The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 64

--Saturday, 09 October 99--
The Day of the Party
In the afternoon I decided to walk to the Iceberg Cafe and have some lula kebob. They were serving it so I got some exercise and some good food well before the party started. I have discovered that when you order something here and you are told that it is not available, if you ask in 15 or 30 minutes, they often have it. For unknown reasons there is no distinction made between being out of something temporarily (e.g., the keg of Efes is being replaced) and being out of it entirely so it pays to ask a second time.

The Preparation
As usual Eleonora arrived first, promptly at 4 PM. Jamal was second (I guessed the knock at the door was Tanya but Eleonora said she thought it was Jamal and she was right, again, as usual.) Later Tanya, Golya, and Vlad arrived and the preparations went into high gear.

I volunteered Vlad into helping me completely reorganize the apartment in order to make the best use of the space. We moved eleven big pieces of furniture from room to room and got everything ready. It was a sweaty business and I was glad to get it done.

During all this Bairam, who I had met at the MoEF yesterday, called. He will come by tomorrow at 10 AM and help me with my Russian. I wonder if he will help me move the furniture back?

I had planned to move the kitchen table into the living room and put it beside the desk that I had moved from the alcove and then use both to hold the food. The devil is in the details: no matter how we turned and rotated it, the table would not fit through the living room entrance. I ended up getting out my Swiss Army knife and unscrewing the table top and then reassembling the pieces in the living room. What we do for a party.

The Guests
I was pleased that so many people came. They represented quite a cross section of the American expat community, the Russian Turkmen community and the ethnic Turkmen community. Many people were exclusive Russian speakers but there were many Russian speakers at the party (including two of my Russian teachers from last Winter) and everyone seemed able to get the translations they might need. People mixed well and seemed to have a good time.

Above, Vitaly, left, dances with the Peace Corps volunteers.

Geldey, a Turkmen who I had met nearly a year ago, came and I was pleased since I thought that he would never come, even though I had invited him repeatedly. And he was not the only Turkmen, there were perhaps a half dozen others.

Mrs. Gurina came by all dolled up. She stayed only long enough to present me a small gift (a laser picture in a frame) and to say that she had two "meetings" to go to so she couldn't stay. Several other people told me that they had other parties to attend as well.

The Gifts
The invitation just said that everyone was invited to an informal party: it didn't say anything about my birthday. Nevertheless, there were a number of gifts and I was flattered. Sadat gives me a reproduction of an ancient fertility goddess from the time of the Seljeq Turks. Edjegeez gave me some woolen slippers. Colette gave me two nice bud vases in blue glass, my Russian teachers gave me a hand-painted image of a traditional Russian village, and Brian and Sheri gave me a spritzer of Turkmenbashy "Eau de Parfum for Men, Paris". Mr. Orazov gave me a dark blue long sleeve shirt. (I liked the design and cut of the shirt but it was 65% polyester. This, a gift in the land of cotton.) The staff gave me a Teke throw rug and a Teke telephone pad (a mini carpet designed to be put under your telephone).

The Party
Most people moved around the three rooms of my apartment. (Eleonora told me that I have two rooms, that the kitchen is not counted.) To the extent I could judge, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Tanya had forgotten the party music but Karen had brought some disks and whomever was in charge of the music even played some of my CDs. This really was flattering.

Jamal asked me if she could bring her sister to the party and I said "Yes." Shortly thereafter she came back with a charming young lady who introduced herself as "Jamal"! Later I discovered that the word for sister and cousin are the same. Whatever the word, they both adorned the party magnificently. They were the cynosure of male Peace Corps eyes. Before long, the Peace Corps volunteers were busy asking the all the young ladies for a dance and things were really moving.

Above, Jamal, left, poses with her "sister" Jamal. They were the hit of the party. Vitaly is dancing on the right.

Inevitably, I was asked to give a speech, so I gave one that began, "Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking . . . ." but my opening didn't get the chuckle I thought it deserved. I persevered and still managed to be brief so as not to take the wind out of the fun times.

The After Party
At around 1 PM, most guest had left and I found myself alone with Vlad. He was a whirling dervish of clean up in the living room and I did my part in the kitchen. In a surprising short time, we had the situation under control. I was pleased to discover that nearly all the food was eaten and everything was drunk except three bottles of Fanta. But I love to mix Fanta with my orange juice so even this pleased me.

Vlad said that he was going to Arlekino, the best disco in Ashgabat and asked me if I wanted to go with him. I realized that, as late as it was, I was wide awake and tomorrow was Sunday so I said yes. We took an informal taxi to the Circus and went into the disco, where because of my mishearing the Russian amount for entrance, Vlad paid mostly.

Arlekino is a two room affair with a loud noise in one room and a bar in the other. The crowd was predominately young, twenties I'd say, and there were a lot of young women there. This, of course, is extremely atypical, for in Turkmen society, the women stay at home and the men go out. Vlad confirmed my suspicions.

Vlad and I had a beer and went home. I got back around 2 AM and went to bed immediately.

--Sunday, 10 October 99--
This morning I awoke to a mostly picked up -- if anything but clean -- apartment. All I had to do was to reassemble the kitchen table in the kitchen and wash the kitchen and bathroom floors. It turned out to be less a pain that I had imagined. The place wasn't clean but at least it didn't look filthy.

Bairam, who had called the night before, came by for a visit. He is bashful but he had no problem helping me move the furniture back. This was a great assist. The rest of the time was devoted to exchanging his Russian and my English and some other things. It was a lot of fun and I learned a few more words and phrases.

Late in the day, Beldi visited and I worked on my Russian some more. I am really getting into Russian.

To bed early.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley