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

Part 9

Turkmenistan emblemHaving finished my administrative tasks, training the local staff that is, I am heading for home today. I bring my luggage to the van that is waiting for me in front of the office barrack. This will bring me to the Cheleken airport where I will catch a domestic flight to Ashgabat. The accounting staff is there to say goodbye. Also the guys from the warehouse and from last night´s "piss-up" are there to say goodbye. Driving to the camp I never saw the town of Chelleken up close, which I find very disappointing I must say. I had hoped to pay a visit to it and do some site seeing. As it appears the airport is only a 15 minute drive away from the camp. They call this Cheleken airport because planes do happen to land here, but what a crappy place this is.

The airport is completely surrounded with a ten-foot fence, just like the camp is. At the entrance you can see a large square building of two stories high, with on top of it a large wart. I assume that this must be the control tower. The neighboring building on the left is apparently for the "Departures". It is only ground floor and it has narrow windows about 7 feet above the floor. Then my eyes nearly pop out of their sockets. Almost directly next to the airports entrance stands a tree. Yes, an actual tree! There is a piece of vegetation here that reaches far higher above the knee then the average. Unbelievable! They have a tree here. Then the narrow doors of the "Departures" shack open and we go in.

Once inside it feels like walking into a large shoebox with a rim of small windows above eye level. You can only look up through them and see a small part of the sky. Along the outer walls are benches where some of the people can sit down. The rest stands in the middle and waits for things to come. At the other side opposing the entrance is another door, with next to it a small desk. And that is it, there is nothing else in this room. It is a large brick shoebox with benches against the wall only. To my surprise I notice something silver like, that is stuck against the windows. Believe it or not, but It is a burglary alarm! I mean for love of God, who wants to brake in here? You would want to break out of off here! What sense does this make? Except for the wooden benches there is nothing worth stealing here at all.

The second door opens and people and luggage are being checked and then allowed to enter the next room where the waiting continues. Clearly this room is also "decorated" by the same refined designer that did the previous room. They left the beautiful brick structure open and visible to the travellers. It also contains the same beautiful wooden seating arrangements. After a short while the third set of doors open and the light pours in. I now have a clear view across the tarmac and can see the plane waiting about two hundred feet away. We all drag our stuff across the tarmac and hand it over to the flight crew that stacks it in the belly of the plane. Then we climb the stairs and find ourselves a seat. No seat reservations need to be made, just pick one! I sit down in one of the aisle seats just in front of the wing.

The plane is a small turbo prop and of the Turkmen Airlines, and it looks like it has been flying around for quite some time now. A veteran bird so to speak. It therefore must be a reliable piece of equipment! God help us! The chair I sat down in, it feels like a piece of junk. It seems to have no proper seat. I have sunken into a pit I am telling you. Reaching left and right for both the seatbelts ends, I can only find the left part! I get up and look for the right section, but it is simply not there. Just the left part is present.

Across the aisle on the left side in front of me, four men seem to be bored with waiting and decide to throw a hand of cards. Two of them have turned around and are kneeling in their chairs and are facing backwards. They play their cards on one of the foldable tables attached to the back of the chair. With a bored and straight face, the stewardess is walking through the aisle checking if luggage is stored away properly and passengers are seated. She does this of course in the widest sense of the word. She doesn´t address the card players, instructing them to sit down properly, but just walks by them closing the trunk lids. After only a little while the outside doors are closed, and we are ready for take-off.

The plane begins to taxi to the runway and the stewardess has taken here place on one of the front crew seats facing the passengers. So far she has made no remarks to the card players who are totally concentrated on their game. She doesn´t even look at them. We stop for a moment and then the throttle is opened and we take off. The plane leaves the ground and at 90-degree angle we shoot into the sky. Obviously the four are still playing cards. With one hand, one of them holds down the stack of cards on the table, preventing it from falling on the floor due to the 90-degree angle. I have never seen this action before, not exactly Lufthansa procedures! The plane tilts and makes a curve, and way beneath me I can see the rectangle shape of the camp with the barracks lined up alongside the central path. Everything looks faded ochre from up here. As the camp rapidly disappears out of site, I realize that my chances of ever returning here are slim to none.

After about half an hour the stewardess comes from the back of the plane with a serving tray that is filled with what looks like plastic "China" with various bright colors. The cups are filled with water, and with same bored and indifferent face she invites everybody to have some. I guess that in here job description smiling was not mentioned and/or required. Since I have brought along with me a bottle of mineral water I decline. So far I haven´t had any case of Chelly-Belly and I would like to keep it so. Arrived in Ashgabat we go to the local company head office because the connecting flight from Lufthansa arrives quite a bit later this afternoon. We still have some time to talk with the local colleagues here.

and welcome!


Highslide JS
Cheleken airfield (Google Earth).

Cheleken airfield.

Highslide JS
Cheleken airfield (Google Earth).

Cheleken airfield.