The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 63

--Thursday, 07 October 99--
Golya tells me that she saw the President on the TV speaking to the Energy Minister of Turkey and talking as if he knew/suspected that the gas pipeline might never be built. He told the Energy Minister that he knew that Turkey had signed a gas agreement with the Russians and that they had committed to buying only a fraction of the amount of Turkmenistan's gas that Nyazov wanted them to buy. He went on to say that Turkmenistan would not starve and that it had agriculture and industry to rely on. Straws in the wind.

Golya says that Isvestia on September 30 carried an article stating that Turkmenistan had a secret agreement with the Moslem fundamentalists in the Taliban to allow them to aid the Chechnian rebels. The GOT has firmly denied this. This is Russian disinformation, likely aimed at weakening Turkmenistan's ties with the US. Information about this part of the world is so scarce that such disinformation campaigns can actually be relatively effective.

The announced project for Russia to build a pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey is also disinformation considering that there are two existing pipeline through Romania and Bulgaria that could supply Turkey at much less cost -- but Russia wants total control and would rather pretend to be able to build an expensive pipeline under the Black Sea than to forge a partnership with other countries.

It was in the country's only newspaper that Turkmenistan has expelled the Azeri merchants residing in Turkmenbashy. This caused some complications with Azerbaijan a few weeks ago. Also Armenian craftsmen who the government said had improper papers were deported. Golya says that the Armenians wanted to become citizens but were not allowed to.

Delara turns out to live in the building just north of mine so we are neighbors. The dinner was pleasant and we got to meet Delara's two young daughters, her husband, a neighbor, a cousin, and a guy named Dima of unexplained relationship. The food was good. It consisted of an Iranian Palov, split pea soup, a potato dish with broth, and some chicken. The desert was apple sauce folded into beaten egg whites and made into white sticks. It was tasty without being too sweet. I was home by 8:45 which gave me time for my beauty sleep.

Avis, who I had met at the Iceberg Cafe, called tonight and we talked about him coming over. There was a certain vagueness about it all. I got the feeling that he MIGHT come over but that it was dependant on how much fun he was having somewhere else. He never did show up.

--Friday, 08 October 99--
In September I had sent an email to a person working for a local tourist agency asking about information on a one-day trip to Merv. The response asked me to "come directly to our office to discuss details of your further trip - your case is rather special so my boss wishes to meet you."

I was a little put out by this (I still think in terms of settling these things by phone) but, yesterday, I called for an appointment. My contact said that his boss wanted to meet me but was not in the office at that time but he was expected back around five. He said that he would call me when his boss was available.

To his credit he called me back around 5:30 to say that his boss was not back yet and that we should reschedule for 11 AM. I said, "Yes," and he said that he would call me before 11 AM to confirm. I took this as a hint.

Today he called to say that his boss was not in for an 11 AM meeting but that he would likely be in during the afternoon and that he would call me. He didn't call and, once again, I was driven to contemplate the strange standards of business in this land. Will I get to Merv at all. I was determined enough in my planning to have Mary included in my visa, but what should I do next?

Ed, Paul and I went to the Central Restaurant for lunch. We decided to give Paul a tour of Berzingy while we were at it and did so. We showed him the 24 hotels, all in a row.

On the way there we saw the latest monument to Turkmenbashy. As a structure it looks like a Toltec temple mated with a Babylonian ziggurat and it is rising up near the intersection of Turkmenbashy with the turn for the Wholesale Market. The corners have staircases that lead to the top. Guess what will be on the top?

Our meal turned out to be delightful. We had a superb quesadilla appetizer, Paul had a Po' Boy sandwich and Ed and I had two different pizzas, one meat and one vegetarian. The pizzas were bigger than the local standard and so good that Ed took everything we couldn't eat home (half of each pizza) as take out.

At the office this afternoon a local character stopped by. He presented himself as an expert on vision, advising Ed to stare a the rays of the rising sun for fifteen minutes. Eleonora translated in a bored way "It seems to me I have translated this before!" but Ed was much amused. The guy was over sixty but incredibly agile. He took his foot out of his shoe and put in on the edge of the desk and bent his torso parallel to his extended leg then bent his torso almost parallel to his other leg. I winced in pain just watching such suppleness. But I won't be staring at a rising sun anytime soon.

While walking out of the MoEF entrance there was a young man idling against the wall. I glanced at him and he glanced back: there was recognition in the look. He said, "Hello," and so did I. I stopped and we chatted. His name is Bairam and he is a student of Spanish at the Language Institute but wants to learn English. I need to learn Russian from as many sources as possible, so I gave him my phone number.

I expected calls or visits from Shokrat and Asat tonight but I needed some time alone so I was grateful when the phone didn't ring. I put the program prioritization model I had discussed with Ed into Excel and then worked on my notes.

Later, I decided that I wanted some exercise so I walked over to the Iceberg. While walking along Magtymguly I passed two people who recognized me. They were from the ARCA class to which I had read poetry. They were both young and they were a he and a she. They were students in School 16, one of the better ones in the city. He was short, even for his age, but he proudly sported a small collection of dark hairs on his chin.

They practiced their English on me and it was easy to cooperate for their English was pretty good. When we reached Navoi, he said that he had to leave us and gave my hand a particularly firm handshake, especially considering the smallness of his hand.

I walked on with the distaff side of this team and she told me that she regretted the curfew because she liked to walk at night and the police stop people now and examine papers. She said that they want money; she wasn't sure how much but she said that they want more from foreigners. I asked what I should do if I was stopped and she said that I should say nothing so that the police wouldn't know that I was a foreigner. I suggested that based on my experience everyone could tell that I was a foreigner at 100 meters. She agreed. We arrived at the street that she lived on and parted company, leaving me with my curfew problem.

Above, a picture of the building planned to be constructed across the street from the Hall of Congresses and Art (what I used to call the Mejlis building). I don't know its name or function yet but the site has been cleared and construction might start at any time.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley