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

Part 5


Turkmenistan emblemThe next day while doing the accounts, I am asked to drop something of at the workshop where they do the repairs around here. When I say repairs I mean repairs in the widest possible sense of the word. These guys repair computers, faxes, alarm clocks (mechanical and electrical), and whatever you can throw at them. They are completely self-sufficient where maintenance is concerned. And yes; mechanical alarm clocks. You see, they also do repairs for the locals that work here. There is stuff hanging of the ceiling, standing on shelves and hanging from the walls. Gutted machines are on workbenches and tools are all over the place. Interesting environment!

I learn from one of the technicians that the most common problem around here are malfunctioning floppy drives. This is due to the fine dessert dust that is blown into the air and that has the same effect on these devices as sandpaper. Floppy discs are therefore stored in small individual plastic bags to shield them against the dust. If you do not store them in these plastic bags, their life expectancy will be remarkably short. Especially during the summer months.

Having returned to my desk, I mentioned yesterday´s piss-up to my British college. He asks me how I feel, which is not too bad. I have had a good and hearty breakfast with a fair amount of salt to replace the salt I lost on account of yesterday´s alcoholic festivities. I learn from my college that regarding hangovers, he applies a trick that he picked up from somewhere. I just can´t remember anymore where he picked it up. I forgot.

At a local pharmacy in the UK, he buys these sealed packages that contain concentrated salts. These packages are generally used by explorers in dessert areas, and mixed with water these replenish body salts that have been lost by perspiration. He points out to me that these are an excellent cure for the next day hangovers. A very important item, that most definitely belongs in every man´s "piss-up survival kit".

Again I feel like I have learned another essential, not to mention important and ingenious lesson today in the field of survival. Eat your heart out Ray Mears! Even while sailing on an ocean of alcohol, Britannia still rules the waves!

When I left the Netherlands I had made a note of the business fax of my family. At the moment there is not that much pressure on my work schedule, so I decide to write a letter home. I do my scribbling in the word processor and print it on paper so it can be faxed. My colleague, who passes by behind me stops and looks at the screen and starts to snicker. I inquire about what is so funny about my letter? This would be the choice of language I am explained. The letter of course, is written in the Dutch language, not the English. "Watch the look on their faces" he says, referring to the local staff who are in charge of the fax room.

He explains to me that they have instructions to make copies of everything that is faxed abroad. KGB people, he calls them. "They are here to spy on us, to see if we do things legally here", he says. There goes my confidence in my fellow human being out the window. We are not being trusted here! I am hurt! I walk to the fax room, and hand over my fax letter with instructions about its destination. Whilst explaining where to send the fax to, I can see the eyes of the lady in front of me grow bigger and bigger while she studies the fax. I guess there must be some form of truth in my college´s accusation. Why else would she be so surprised regarding the language? Why is she scrutinizing my fax? What business could she possibly have with the content of my fax letter? She finally takes her eyes of the fax and looks up at me again. For the second time I ask here when the letter will be send? Will it be send today I ask? She mumbles something in the local language and say´s "Yes, yes, today send". "Thank you!" I reply.

I look over her shoulder into the narrow fax/copier room. Against the right wall two large copier machines are positioned. At the left, right behind the door a large fax machine is beeping. Way in the back against the wall, right in front of the window, there is a small table. Two other employees are sitting at it and converse, while enjoying a cup of coffee with a cigarette. Obviously the workload here must be very stressful. I can´t help wondering why so many people do so little work around here.

Having returned to my desk, I learn that one of the conditions set by the government, of having a camp out here was that they insisted that a certain number of local people were to be employed. Real jobs or not, just employ them. This is the reason why there were three people serving at the coffee outlet where one could have been enough, and three are working the fax room. Hidden unemployment, I believe this is called. He explains that there are many more of these silly jobs around here. People have a job where they do virtually nothing all day but sit around and collect money.

Not that they earn a lot to western standards. The average monthly wage around here would be the equivalent of around $25 to $30 US Dollar, which to local standards is still quit an impressive amount. "Keep your money, and possibly expensive belongings, locked into your suitcase", I am told. "You can easily afford to lose like $800 Dollars", he explains. "You are not really going to miss that". This is what happened to a British guy a couple of weeks ago. He had left the money in his trouser pocket, lying on his bed. The money had mysteriously disappeared.

"You can´t really blame these people", my college says. I mean, when you would live under the same circumstances that they do, wouldn´t you swipe three years of wages when it was there right in front of you? On the one hand I agree with him, but on the other I don´t. I have to agree with him, in the sense that it might cause me some inconvenience, and that´s all it would, cause an inconvenience. On the other hand, you do take away something that clearly does not belong to you! It is still stealing, and whether it happens in the west or out here, it remains a wrong! And the thief does know this. We all have to work for an income.











and welcome!


 


Highslide JS
The bungalow where I staid during my visit.

The bungalow where I staid during my visit.

Highslide JS
The back of the infirmary with a view on the diner.

The back of the infirmary with a view on the diner.

Highslide JS
With my back to the diner.

With my back to the diner.