The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 68

--Thursday, 21 October 99--
I took Eric Stark to the Iceberg Cafe. He was brand new to the city so I walked to his place and then told him where we were walking and showed him various landmarks that he would remember: Turkmenbashy Street, the War Memorial, Magtymguly Street, the US Embassy, etc. I told him the names of the streets and where they led to. He seemed to soak it all in.

As we were approaching the Iceberg, we met Jim Balta and he joined us. We all chatted about our experiences and had a pleasant time. Eric and I took an informal taxi back to his place where he got out and I took the cab back to my apartment.

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., when the keg of Efes is being replaced) and being out of it entirely, so it pays to ask a second time. Jim said he had noticed the same thing.

--Friday, 22 October 99--
Geldey came over. He brought a friend with him, who was new to me, Mustafa, a Turk who is teaching Turkish to Turkmen students here. Mustafa turned out to be a charming person who speaks some English and no Russian.

Mustafa told me that taxi drivers discriminated against him. I don't understand how this can be. He is from Ankara and looks very Western to me. He could easily pass as American except that apparently he has an accent that locals identify as Turkish. I am aware that there is some anti-Turkish sentiment here but I did not think it widespread.

--Saturday, 23 October 99--
Some of the leaves on some of the trees have turned light yellow or brown. When the breeze picks up, some of them detach and float to the ground. If it is quiet and they fall on a concrete surface, you can hear the "click" they make. Sometimes the evenings are even cool. So the season changes in Turkmenistan.

Above, one of the histrionic horses on the porticos of the National History Museum in Berzingy.

I took the "Son of Cruiser" out for the first time. Looking forward to a ride, I bicycled over to Chekov Street and then went south to the new street that goes to Berzingy and took it to National History Museum across the street from the string of hotels. As I arrived, I realized that construction of new hotel was now nearly finished. A 25th hotel to add to the line of 24 others. I took it as a symbol that the existing capital budgeting thinking continues and would continue. Depressing. It suggests that all my work has been to no purpose at all.

I returned via Turkmenbashy and tried to visit a new theater(?) that has been constructed behind the row of fountains on Turkmenbashy near Berzingy but I was whistled away before I could go up the steps to see down into whatever was there. I did have the time to take a picture of the ziggurat-like structure (it looks like the bastard child of a fornication between an Toltec temple and a Babylonian ziggurat). It isn't exactly clear what it will finally turn out to be: some say a fountain, some say a museum to you-know-who. Time will tell.

Above, the Presidential Palace with its new coat of gold covering the old tan brown color.

I turned down the street that lead to the Wholesale Market and then north until the street ended at Koudaiberdeeyev where I turned back to Turkmenbashy. As I neared my apartment I realized that the front tire was flat. Oddly, the bike still rode very easily.

Above, the gold-plated statue of Turkmenbashy contemplating the Independence Day celebrations

I decided to walk to the Iceberg Cafe for some lula kebob. When I got there I realized I should have brought some empty Fanta bottles so I could take home some beer. After eating I decided to go home and come back and fill up all my empty Fanta bottles. This much beer might last several days and would be cheaper than buying cans of Efes.

On the way back to the Iceberg, the guy driving the informal taxi made a point of asking if I was American and then criticizing Turkmenbashy. "Eta ploka" he said and I was amazed. He didn't look Turkmen so I guess I should not have been so surprised. When I got to the Iceberg, he rejected my 5,000 manat note (2,000 is the standard fee) and demanded a dollar bill. He did this several time and I finally gave him another 5,000 manat note just to get rid of him. He doesn't like Turkmenbashy because he is on the outs and thinks he should be in the ins. People thinking like this make revolutions and destroy societies without putting anything useful in their place.

In the evening I went to an entertaining concert featuring works by Corelli, Vivaldi, and Beethoven's Violin Concerto. Eric and Paul picked the performance apart with vague criticism designed to appear incisive. I just enjoyed the music.

Afterward we went to the Exclusive to have a drink. There was a show of dancing girls and men. They must have studied at a dance school, so synchronized were there movements but the sound system was too loud and diminished my appreciation considerably.

Above, the recently completed Hall of Congresses and Art.

--Sunday, 24 October 99--
I had suggested to Eric that we go to Tolkuchka together and he had originally agreed. Later he wanted to go very early (and Natasha2 must have seemed more interesting company) but I went on my own schedule and bought two silk rugs. I liked the design and color schemes. I was pleased that silk rugs are much lighter than wool ones.

To my surprise I ran into Geldey at Tolkuchka. This guy gets around. On other occasions he told me that he saw Karen at the US Embassy, and me on Magtymguly Street. This has an eerie quality about it.

I walked over the Russian Market for some butter and then over to the "Mall" and took pictures of the Neutrality Arch, the new Tribune, the nearly completed Palace of Congresses and Art, the earthquake memorial building, the fountains, and the War Memorial. I realized that this would be my final chance to I wanted to record all my impressions.

he landlord's son, Ata, called me to say that the pilot in the water heater is out because "there is no gas in the pipe". Hmm. That explains the several times I have not had hot water when I still had water. He told me that someone is the building is making repairs to the pipes and sometimes turns the gas off and the water heater is from Iran and cannot turn itself on. More hmm.

What I Like About This Place
Many things, but particularly the respect that is given to adults here. In all my time here I have not seen an obnoxious child. In the presence of adults they are quiet and respectful. In addition, English speakers have a language desirability. Many young people are entranced at the opportunity to talk to a native English speaker. And then there is prestige in being a foreigner, especially an American. Most people here don't really know much about America but the legends of its wealth and power cast a glow that shows here and that glow affects me whether I like it or not.

But most of all, I like the people. They are very friendly and show a great natural charm and grace.

I will miss this place.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley