Me, my dad, and my aunt Marina, who met us in Ashgabat airport, arrived at Turkmenabat early in the morning. I think it was around 7 am. However, the sun was already hot and the air was dusty. If one takes a look at the map, he will easily realize what the scenery of Turkmenistan is like. To make it simple - it is pretty much a desert. Taxi drivers were offering their services right near the airport's entrance; for some of them it is the only source of income. I believe there are only a couple of flights a day, and quite regularly the amout of people arriving is less than the number of taxi drivers.
Getting out of the car in front of my grandparent's place, I saw children, playing some kind of a game, throwing stones. That time I did not know that I would see the same scene everytime I go outside. The amount of satellite dishes, installed on windows of most of the condos, impressed as well. The reason for it is there are five national channels in Turkmenistan. If you want to watch something other than speeches of the president and programs, praising the country, a satellite dish is the only way. Not being a fan of Russian television, I would later watch Al Jazeera English.
It is a wonderful thing to see your loved ones after a long separation. We all sat at the table full of fruits, ate shurpa (a type of soup which is popular in Turkmenistan), listening to the latest news. It turned out that many Russian speaking neighbours moved back to Russia, seeing no future here; the number of Russian schools dropped drastically in recent years. Large unemployment wrapped the country round which caused many serious problems, directly related to the youths. Drug traffic got big, and many young people, having no job, got into it. There are no addiction clinics in Turkmenistan, so if one gets into drugs, his life turns into a living hell. Not only a person gets arrested and treated literally like an animal, he or she loses any chance to get a part time job, because their bodies become weak and they lose ability to do physical labour. It was sad to hear that some of the guys, who I was a friend with when I was a kid, got into drugs and now have to hide from the police.
Later on, I went to the small market, located about a hundred meters away from my grandparent's condo, to buy bread. I would recommend, looking at the expiration dates, if buying anything other than bread, fruits or vegetables. Just in case. The amount of children, helping their parents amazed. Maybe, it was due to the fact that it was a middle of the summer and there was no school, but I think there is a different reason for that.
In the evening, we decided to go for a walk. The weather got a bit cooler. We headed towards the main street which had some nice buildings, like a Theater Building, to take a look at. We decided to sit down in an open summer cafe (baaad decision) and ordered a couple of drinks and a couple of shashlyks (a dish made of meat). Next morning, I could not get up - I got a food poisoning. I spent the entire day in bed, drinking medication. A friend of my dad said that it was a stupid decision to eat there, but assuring us that there are good places to eat in the city.
When I got better, my goal was to see Bazaar. Bazaar is one of the attractions of every Muslim city. If you need anything, Bazaar is the place it is available at: from rice to bread, from fake-branded Chinese apparel to cheap electronics. There is usually one main Bazaar in a city and few smaller ones. Tourist have to be cautious here. All those famous Middle Eastern tricks work here like a clock. If the seller sees that a person is not familiar with a place and prices - which is often a matter of seconds - that person will get a "special price" deal, paying a couple of times more than a regular buyer would pay for the same product. Bad quality products are all over the place, but once you buy one, there is almost no chance for returning it. Nevertheless, Bazaar is a great place if you need to buy something culturally related; the market is full of great, handmade souvenirs of all kinds: national caps, carpets, oriental robes. I bought most of my presents for friends that day.
As for the Turkmenabat itself, there are not a lot of places to see. There are many old building, few cafes, an old amusement park, left from Soviet times, and statues of infamous Saparmurat Niyazov, better known as Turkmenbashi. It is funny, but some of those statues are nothing else but the statues of Lenin with replaced heads. Many people grow their own fruits and vegetables for sale. Internet recently got a bit of a push, but Microsoft and other software companies will not appear here for a long time; the law, protecting intellectual property, simply does not exist in Turkmenistan. Most of the people, who drive, own Japanese cars, which they bought in neighbouring Dubai for a small, comparing to European or American markets, price. A couple of modern facilities were built during the rule of Turkmenbashi, but a lack of quilified staff makes them almost useless in many cases.
Our presence in Turkmenabat was coming to an end, we decided to go to the desert to watch a sunset. I have never been to the desert before and it has been quite an experience for me to see the smooth, untouched sand under my feet, knowing there is no one around.
When we got back the kids were playing their strange game outside. I went to bed. We left early in the morning and headed for Ashgabat.