December 2002- Update 3 from Ashgabat
Greetings friends and family,
Happy holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, etc. I am
delighted to report that there are three Christmas trees in my house
here in Ashgabat and one in the office. I shipped one small metal
tabletop tree over. I bought a 7 foot artificial tree here (it is
pretty nice and wasnt terribly expensive) just after Thanksgiving
and decorated it with the trimmings I shipped over. And my friends
Kathy and Mari mailed a small artificial tree, complete with
decorations and lights, that is now glowing in the hall by the front
door! Wow. And thanks to wonderful friends who planned ahead (unlike
me) there are actually gifts under the tree for me and for Lulu. So,
thanks to all of you for that.
A lot has happened since my last missive and I am not sure how much
you all really want to know. But the great thing about email is that
you can just delete it if you are not interested!
Well I have added three more countries to the list of places I have
been. In November I went to Almaty, Kazakhstan and Bishkek,
Kyrgyzstan for business. It was great to get out of Turkmenistan for
a few days. I was ready for a change. Almaty is a city of 1.5
million people with a couple of huge grocery stores where they sell
things like taco shells and chili powder and other exotic items. I
bought really cool stuff like gardening hand tools, freezer
containers and flour tortillas!
I also had the opportunity to have real pancakes at the American
Bar and Grill (I make awful pancakes and no one in Turkmenistan
knows what a pancake is). Ate Central Asias version of Mexican food
at the Santa Fe restaurant and it was not bad. And had some
excellent Thai food! So Almaty was a real treat for me. Had things
there I didnt even know I was missing! Bishkek is a very nice city
more the size of Ashgabat (about half a million people) but also has
a nice supermarket with a selection of European products--and they
are known for their honey. (In case I havent mentioned it,
Turkmenistan rarely has any products from Europe or the US. They get
stuff mostly from Russia, Turkey and Abu Dhabi.) And the Country
Director in Kyrgyzstan arranged to have a turkey (local, not
Butterball) with all the trimmings for us just before Thanksgiving.
What a treat.
The purpose of the trip was to meet with the Peace Corps Country
Director for these two countries and Uzbekistan not just to shop
and eat-- as my discussion may imply. And I am happy to report that
my peers are very capable and delightful people that I really enjoy
working with. It is good to have someone nearby to consult with when
a problem arises. And they all have great ideas of how to do things.
So we had an extremely productive business meeting as well.
When I left to go to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan it was still pretty
moderate in Ashgabatprobably with afternoon highs in the 80s.
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan both had already had snow and it was quite
cool there. Have to admit that was a nice change as well. Had to dig
out my wool coat, gloves, etc. Both countries are quite lovely-the
mountains are quite spectacular to this flatlander! And apparently
this area is excellent for challenging trekking in the mountains.
It was refreshing but did not make me want to go put on skis or a
backpack! Guess I am just too lazy for that. Since we drove from
Almaty to Bishkek, I did have an opportunity to see the countryside.
It looks like pretty rough country to me. But I saw all kinds of
people on horseback, camels, sheep etc. The road was a little scary
but we had excellent drivers. But during the winter there is a
prohibition about driving through the mountain passes at night so
all our travel was done during the short daylight hours.
Last week I was in India for a week, on vacation. My brother Rick
from San Francisco was coming to India on vacation so we were able
to meet and travel together for a few days. I flew in to Delhi from
Ashgabat and had arranged for a car, driver and guide to meet me and
take me to Agra for a couple of days. My goal of course was to see
the famous Taj Mahal! I stayed at the Taj View Hotel and did indeed
have a view of the Taj out my window. Unfortunately they do not
light the Taj at nightand this time of year it is very foggy at
night. That said I still had a couple of hours to view the structure
from my room in between treks to see things and eat dinner. The Taj
Mahal is indeed spectacular and a marvel of engineering and design.
It deserves the reputation it has and it was well worth seeing. The
intricate inlays of semi precious stones in marble are not to be
believed and the carved screen and other decorations in the complex
are quite amazing. I took lots of photos and bought an excellent
book on the Taj with lots of wonderful photos as well. Ill be glad
to share it when I get back to Dallas.
I also visited the Agra Fort, which is well worth seeing too. (It
is much better preserved/restored that the Red Fort in Delhi for
example). Those Moghuls had a great time beating everyone and
construction monuments to themselves. But the architecture is
interesting and figuring out how they built and decorated these
structures is quite entertaining.
After two days in Agra I flew to Mumbai (Bombay) to meet up with my
brother. We had a great time in Mumbai, touring around seeing the
sights. Went to Elephanta Island one day. The island has the man
made caves filled with carvings and statues carved there out of
volcanic rock by the Hindus. These caves were places of worship and
where priests lived. It was quite awesome as well. We took the
Rahjastan Express train overnight from Bombay to Delhi. That was a
wonderful experience. Good service, excellent food, and a way to get
a substantial distance and see some of the countryside. I have to
admit I did not care much for Delhi. Too many people all wanting to
rip you off. It became a bit oppressive after a while. However, we
did see the wonderful mosque and it is worth seeing if you get to
Needless to say, the food was wonderful the whole trip. Think I got
my quota of Indian food for the next year anyway. Learned a lot
about the different breads and found a few new dishes that I really
liked. And managed to spend some money on souvenirs and giftsso I
did my part to lift the Indian economy!
Have to sign off for now and get this out. Will tell you more
later. Look forward to a discussion of driving in Turkmenistan soon.
It is an unbelievable experience! Thanks to all of you for staying
in touch. Please email me and ask questions. The longer I stay here
the more this become normal and it already feel like home in many
A happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to you.