--Thursday, 30 September 99-- $1 = 14,500 manat
The water heater was not functioning in my apartment this morning but
I don't know why. I ended up taking a slightly cooler than tepid shower
and shave. The skin on my face protested all day.
Ed was approached by someone from the Embassy who was having a problem
giving text books to the Economics Institute (where Ed lectured recently).
The problem may be that the books are in Russian and the government is
increasing mandating that books be in Turkmen. But how are these books
to be created?
A meeting with the Deputy Chief Engineer of the Capital Investment Department
of the Hakimlik of Ashgabat, was not very productive. We asked about how
the site for an apartment building was chosen and he said that Ashgabat
wants to look like a modern city and was trying to construct modern buildings
on vacant lots. The apartment building in questions was constructed on
a vacant lot that was used for illegal dumping. An apartment building
was constructed because it was in a neighborhood of apartment buildings.
Also, a lot of older buildings were being demolished so new one's are
needed. "Who suggested this lot?" Answer: City Hall which has
regular meetings involving all departments.
When we discussed the construction of a particular street he had mentioned,
it became clear that we would be getting no useful information. He said
that construction had been stopped in January because of lack of funds.
I asked when construction had started and got a long answer, clear only
about its vagueness. I asked what percent of the street was complete and
got another long answer saying that part of the street was fully complete
and that part only had the foundation on and on, more obscurantist than
When we asked how projects are prioritized he suggested we talk to Mr.
Regipov, one of the most important people in the Hekimlik. Later, back
in the office the staff told me that the head of the Privatization Program
had tried to meet with Mr. Regipov for over a year and had not succeeded.
I doubt I will have better luck.
I set aside this evening to contact Asat (he is featured in an early edition
of the Gazette) who I wanted to invite to my party. I had called his phone
number frequently but I always got a busy signal so I assumed that it
was out of order. I walked over to his building and guessed which was
his family's apartment. I knocked on the door and a very lovely young
Turkmen woman of perhaps 18 answered and I said Asat's name. She said,
"Da," but went on to use "nieto" to indicate that
he was not there at the time. I gave her the written invitation to my
party and said Asat's name again. She looked at it and understood. Then
she invited me in (at least I think she did, for my Russian is not up
to anything beyond basic conversation boilerplate). I thanked her and
Having walked this far I decided to continue on to the Iceberg Cafe with
its delightful Turkmen beer. Beyond the beer, I had always met pleasant,
interesting people there, mostly Turkmen, who, like me, enjoy a pint of
beer. It turns out that meeting them is not difficult for they will often
invite you to their table just to talk to you. Somehow they seem to know
that I am not a native, I can't quite figure it out.
This night I thought I had found an empty table when two Turkmen arrived
at the same moment just in front of me. I mimed a request to sit at the
same picnic bench and they immediately agreed. Almost as quickly a fourth
person came seeking a seat, negotiated with them and sat down.
Across from me on the right was Shokrat, a handsome young Turkmen (age
22 with 2 daughters) who clearly wanted to practice his English which
wasn't very good. There was a series of haltingly phrased questions and
misphrased responses between us. His friend occasionally offered clarifications
and the fourth person also tried to explain things. We made slow progress
but everyone was patient.
Above, a picture of Shokrat
who I met in the Iceberg Cafe and who wants to improve his English
skills. Shokrat's uncle and friend, Toolee, has three wives. Does
that make his a "trigamist"?
It turned out that Toolee, Shokrat's friend and also his 30 year old
uncle, has three wives. When I asked "Why?" he said that he
wanted to have children. He told me that one wife was in Moscow (three
children), one in Ashgabat (three children) and one in Tashkent (six children)
and all the wives knew about each other. I told him he was a great success
at having children. He went on to say that his job called for him to spend
three months in Moscow, three months in Tashkent and six months in Ashgabat.
Bigamy aside, what stood out to me was Shokrat's interest in learning
more English. Before long he was asking me to be his English teacher.
I have been here before and generally try to avoid such situations. He
persisted with a charming smile and I succumbed. But this time I said
that I wanted a "Russki" teacher and he agreed. In seconds I
was explaining to him how to say things and demanding that he teach me
how to say the same things in Russian. He showed a lot of patience. It
wasn't just what he was getting out of it, he seem pleased to see me getting
something out of it.
We three chatted for two hours exchanging phrasings. I really felt that
I was learning spoken Russian. He asked to meet me "zaftra"
(tomorrow) but I had plans already so I said, "postly zaftra,"
(the day after tomorrow, Saturday) which he misunderstood as Piatnitsa
(Friday). We worked this out in a way that led me to believe that he had
enough English to teach me basic Russian and I had enough Russian to teach
him basic English. We shall see on sabotta, er, Saturday.
On the bigger linguistic front, Shokrat and Toolee told me that a Turkmen
can understand 25% of Turkish, 80% of Uzbek, 40% of Kazak, 0% of Kirgiz
and 0% of Iranian. They went on to say that Iranians understand 100% of
Tajik and that Turks understand 95% of Azeri. Be sure to remember this
for the quiz in a subsequent issue.
We paid our bills and took an informal taxi to my place where they would
not let me pay at all. That was sweet. Then they drove on to wherever
Later the phone rang and it was Shokrat. He wanted to be sure that he
had the correct number. There was a woman giggling in the background.