Letter from Sharon Sugarek in Ashgabat
- July 6, 2003
May 11- Sunday. We have had a very interesting spring here so far.
Reminds me of Dallas only more extreme. In April it went up into the
90s for a few days, then dropped back down into the 40-50s and rained.
It has been doing this for about two months now and everyone claims it
is unusual but apparently is was very rainy last year too. In fact we
were planning to go on a picnic Thursday (it was a holiday here). It
had been beautiful all week but Wednesday it got cold again and
started raining. So the picnic was off. We will wait until summerwhen
it never rains!
Did take a ride up to the top of one of the many monuments to be found
in Ashgabat. It was actually quite nice. Got a wonderful view of the
whole city, which is amazingly green. Lots of trees and parks. And
tried a new restaurant. Now that spring is here, outdoor cafes are
popping up all over the place. That should be very pleasant during the
spring and the summer until it gets too hot. It is nice to spend some
Had a number of big excitements yesterday too. In the Russian bazaar I
found English cheddar cheese and Diet Coke!! It is very hard to find
both of those items so I was thrilled. The ladies in the bazaar also
have fresh spearmint from their gardens now and I have rediscovered
the joys of fresh mint in my tea. I don't know if I can get it all
summer. Probably. Guess I'll find out!
Since I expounded on driving here last time, thought I would share my
experiences with gas stations with you as well. Because they have been
a real experience! After I bought my Jeep, one of our drivers took me
to a gas station near my (old) house. It was a big place with lots of
pumps and lots of cars and trucks coming and going all day. However
when we pulled in to the station, Sasha explained to me that those
pumps were for government authorized vehicles and that I had to get my
gas from this fuel truck that was parked in the station near the edge
of the property. To do that I had to back my Jeep up to the truck
fighting off numerous other cars that were also trying to back into
the truck. It was a moderate level of chaos! Once I got myself
positioned to get gas, there was usually a fellow there to pump it
into the car. For this service you paid 1000 manats (about 5 cents)
Then the fellow in the back of the truck told you how much you owed
for you gas including the money for the pumper. There were no meters,
just a gauge showing the volume of gas pumped. This big yellow truck,
it turns out, came to the gas station a few times a week. (I never did
figure out the schedule.) Those guys were nice to me and once I knew
what to do I didn't mind going there.
But after a couple of months I moved out of that neighborhood so I
never knew when the truck would be there and the few times I tried to
go it was never there. So I decided to find a gas station nearer my
new residencewith Sasha's help, of course. So off we went to a gas
station, which turned out to be very close to my new house but hidden
away from the main streets. This one had two fixed pumps with lanes
for cars on either side, just like US gas stations do. However I
quickly discovered that no one got in line to get gas. One just backed
up to the pump or otherwise shoved one's way in. And since I was
always the only woman there people were really bad about not letting
me in line or cutting in front of me. So I often asked Sasha or
Andrey, one of the other drivers, to go with me if they had time. I
just hated going there.
After I told Sasha how much I hated going there and how I didn't like
to have to ask him to go with me every time, he took me to another gas
station which was about three miles from my house. This is a modern
gas station with electronic pumps with meters that show the amount of
gas pumped and the cost!!! It was so exciting! And they have people
who pump the gasfor 1000 manat (5 cents) for 40 liters or 2000 manats
for more than 40 liters. And I can read the gauge and tell how much I
owe. And I can go by myself because people actually stay in line (what
a concept!) and I don't need much in the way of communications skills
to carry out this task! This has been a great help for me since I
hate to ask people to do things for meespecially something as simple
as buying gas!
And thrill of thrill, they just opened a new gas station about a mile
from my house, just past the airport. I went there last week and the
two people who pump gas are ladies! So I will definitely go there
again! Sounds silly but I feel like I have accomplished something when
I get the car filled with gas!
Guess I need to go back to my Russia lessons too!
