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  • Writer's pictureGreg

Long Live Neutral Turkmenistan!

Strange. I’ve been in Turkmenistan for only a month, but it feels like much longer. Maybe it’s the sensory overload of the Guinness World Record-busting number of white marble buildings. Maybe it’s the ubiquitous ads of Turkmenistan’s energetic regime—Long Live Neutral Turkmenistan!—or the hyper-active social scene typical among the diplomatic community in a small post very far from home. (My nerdy friend Jonas crunched the numbers and determined Turkmenistan is several times farther from Texas than the International Space Station!) But I’ve already hiked a bunch in the Kopet Dag mountains, visited two World Heritage Sites, attended probably too many very unofficial embassy parties, joined the Turkmenistan Women Economic Society—I was a hit, if I do say so myself—impersonated George Washington for the local press and gotten my hair cut. It’s a lot.

Some highlights and lowlights:

Ramadan carolers—Cutest Central Asian tradition ever! Children go door to door singing songs of good cheer in the month of Ramadan. Grinning gaggles of six-year-olds ring our doorbell, sing and hopefully proffer their goodie bags. It’s like a trick-or-treat/caroling combo, and it’s delightful.

The golf course—In the first episode of The Twilight Zone a man wakes to find himself alone in the world. That’s what a trip to Turkmenistan’s golf course is like. There’s nothing wrong with the course. It’s rather nice, especially when you consider it’s in a desert. Dana and I went out there on a gorgeous Saturday morning and wandered around searching for signs of human existence. (Dana, an avid fly-fisher, is searching for a new obsession since fish are few and far between in the desert.) Finally, a man approached rubbing his eyes from sleep and confirmed the course was, indeed, open. Getting there: fly to Turkmenistan and ask a taxi driver to take you to “the golf course.” There’s only one, so it shouldn’t be hard to find.

Taxis—Speaking of Turkmenistan’s taxis, they’re awesome! Basically, every car here operates like UberPool, minus the technology. Just go to the street and wave at a car. Unless it’s the president or a foreign diplomat, they’ll take you anywhere in town for ten manat, about fifty US cents. If there’s already a passenger in the car, they’ll likely drop that person off first. If not, the driver will likely pick up a few more passengers on the way to your destination. It’s great fun, no smartphone app required.

Tennis for diplomats—Like I said, Dana’s on the hunt for a new hobby, so why not tennis? Because it’ll create a major international incident, that’s why! I’m not kidding. Since Dana is a foreign diplomat, in order for her to reserve a court at the municipal tennis complex an official request has to be sent from our embassy to Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Such a note was crafted, and, six weeks later, she’s still awaiting a response.

The color white—Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, is white. Entirely white. Like, there’s not a non-white building or non-white car in the city. I exaggerate; there’s a couple of silver cars flying under the radar, and overheard at Taco Tuesday: “I think I saw a red car. Has anyone else seen it? Or is it just me? Well? Anyone?” I wonder if the other four cities in Turkmenistan have their own color schemes. Maybe Turkmenabat is turquoise and Mary, pink. Anyway, if you come to Ashgabat, bring your sunglasses. - g

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