The British Pub is located somewhere between the World Trade Center and the Russian Bazaar. It's British in that it's dark and has low celings; everything else is Turkmen. The walls of the room are adorned with gigantic star wire garlands with intermitent christmas lights wrapped aroud them. From each corner of the ceiling hang more christmas lights converging at the center chandelier adorned with shiny holiday decorations. A plasma TV blasts videos of the top 40 songs of the moment; Pitbull, Beyonce, Maroon 5 with Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Usher, etc. all mixed with hip local and Turkish music videos. It's the local equivalent of MTV. The pub is empty at 7 pm. and there are about seven waitresses who seem particularly displeased with our early arrival. They are diligent but they don't smile. We communicate in a mixture of English, Russian, a few words my husband has learned in Turkmen, but mostly in English. I ask for two Berk beers. The waitress brings us Tuborg. Close enough. Our English friend, a pilot working for an oil company, joins us at the table. We have oily fish and chips and order more beer to counteract the pool of oil making its way down out throats. A group of about ten women walks in. We stop eating and stare. They are dressed to kill. Outside, women wear long, velvety dresses and cover their heads. Here, flesh, is the theme of the evening. Miniskirts, leotards, one shoulder tiny dresses, feathers, stilettos, nylons with whimsical designs, make up, and of course, their cell phones which make their table all the more interesting with 10 blue lights illuminating ten faces. One of the women wears an elastic band around her head with a rose fastened about her right temple. She is wearing an animal print flapper dress. She looks adorable and chic and tacky and out of place and beautiful and comfortable, all at the same time. Oh, and they smoke. All of them. Their table looks a village seen from the air. There is always smoke rising above their heads. They order two bottles of vodka and I see them from my table downing shots like they're drinking water. The noise makes it almost impossible to talk. I smile but have no idea what my husband and his English pal are saying. I am more interested in people-watching. At around nine, the TV changes to soccer. Turkmenistan is playing. The musicians start to arrive. So do the men. They trickle in in pairs and sit to eat, drink and smoke all at the same time. The room begins to turn foggy with smoke. My eyes itch and my throat feels raw. I'm an onboxious ex-smoker. I go outside to breathe again and come back inside for more. Smaller groups of women arrive. I'm beginning to predict the rest of the evening: lots of flirting among the patrons, telephone numbers will be exchanged, the sporadic dances, glances across the room from one table to the next.
At ten, the musicians start to play. They are fantastic. A Turkmen band playing covers: Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Santana, James Brown, Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, all sang by a petite young Turkmen woman with a killer voice and more moves than Jagger. The ten women jump on the dance floor and dance with ease and their moves don't go at all with the music and nobody cares. I'm feeling euphoric too so I dance to a Lady Gaga cover and to "I feel Good," with my husband, with our English friend, and I think I'm the only one who dances to the music. When I go back to the table it dawns on me that none of the men have danced and I wonder if the looks that I got while dancing were not of approval but of dismay at the sight of a woman with crazy hair dancing with two white men. The band takes a break, the Turkmen team scores a goal, the DJ plays some local music and the men are ready to dance. A few of them hit the dance floor and dance their hearts out. Oh, they can move. And when the music changes to David Guetta's techno stuff, they show off more great moves...alone. Nobody dances but them, and when the women dance, nobody shares the floor with them, I'm getting the picture. I'm a nosey observer and I know that no glances were exchanged and no numbers were requested from one another. If they flirt, they must do it in some secret Turkmen code, because hard as I try to catch some illicit behavior, I see none of it. And what does a man do when he is sitting down, smoking, having some shots of vodka and three drop dead gorgeous women in miniskirts walk by him? He stops drinking his vodka and looks, he sometimes does a clumsy double take if he feels the tug. Well, that might be in the rest of the world. Not here in Turkmenistan. The man looks at them with the same lust I see when he looks at his lighter, then goes back to his vodka.
The band stops playing at 11 and the back of the pub opens to a posh, beautifully set discoteque with an outdoorsy feel. Wicker furniture with white oversized cushions, strobe lights, a young hip crowd, techno music that never changes and overpriced drinks. The flapper and her group move to the disco called "Florida" and in there it is hard to remember that I'm not at home. All traditions are outside, the women with their outfits and their head gear, their conservative attitude, their shyness. But inside it's all about being modern, hip, very, how can I put it, americanized?