The other big excitement a couple of weeks ago was the discovery of
the DVD Café. There are no real movie theaters here, but some people
have set up a very big big screen TV, with nice seating and they show
movies there using DVDs. It has Dolby Stereo sounds and the picture is
quite good! And you can get a small dish of popcorn and a coke for
$0.60. The movie costs 30,000 manat, which is $1.50 more or less. Last
week we saw Chicago (in English) and really enjoyed it. Usually they
show movies in Russian but you can call and order a movie in English.
I have met some local ladies who go every Sunday evening to see a
movie in English so I shall go along and see whatever is playing.
One momentary excitement for me was the discovery of a dance class
for adults as well. First I was thrilled to find a place to dance and
then I met so wonderful ladies at the classes. Natasha who teaches the
class is a most divine and graceful dancer and we have been learning
Jive, Cha Cha Cha and Samba. Unfortunately on Wednesday we found out
we will not be able to have our class at the place where we had been
meeting so we are looking for a new place. I hope we find one because
it is great fun. I was thrilled to find out that a several people in
the class speak a little English (or more) and of course I can count
to eight in Russian and that's all you need to dance!! Let us hope we
can find a new place. I am afraid we got evicted from the last place
because too many Americans were showing up for the class. (The place
where we met was called the Officer's Club and appeared to belong to
the Army. Guess they got paranoid!)
Took a tour yesterday of the Carpet Museum to. It was wonderful.
They have the most beautiful carpets. The Museum includes carpets from
the sixteenth and seventeen centuries all the way to the mid-80s. It
was fascinating to see all of the different types of patterns and
learn about the way the carpets are made. They also have a carpet in
the museum that is in the Guinness Book of World Records! It is so
huge it is hard to imagine how they did it. I don't remember the exact
size but it was something like 14x20 metersor maybe even bigger and
weight about 2500 lbs! Quite astounding!
July 6, 2003 (Sunday) Today I realized that I have been remiss in
staying in touch with you all. Where does the time go??? It has been a
very stressful couple of months here, with lots off issues with the
government. We have had some temporary success in getting things
moving again and most of the Volunteers are holding summer camps with
their students and teachers so everyone ins now busy. We are ten weeks
away fro receiving an additional 60 Volunteers and there is lots to do
to get ready. The delays caused by the bureaucracy here have made it
difficult to do the preparation work we need to do so for the next
several months, my staff and I will be going at "Mach 2 with our hair
on fire" to quote from "Top Gun"!!
I had a break for a week in England in June. Really enjoyed the trip.
Met my friend Sheryl, her husband and their niece in London. We spent
about four days in London and then had a delightful few days in the
Cotwolds at an old manor house with beautiful gardens and lovely
rooms. I guess one high point for me was seeing Stonehenge. It is
Of course London is always delightful but boy is it expensive! One of
the things I really wanted to do was go to a movie. With my 20-pound
note (approximately $32 US) I was able to buy a ticket to the movie
(about $21), popcorn, a coke and a hamburger at MacDonald's
afterwards. And I thought $8 in the US was too much for most movies! I
enjoyed Starbucks coffee in the mornings and walking around London.
Spent almost a whole day at the Albert and Victoria Museum. Wow! What
a place. Definitely worth the time.
I hope all of you had a great July 4th. The US Ambassador is ending
her tour here and had a big party for July 4th and her farewell on
Friday. (I am going to miss her. She is terrific!) It was quite nice
with about 450 people attending. Quite a bash! No fireworks but we did
hear a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. I am so glad to
be an American. For all our faults, the US is still the absolute best
place. And we are extremely lucky to have such freedom. Most of the
rest of the world does not have the kind of freedom we are accustomed
to. I think that is one of the things that make it so challenging
here. No one is free to speak his mind or have a dissenting opinion.
And we are so used to saying what we think that we cannot understand
why people would tolerate such restrictions. Treasure your freedom my
I'll close for now. Please email me when you have time. I really enjoy
hearing about what is going on at home!
PS: It is now hot here and I can still get mint in the market. Also
apricots, peaches, cherries, strawberries, and watermelons are
starting to come in! You!