In a Bizarre World

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
August 7, 2019
Smack in the middle of a scorching desert is Ashgabat but you would never guess it from the number of parks and flowering shrubs that line medians and border parks. Fountains spout at corners of wide boulevards, each more bizarre in design than the last. One can only wonder at the wisdom of pumping so much water in a desert. But still, so far so good.

Then you look at the buildings. They are all white, made of marble. Every single last one of them. Uniformity rules. As if that were not enough, each is lavishly decorated with kitsch gold embellishments, the gaudier the better.

White and gold is clearly the theme here, to be followed rigorously. The streetlights and lampposts alone could well be the topic of an entire photoessay. The eight-sided star that is the symbol of Turkmenistan appears everywhere. On guardrails of highways, in lampposts, in railings, on garbage bins, in bus shelters, even on the drain covers. The electronic billboards are mounted in – you guessed it – white and gold frames. I gawk in disbelief. I haven’t the words to describe the bizarre sight that is Ashgabat. Here’s hoping a picture is truly worth a thousand words!

As before, I am invisible. People either see through me or even if they happen to glance, they look away quickly. Thou Shalt not Interact with Visitors must be an unwritten law in this country. Even buying food or water at a kiosk entails having to forcibly gain attention; invisibility rules apparently in effect everywhere. The only moments of spontaneity were a group of kindergartners. Stripped down to underwear they were playing in the sandpit. Seeing me on the other side of the fence prompted waves, smiles and giggles enmasse. I suppose they are too young to have learned the unwritten law. Yet.


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