The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 62

--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 solidarity.

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 do.

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.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley