The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 61

--Friday, 01 October 99--
Asat called me this morning at 7:30 and was as charming as ever and as uncomprehending as usual. I told him his phone was out of order and he said, "Ya, ya,ya," as he tends to do. I have come to realize that he says this whenever he doesn't understand what has been said. He wants to get together so we fixed on Tuesday night.

Someone told me that only one percent of government-owned corporations were profitable (and thus paid taxes). This is hard to comprehend unless you realize that the fee structures (what these companies can charge for their products and services) are set by the government with the intent that they should NOT be profitable -- a form of price control. Thus, substantially, lack of profit is a government policy and not a measure of business mismanagement.

I had a meeting where I learned a lot about the process for recommending and approving capital projects. Afterwards I told Ed that I had some good news and some bad news. "Tell me the good news," said Ed. "The Good news is that I have discovered the man who is more responsible for capital projects than any other person." "Great! But what is the bad news?" said Ed. "He has already refused to meet with us," I said.

Geldey stopped buy and we watched some Russian TV. It was a strange game show that involved guessing letters of a word. There were multiple hosts and many young women with short dresses who carried gifts or winnings in and out of the set. The contestants were parents because each had a child of about 8 in front of him or her. The children were interviewed and amused the audience a lot. I couldn't figure out who won and the fact that at least one contestant seemed to give a gift to the main host really confused me. Still, it was fun to watch.

I walked over to Oleg's apartment across from Lenin Park and met him in person. We had exchanged emails earlier this year and he had just returned to Ashgabat from graduate school in England. There was a small party going on and his wife, two children and three friends were sitting in a room. One person I was introduced to seemed to know a lot about linguistics but he had to leave before I could talk to him for any length of time. I was flattered to have been invited to a homecoming party.

--Saturday, 02 October 99--
Shokrat called me at 10 AM for mutual language training. He showed up promptly at 11 and we started exchanging vocabulary words. We did it for hours. At the end he asked if he could use my computer and I showed it to him. He asked about games and I showed him Free Cell and demonstrated how to make the moves. He quickly caught on and played fairly well.

He asked to borrow Serdar's copy of "The Last of the Mohicans" in English and I lent it to him. He said he would bring it back tomorrow.

He invited me over to his house for lunch. I declined several times and then agreed. We met Grigory, who works in the headquarters office, and his girl friend in the yard, and got a ride to Shokrat's place which turned out to be near Natasha's. We had lunch Turkmen style, lying on pads on a rug-covered floor and leaning on thick pillows. The table was about 10 centimeters high and between us. Shokrat indicated that I should sit cross-legged before the table. While this is very difficult for me, I did it. As is Turkmen custom, we dined without women although his wife served the meal.

The food was tasty. There was a dish of sliced bell peppers and onions and then a soup of angle hair pasta with potatoes and lamb. There was bread, butter, and tea as well. He invited me to add some strange dark green powdered spice to my soup and cautioned me to only use a little. I did but didn't really taste it at all. There was one very familiar spice on the table, Crystal Hot Sauce from New Orleans, Louisiana. I added a little of that to the soup as well. After dinner Shokrat arranged an informal taxi to take me back to my building.

Beldi came by at 5:30 PM, a half an hour late. I had been idling in front of my computer looking at various graphics and was glad to see him. He brought me a gift of a nice painting of a still life that he had painted himself. I presented him with something very personal from me. We both enjoyed ourselves immensely.

--Sunday, 03 October 99--
Shokrat came over at ten and returned the movie. We traded Russian words again. We went over what we studied yesterday and this time I wrote them down for further study. We did this for about two hours and then he played some games on my Mac. He left around 12:30 PM.

Serdar showed up late for the second day in a row. I was just searching for a piece of paper to leave in the door telling him that I had left, when the bell rang. I told him it was rude to be late and that it was never wise to be rude. Then we walked over to the Iceberg Cafe. The weather was sunny and warm with light breezes. It was blissful.

In our conversation -- he visits so he can practice his English -- Serdar mentioned once again his fear that his American is getting rusty and how much he wanted to be in the US.

At the Iceberg we listened to the throatiness that the speakers give to the base part of the music and had some lula kebob and some liquid refreshment. After we ate, Paul Stroh happened to wander by and joined us. Later I had four 1.5 liter bottles filled for later consumption and Serdar and I walked back to my place where we watched "Analyze This" on DVD. To help his American, I turned the subtitling feature on.

I am only slowly coming to grips with the strength of the force to learn English that some people have here. One consequence is that they fasten on you and make you talk to them.

On the other hand, there is a lot of attitude in the academic community about vocabulary and pronunciation. Erich has been told that he should not teach certain classes because his "American" pronunciation would lead the students astray.

Above, Serdar, who spent a year in the States and wants to keep up his American language skills.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley