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

Part 10

Turkmenistan emblemSitting down in the Boeing 747 from Lufthansa I can´t help comparing it with the old bird that flew me into Ashgabat. The seats here are excellent, the seatbelt is complete and the stewardesses here will serve with a smile. The cabin crew guides people to their place, helps them to store their luggage and assists them with their seatbelts. In a short while most seats are occupied and we are ready for take-off. This is Deutsche grundlichkeit! We are ready for our first stop at Baku at the other side of the Caspian Sea. By now the sun has disappeared behind the horizon and it will be dark soon.

The past two weeks I have been bouncing on the road for hours from pothole to pothole, I have had some wobbly domestic flights in raggedy planes and I have worked for 10 hour a day. The Lufthansa 747 flight from Ashgabat to Baku is a breath of fresh air, like riding on a flying carpet. And it will bring me even further then Baku, it will bring me all the way to Frankfurt! So, I am going to sit back and enjoy the ride!

Arrived at Baku a part of the passengers disembarks, making room for a new group. After an hour or so we are ready to leave, I can hear the engines powering up. I have taken a seat at the window since no one of the new passengers has taken it. It is completely dark outside and late in the evening when we take off for Frankfurt airport. The flight is quite comfortable and every now and then I doze off into a light sleep. Somewhere during the flight a member of the cabin crew points out that the next morning is trying to catch up with us.

I get up and walk to the other side of the plain and look out of the small window. I now look at the most beautiful spectacle that I have ever seen in my life. The outside world is totally pitch black, and in the far distance I can see the round curve of the globe illuminated from the back by the sun, thus giving it a halo appearance. The next day is approaching, and it tries to catch up with us. While looking at this breathtaking spectacle of nature, I realize that this is the closest thing to space that I will ever experience! It is simply breathtaking and I keep staring at it for a while longer without saying a word, before returning to my seat.

Arrived at Frankfurt I collect my luggage and search where to board for my connecting flight to Amsterdam. After making some inquiries I do find the right pier, I drop my luggage and I make myself comfortable. My connecting flight has not even arrived from Amsterdam yet, and it might just take a while. After a while, with still hours to wait, I put my suitcase and bag on the floor, put my head on the bag and stretch out on the floor. I am so tired by now. I feel like I am too tired to sleep but after a while I do fall asleep.

Someone is nudging me. I am so bloody tired, I just want to sleep, and not wake up. I ignore the nudging, but then it becomes stronger. Above me I hear a man´s voice. Everything is incoherent to me at the moment. I notice that the voice is speaking to me in German. It seems that someone is addressing me and he is not about to give up. Half numb I turn around; jetlag has really kicked in by now. Hovering above me are two faces with green caps on top of their heads. Underneath the faces are two green uniforms. Airport security! They inquire after the flight I am waiting for, and in a friendly way they point out to me that this particular flight leaves in two hours. I might want to wake up now and not go to sleep again. I thank them for their concern, and I go and fetch myself a cup of coffee. While I slept Frankfurt woke up.

After a while the connecting flight arrives. Even later we are ready for boarding. The flight is a short one. In Amsterdam family is picking me up. Before driving home I make a quick stop at the Amsterdam office for a short talk about how things progressed in Cheleken. Then we leave for home. At this point all I want is a shower and a bed. Tomorrow is business as usual.

and welcome!


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Supplies ship Volgoneft.

Supplies ship Volgoneft.

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Cheleken airfield, camp at the right (Google Earth).

Cheleken airfield.

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Cheleken airfield today, camp at the right (Google Earth).

Cheleken airfield today.