The Ashgabat Gazette Issue 69

--Monday, 25 October 99--
In the morning I asked Karen if I could get a Russian dictionary at the Russian Market and he said, "Yes," so I said, "Lets go do it now." We did, they had, and then we installed it. After a bit of an ordeal, we got it working. I really look forward to using it. It should help me learn Russian, something I would like to do.

This evening Geldey came by with Mustafa again. We watched Russian TV for a while and then Geldey got up and made himself some food. He made himself quite at home and I think he shocked Mustafa. We sat in the kitchen and talked. Mustafa told me that he had a contract to teach here for three years and that he went home during the summer to his town near Ankara. He wrote his address for me and encouraged me to visit him next summer.

We talked, or it is more accurate to say that, they talked. Geldey asked to see the carpets he saw me buying and I showed them to them. Geldey explained something about the carpets to Mustafa and then with a vigorous thumbs up, told me that he liked them a lot. Since he probably knows more about carpets than I do, I was flattered since I always worry about a big purchase after the fact, most especially when I make it at Tolkuchka which is a strictly "caveat emptor" shopping experience.

--Wednesday, 27 October 99--
Independence Day here. They were so security conscience that they would not let us work in the Ministry so I met Eric, Ed, and Natasha2 as planned and we walked over to the new Tribune that now faces the Presidential Palace. We were early and about an hour later the event got underway. First a small guard escorted the national flag to the large flag pole near us and it was raise while the national anthem was sung by a group of youths.

Above, the Turkmen flag is raised at the beginning of the Independence Day celebrations.

hen various detachments of troops marched by while four military jets flew over us several times. They had pulled out all the stops: There were four jets this year and last year only three.

Above, four military jets buzz the Independence Day celebrations.
Above, young people dressed in traditional Turkmen outfits dance and sing before the new Tribune in front of the Presidential Palace.

Then the singing and dancing started. I kept hearing the name of Turkmenbashy repeated over and over. A group of young men marched up and faced the Turkmenbashy. Various phrases were announced in a dramatic fashion over the PA system. After each phrase, they raised their right arms and shouted "Shokrat!, shokrat!, shokrat!" with great emphasis while pointing at Turkmenbashy. I found out later that shokrat means "glory". Then a group of women sang a song that, whatever else it might have said, mentioned Turkmenbashy by name repeatedly. The ceremony, twenty minutes longer than last year, seemed to be about Turkmenbashy rather than about Independence.

We had breakfast at lunchtime with Sheri, Brian, Ed, and Eric at the Exclusive. The conversation was pleasant and the music wasn't too loud.

Ed and Natasha2 headed toward their building and Eric, Brian and I headed toward Turkmenbashy street. People were strolling everywhere, on the sidewalks, the "mall", the streets. The weather was cool and the sun was only now beginning to break thru the clouds. Suddenly a young man stopped us, flashed a credit card-sized ID, and said that he was from "security" and asked us for our papers. Eric asked to see the fleeting Id again. We examined it and it seemed to be official so we showed him our passports. He examined out papers and then said we could continue.

I went home and started sorting clothing for abandonment or packing. Because I had chosen clothing that I planned to leave here, I had a big pile that I didn't have to pack. This worked so well that I ended up able to pack all four rugs into my two suitcases.

Next, I worked on the material that Ed wanted and got it done in good time. I then packed up everything that I had bought for the apartment, bacon, cheddar cheese, plastic glasses, etc., and took them over to Ed's place where I gave them to him along with him his material.

Geldey stopped by with Mustafa and we chatted. They came to say goodbye. I showed them the couch on which I had piled the clothing I was leaving behind and handed them each a plastic bag. Soon nothing was on the couch and the bags were bulging. Later they bid me "dos vedanya" and left happy with their loot. I was happy too. I like both of them. I am going to write Mustafa. I felt my first pang of regret at departure: I may never again see all the nice people I have met here.

I went to sleep to get some rest for the trip home. The door bell rang and I assumed it was midnight and Volodya was there to take me to the airport. But it was 10:30 and Vlad and Katya were at the door. Vlad had done more work on his essay and wanted some feedback from me. We talked and talked and then I showered and then we talked some more. I tried to use the Socratic approach and kept asking Vlad questions.

--Thursday, 28 October 99--
Then it was midnight and Volodya was at the door. Natasha had come to help me with translation at the airport but since Katya could do that we dropped Natasha at her apartment and went on to the airport.

Once there, I paid $40 (=$15+25) for the use of the CIP lounge and something else. The lounge reservation was a kindness of Katya since it had slipped Tanya's mind even though I had sent her to the airport to change the date of my ticket home.

In the CIP lounge Vlad and I talked about his essay and Katya seconded my recommendations about what he should study.

When my bags were examined for the carpet tax they first told em that I owed 265,000 manat. For some reason the official recalculated the tax and it came out as 61,000. Go figure.

Just before 3 AM I said goodbye to Katya and Vlad, and was driven to the plane. For some reason I couldn't get to sleep on the way to Baku. When the plane left Baku I was able to get a few hours sleep before arriving in Frankfurt.

As the plane descended to Frankfurt airport I felt slightly drugged. Even with the sleep since we left Baku, my body was deeply confused. My watch says that it was ten minutes of ten AM but it was dark outside and perhaps 6:10 AM local time.

In Frankfurt when I checked the departures board, the flight said, "Denver-Chicago" and I contemplated the nightmare of flying over Chicago on my way to Denver only to land, wait, take off again and return to Chicago hours later. I asked at the check in gate and they said that the first stop would be Chicago. What a relief!

I was able to use miles to upgrade to business class so the final nine hours of the trip was reasonably comfortable. Things went smoothly on landing and I was home by 11:30 AM.

I went to McDonald's and had a plain double cheese. large fries and a coke. Ah, the pleasures of junk food and home.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley