Cheleken, Turkmenistan, Russia
Summer 1996
A two weeks culture shock
in Turkmenistan

Part 4

Turkmenistan emblemAfter having finished our coffees, we return to our tasks, which are still waiting for us at our desks. Work lasts till six o´clock after which we leave for dinner. And a good dinner it is I might say. It is a regular cornucopia, a horn of plentiful. The silly thing is, I am really hungry, as a matter of fact I am just about starving! I feel like I could eat a horse, and I do so in a figure of speech! This is strange to me, since I am not used to this kind of an appetite. It is explained to me that due to the long hours that we make our appetite increases, and this leads to the extreme eating. Looking around me I notice that just about everyone eats fairly large quantities of food.

Especially the locals do. Over the left shoulder of the guy in front of me I notice that one of the local´s two tables away has his plate filled with so much potatoes and vegetables that it resembles a small mountain. Next to his plate are four slices of bread stacked up and next to that a bowl of soup. He starts by enriching his soup with a heavily overloaded tablespoon of mayonnaise, and stirs this gently in. The next heavily overloaded tablespoon of mayonnaise is positioned over the top of the mountain of food and gently dribbles down its slopes. Whilst observing these local culinary peculiarities my stomach begins to send me signals of protest. On the question what I am staring at, I explain to the guy on the other side of the table what I just observed. He answers that this meal could very well be the only decent meal that these fellows have all day. And it is not likely that they gain much extra weight with this kind of diet, considering the many hours of work they put in.

Night falls quickly here, and by the time we are finished with dinner, having acquired a fresh bottle of mineral drinking water and made our way back to the office again, the camp is covered in total darkness. If it wasn´t for the improvised streetlights, which are powered by the camp´s generator, one couldn´t possibly see one´s own hand in front of one´s own eyes. There is not much to do in the camp during night time. I also heard that it is not allowed to leave the camp after darkness. Security risk and all. For whom I wonder? I am gradually beginning to feel like I am a captive in a prisoner of war camp!

So, there is not much else to do then watch some television on one of the many sets around here. I therefore join the others in the big diner, and the six of us watch some TV and comment on it. The amusing part is that you can receive a lot of channels here via satellite dish. Channels that I have never heard of before in the Netherlands. In this case we watch an Indian channel that has a musical program on. Top-of-the-pops from India. What a difference this is with our western pop culture. The movements that these performers can make with their necks would cause a chiropractor sleepless nights. Amazing!

Having enjoyed the singing contortionists, we group around the table and try to decide whether we have a beer or a crate of beer. Since men will obviously be men, the crate is put in the middle on top of the table. We don´t want to reach too far for the next beer, and a single bottle was mend for pussies anyway. So I am told at least. I learn that we are now officially in the middle of having a piss-up. For the over-civilised amongst you, this means we are in a serious attempt of getting totally drunk.

There is so much to learn in this new environment. Russian vodka could have been another option, but I have been warned that this is quite a powerful brew. Not to mention the fact that these stupid bottles do not come with a cork or a cap with which to close them up again. If you open a bottle of vodka, then according to the local customs, you are committed to finish the damn thing. That´s all there´s to it. Vodka therefore, is definitely not a good idea in the middle of the week!

Now that the word pussy finally cropped up, I like to mention something that I have noticed regarding the vocabulary in this neck of the woods. I realize that some people can be quite creative with words, but on the other hand what I didn´t know, was that some people could have an anemic vocabulary. A lack of creativity, so to speak. I have never heard the "F" word so many times in so many sentences, on so many occasions. And there are still so many other words that can be utilized.

While writing this, I suddenly realize that this also is a form of creativity. And let me tell you, I am surrounded by an awful lot of creative individuals. Having said so, I have to add that this does not apply to the majority of the accounting staff. It applies more to the guys who keep order in the warehouse with the drilling supplies, and the roughnecks who man the drilling rigs in the Caspian. It is a contest I am telling you, the more "F" word´s you are able to put in one and the same sentence, the better and bigger man you are.

Hooah !

and welcome!


Highslide JS
The back of the crews bungalows and the camps outer fence.

The back of the crews bungalows
and the camps outer fence.

Highslide JS
The office barracks.

The office barracks.

Highslide JS
The back of the office barracks.

The back of the office barracks.