The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 59

--Friday, 24 September 99-- $1 = 14,500 manat
Got up and seven and still no water. That means I have been without water for 10 hours now. I delayed as much as possible to allow time for the water to come on but it didn't. So I cleaned myself with a face cloth and shaved with cold water. I dressed and just before I had to leave, checked the water again. Now it was running. It was as if an evil water imp had watched and waited to turn the water on at the precise minute that satisfied two criteria: 1) that I should know it was now available, and 2) I could take no advantage of it.

At 9:50 I went to the Azadi Institute to speak to a class of students who plan on being English teachers. There were about 15 young women and two guys. Most were too embarrassed to talk. For the second time I was asked if I believe in God and I gave the same answer as before. I was asked about the American economy and said that it had been expanding for 8 years, because of Just-In-Time inventory, computers, and the Internet. I told them about the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, that every American has a different opinion about most everything. I am not sure how much of this they understood.

On our way to lunch at the Hazar Restaurant, Ed and I walked Paul to and through the Russian Market. He seemed very interested but determined not to admit it. I had a passably fair pepper steak at Hazar. It was better than I expected but I had to ask for my French fries twice and they came cold.

I asked Tanya if she would supervise the preparation for my party and she said, "Yes." This is a big help for me since there is a lot of food and liquids to be bought and Tanya is a good shopper. She will also loan me her sound system so we can play CDs for the music.

An end-of-the-day shower at home: small pleasures greatly appreciated.

--Saturday, 25 September 99--
Erich who bought the Cruiser from me six months ago loaned it back to me today. We chatted over some buttered toast. He told me that there was a rumor around that Turkmenbashy was going to have himself crowned King (Why not Czar?) and that he is having in ancestry researched to show that he is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan. Can godhead be far away?

He also told me that there is a rumor that the Neutrality Arch is settling faster on one leg than on the others and that there is a plan to disassemble it and move it somewhere else.

It is fascinating to contemplate the accuracy of these rumors: they may very well be the revenge of some politically frustrated soul who is using irony to make a point. Then, of course, this is Turkmenistan, so they may be true.

We walked over to the Russian Market where we met Ed. Erich had to prepare for a class and said goodbye. Ed shopped for vegetables and fruit and I ended up taking some pictures of people behind the counters. I told them I would bring by prints on Monday.

Paul Stroh eventually showed up later and I volunteered to show him Diamond's and the Univermag. Then Paul and i took an informal cab to the Iceberg Cafe where we had lula kebob and beer and beer and beer. This man likes beer. Paul talked about the people he met in Lebanon, Jamaica and South America. He likes to talk, too.

Geldey came by and was in a cheerful mood. Later Serdar dropped by unannounced and confirmed the rumor about kingship but said that it had been around for a long time -- as Serdar was that evening. I threw him out before it got too late and went to bed.

--Sunday, 26 September 99--
I got up at 8:30 and felt relaxed. I had some salted-buttered, toast and took the Cruiser out to bicycle to the East side of the city which I had never visited before. I spent an hour and a half riding around and was reminded of all the Cruiser's drawbacks: too heavy, not big enough for my body side, and non-functioning gears.

Above, the recently completed mosque on the West side of town.

I decided that I wanted to photograph the mosque on the East side of the city so I walked there (perhaps 4 miles) and took some pix. Then I walked to the Iceberg Cafe and had two beers. Then I walked back by Asat's home, hoping to see him by accident. Not so. Then home, a nap and Berdi came by. Pleasant old times.

--Monday, 27 September 99--
There is some talk that the government will devalue the manat officially. The manat has been stable at around 14,500 to the dollar for several months now and while that is good, it is still nearly three times the official rate. Eventual rationalization seems inevitable but timing is unpredictable.

--Wednesday, 29 September 99-- $1 = 14,600 manat
When is a Budget not a Budget? When it is a Net Budget, that is, when there a flows of revenues and expenditures that are not reflected in the budget and thus are not controlled by the budget process. The result is an inevitable fragmentation of decision making. This is a very serious weakness.

Do women ever drive here? I have yet to see a woman behind the wheel of a car.

Had lunch with Ed and Paul at the Florida. Food was fairly good but Paul was determined to argue with Ed's estimate that 15% of the US economy is underground (untaxed). Ed argued that most cash-based businesses, restaurants, laundromats, barber shops, etc., do not report all their income. I agreed with Ed based on what I know about the exchange of services by tradesmen but Paul was insistent on disagreeing with both of us and insisting that the size of the underground economy didn't exceed 12%. Since I knew that Paul had once owned a restaurant, I asked him to his face, "Does that mean you limited your falsification of IRS reports to 12% of revenue?" He was caught off guard by such a brazen question and gasped. He mumbled incoherently and we let the question slip by unanswered.

In the car on the way home, Tanya told me that Roustam had called Ed today. "From Russia?" I asked. "I don't know," she said, "Mr. Lehan said the conversation was a secret but someone close to the phone said that it was Roustam. I don't know why a phone call was secret." Ed never mentioned the call to me so I don't know why either. Another mystery of Turkmenistan.

Above, a young boy waits for his brother in the shade of the mosque minaret.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley