ice cube trays.

-Monday, 20 September 99--
Two things that I brought with me on this trip were ice cube trays. This is a hot country -- the temperature are still around 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day -- but ice is not much of a commodity here. You can see it in the ice cube trays that come with your refrigerator. In the refrigerator in this apartment there is one tray that has many small cubes, each perhaps about one-third or less the size of a standard American ice cube (if there is such a concept). So having enough ice made from pure water is something of a luxury. Thus the trays.

Not only do they not use much ice here, they even have a theory that the hotter it is, the more important that you drink very hot drinks, primarily tea. This is quite different thinking that will seem shocking to someone who dreams of ice cold beer on a hot summer day.

Above, the stairs leading to the front entrance to the Univermag, the only department store in Ashgabat and, thus, an important building. Note the riser heights of the first and fifth steps compared with the second, third and fourth. Many staircases here aren't even as neat as this one.

Stair risers. Not much of a topic of conversation you might think. But when many, perhaps most, staircases have irregular risers, it can become an important topic. Basically, there is no standardization of work here and, I gather, in the states of the former Soviet Union, generally. The irregular risers are just a symptom of a much bigger problem. Electrical wires simply pop out of walls, pipes soar vertically out of the ground and then make right angle turns and cross land and buildings willy-nilly. One gets the impression that whatever is the easiest thing to do is the thing that got down. The result is a complete lack of esthetics and an unnecessary feeling of ugliness.

We got requests from the Peace Corps people who came to Roustam's party to see the pictures I had taken. I put some pix on a floppy and went over to their offices to drop it off. Colette wasn't there so I left it in an envelope. The trip gave me a chance to look at the library in the Volunteer Room. Definitely the best I've found in Turkmenistan. At a glance I saw a half dozen books I would like to read but contented myself with the "Annals" of Tacitus. This is a great work of history that has all the poop on the early Roman Emperors. If you remember the PBS series "I Claudius," you know what I am talking about.

At lunch with Bhamey on Sunday, Ed had mentioned that I would be having a birthday party. "I am?" I said. "Yes, didn't we discuss this before?" "No," I said. "Oh, I am sure we talked about it," Ed said. So today I put together a preliminary list of about 50 people. I believe that if you are going to do it, be sure to do it right.

--Tuesday, 21 September 99-- $1 = 14,500, 14.600 manat
At 12:30 Ed, I and most of the staff went to Natasha's apartment for Maryam Meleki's remembrance meal. It was 40 days ago today that she died in Kyrgistan in a car accident. It was a head on collision and she was the only person to die. She was 28 and had just relocated to Almati from Ashgabat.

It was a somber meal. Ed offered a remembrance of Maryam and a mullah (dressed in ordinary clothing) chanted solemnly at the beginning and end of the meal. The food was diverse, very good and voluminous. We were part of the first seating of 25 with 25 more to follow in an hour. A full meal for 50 people is an expensive proposition and I was told that meals like this happen 3 days, 7 days, 40 days and one year after a person's death.

I got a call from ARCA that I was asked to attend something at the Botanical Garden at 5:30 for teachers of English. The message was confused but I went anyway and it turned out to be a quarterly poetry reading by teachers of English. Not my usual fare but it was nice and I met again Rhoda Robinson from the Peace Corp who had loaned me a Velcro Ace bandage for my wrist. I made various promises to speak at various places at to-be-determined times.

I walked back with two young would-be English speakers. They asked me a long series of questions but the one I find most intriguing was, "Do you believe in God?" I said that "Some days I do and some days I don't," and went on to explain that I was repulsed by religious fanatics who wish to impose there view of the world on others. The conversation drifted on.

They pumped me with questions and I answered but, in some sense, the experience was like taking a walk with two very pleasant vampires who repeatedly ask you for small amounts of blood and you can't quite say, "No." After a while you are quite exhausted from the loss of energy and the lack of stimulation from them and no matter how nice they are, you have to get away.

--Wednesday, 22 September 99--
Armand (his name is Farsi and his friends call him Armo) from the Computer Center caught me in the hall and asked to talk to me. He has a lovely smile that beams a lot. He wanted to practice his English so he asked me about America but his English is weak and he couldn't quite manage it. I showed him my Mac and we chatted as best we could.

Serdar Akmuradov came over tonight with some oddly formatted Video CDs. Interestingly my Mac can play them but his boombox cannot play DVD. He told me about a store across from the Russian Market that sells CDs and maybe also DVDs.

Serdar told me that he is going to apply for a USG scholarship to a US school. He asked me what subjects he should take suggesting "business and economy." I strongly recommended that he major in Economics and minor in business -- at least, if he wouldn't major in Math and minor in Philosophy as I always recommend.

He practiced his English on me for hours and while his English is fine for conducting a conversation, I had to show him the door at 12:20 AM so I could get my beauty sleep, such of it as was left.

--Thursday, 23 September 99-- $1 = 14,600 manat
I heard that there is a new story about the explosion in Dashaus. This version is that it was set by two Uzbekis who escaped back into Uzbekistan and were caught by the Uzbeki security apparatus. One of the two was blown up with a grenade and, I guess, the other arrested. Turkmenistan's President was furious that they got away and fired the border guards and ordered a clampdown at points of entry. Thus Paul had significant delays at the airport last night and they slapped a curfew on Ashgabat (11 PM). Ed says that his car to and from the airport was pulled over last night. All that the people at the airport could figure out was that they had to be more difficult with incoming foreigners. It was not productive.

Geldey came by before 7 PM and seemed in a genial mood. I invited him and his friend to my party but he laughed and said, "Nyet, nyet," as if it was impossible.

I went into the kitchen to rinse a glass and there was no water. When will it come on?

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley