--Monday, 04 October 99--
Golya told me that the newest wrinkle is a requirement for anyone requesting
an official document is to recite the Turkmen equivalent of the "Pledge
of Allegiance" before they can get a copy of a birth certificate,
etc. No recitation, no birth certificate. I guess that this is some form
of "nation building."
A while ago Gulnara came to me with a question about a budget in the Health
Ministry. She said that the budget was for 300 billion manat but that
after nine months revenues were 35 billion manat and expenditures were
30 billion manat and she was wondering how such a budget could be prepared.
I told her that it was possible that a capital project might have been
included in the budget. She said she would inquire into it and today she
confirmed that there was a $28 million hospital which would be constructed
and financed with a loan about from some Persian Gulf emirate. So the
operating budget has a hidden capital project.
Geldey came over. I made a cheese omelet (a word not in my Langenscheidt)
while Geldey stared at the Russian-dubbed Spanish soap opera on TV. He
seems transfixed by it while I can't figure out what is going on. Mostly,
people meet in groups, mostly in homes, and mostly talk. How can this
be interesting? The homes are big and well-furnished and everyone dresses
well but there must be more than this.
Shokrat called and asked to bring over his uncle/friend Toolee to show
him my apartment. It must be opulent by Turkmen standards but middle class
people in the States wouldn't accept this furniture as a gift. I guess
when you have next to nothing, something, anything can seem like everything.
--Tuesday, 05 October 99--
Eleonora showed up this morning with three very pretty, very thorny, very
red roses for me and I asked why. She said that it was my birthday and
I said that Friday coming is the day. She said that Tanya was sure that
it was today. I ended up showing my passport and Tanya admitted her mistake
-- though not sure how she made it. I accepted the flowers gingerly, flattered
that Eleonora put herself out so.
Ed and I went to have our respective hairs cut (I had Eleonora write my
instructions down so I could give it to the barber) and then we met Paul
at Hazar for lunch.
I got together with Asat tonight. I met him near his home at 7 PM and
we walked to the Iceberg Cafe talking all the way. I made him tell me
the Russian for the English words I told him. We got to the cafe which
was crowded as usual and Asat asked two men who were seated at a table
for four if we could use the other seats. They kindly agreed and one guy
even moved from across the table from his friend to beside so Asat and
I could sit beside each other.
We continued to exchange vocabulary and one of the other guys made comments
to Asat about our conversation. What fascinated me was that I asked Asat
for the Russian words for some obvious things such as my cheek. He was
stumped by the question and asked the other guys who provided the answer.
Could it be that Asat is fundamentally a Turkmen speaker who is trying
to learn English through an only partially-known Russian?
While we were talking, a young man walked over to us and said that he
had heard me across the cafe and was trying to meet other Americans. He
looked at Asat and asked him if they had met before but Asat didn't think
so. The American was Jim Balta and was a recent arrival to the Peace Corps.
I introduced him to Asat and we chatted. I gave him my personal card and
told him that my web page had the Ashgabat Gazette which he might find
interesting. He tilted his head back, took a step to the rear, looked
at me and said, "Is that you?" I said it was and he told me
that he had learned everything he knew about Turkmenistan from reading
my Gazette. (God help this man!) In awe, he shook my hand. I said I was
glad that my web page was useful to him. He went on and on about the time
he had spent reading my web pages. I was quite flattered.
Sadat, who was sitting with Jim, also stopped by our table. He used to
work at the Central Bank as a translator but is now working for the Peace
Corps and seems quite happy with it. His English seems more relaxed and
faster as well. And he looks as good as ever.
Above, James, a Peace Corps
volunteer, and Sadat, a Peace Corps staff member, express international
I suggested to Asat that we go over and join the Peace Corps people which
we did. We met Rob, June and Jim (again). The conversation was pleasant
and interesting. It was interesting to talk to new arrivals and hear their
perspectives and experiences. Jim said that he would call Asat tomorrow
and they will practice Russian and English with each other. I hope they
No water when I got home. A real bummer as I was looking forward to a
shower before I went to bed.
--Wednesday, 06 October 99--
Today was Remembrance Day and a national holiday. It commemorates the
great earthquake that leveled Ashgabat 51 years ago. The staff had today
off but I had to work in order to get paid. I wrote an evaluation of an
RFP for hardware and software all day.
Shokrat and Asat come over for more Russian/English study. What became
apparent was that Asat speaks very poor Russian! Shokrat corrected him
frequently and Asat agreed with the corrections. This explains why I had
such trouble learning Russian from him.
Delara, my former translator, called and invited me to dinner with her
family and Bhamey and wife on Thursday night. I accepted because Delara
is a delightful person and this was one more opportunity to experience
a Turkmen household.