According to Lonely Planet, Ayna is the #1 restaurant in Ashgabat. The guide describes mouth-watering caviars, never frozen fish--wild-caught in the Caspian Sea, and some other edible sea creatures. They had me at "Lonely."
We are the first patrons to arrive. As soon as we step in, someone turns the lights on. The Christmas lights, that is, the Merry Christmas lights, adorning the windows of the restaurant. Three surprises welcome us to Ayna: First, one of the waitresses is ironing on one of the tables; second, our server is a boy, and third, the menu is in Russian and nobody at the restaurant speaks English. I try to remember those handy bits of the underwater culture I learned from watching Finding Nemo, but out of respect for my husband, I daren't speak Whale.
We do nothing in Russian, a little bit in English and a lot of body language, which doesn't help when I try to order caviar. I mean, what kind of body language does one use to do "caviar?" I order beluga, which the waiter clarifies, it won't be whole, no tail and no head, just a little bit. What can I say? "spasiba," I don't want a whole beluga.
Something is going on. Something big. Two women in high heels, hair done, make up on,
nice dresses, seem to be rehearsing an event of sorts; they dance without music and go through the motions of sitting people around the adjacent tables, set and ready to accommodate 30 people.
What's going on? we ask our young waiter.
Happy birthday, he says. In one hour.
We eat slowly, prolonging our time there so that we can crash a Turkmen happy birthday party.
A few minutes later, the singer arrives. She tests the sound system and rehearses a few songs with her killer voice. Then the photographer and the video man arrive. Things are heating up. Every time a guest arrives, video man and photographer rush to the door, adopt positions and record everybody’s entrance, like the paparazzi do.
The birthday girl does all the work. She is the one coordinating everything: she runs after photographer, singer, video man, waitresses; she greets everyone upon arrival; she sits her guests at their appointed places and she poses for the cameras with every single one of her guests. People bring flowers, presents, and a few guests slip money into her hands as they kiss by the door.
We’ve got an unobstructed view and we are missing nothing.
Each table has a litre of water, a litre of Sprite and a bottle of Vodka.
The music starts, but like any other party, the guests are shy and nobody dances, just the birthday girl and her girlfriend who hasn't stopped posing for the cameras.
I'm finishing my beluga when the DJ plays a song that makes everyone get up and dance. I stop chewing. I don't want to miss a thing. How could anyone not look at these women dance. They move like nobody's watching, especially the older women who get up, wave their arms up
in the air, hands undulating to the left, to the right, a little step forward, a little step backward. Oh, the grace.
The young women have a lot to learn from their elders. They've been doing this for a long time and dance with confidence, there is wisdom in each little kick, some sort of legacy in each hand pirouette. They dance with wrinkles and with gray hair; they dance with weak knees and tough hands; with happy memories and labor pains. They dance with their wombs and their wrists and their cuticles.
The birthday girl grabs the microphone and calls the first group of five. She stands with them on the stage and teary-eyed, stares at them as they say nice things to her (I think), then she says "spasiba", hugs them, kisses them, and everybody dances some more. Later on, she calls the next group of five and the scene repeats itself.
For dessert we eat fried ice-cream, a very Turkmen dish, consisting of a scoop of chocolate ice cream covered in a layer of fried pastry. Just genius!
We extend our stay so much that the manager starts sending free stuff to our table: a pot of tea first, and then a tray of fresh fruits which seems to be the locals’ favorite way to accompany vodka.
While the waiter brings us the bill, more dancing goes on.
It doesn't take me long to get into the music. It sounds Arab, but it also sounds Russian and I have to admit, a little bit Latin. I'm tapping my feet to the music when one of the older women invites me to join them on the dance floor. I consider her invitation. I really do want to dance with them, but then I remember when I was doing research among the Yupik Eskimos of Alaska. A group of women dancers invited me to dance with them. I was supposed to sit on the floor and dance on my knees the way they do, but instead, I got up and did some hip shaking a la Colombiana thinking that I was nailing it. Needless to say, the Eskimo women were not impressed with my dancing skills and never invited me to dance again. I was welcome to watch, but never to part take.
She waves me in. She beckons me again and I look at their hips, their still hips, hips that don't shake and don't rattle. Mine are already doing the Latin thing under the table cloth, they are already having musical tremors.
"Spasiba," I say to the kind woman and shake my head. What I really want to tell her is
that my African ancestors live within me. That I'm Colombian; therefore, Andean, Spanish and African....and that I'd love to join them but my hips? Those have a mind of their own.
It's the Turkish restaurant at our Sofitel hotel and as such, the place oozes
swank. The walls are decorated with faux Turkish paintings, the Italian
chandeliers hang above and between the tables, and the recessed lights have been
dimmed in a way that makes the white leather of the booths glow with plush.
Carefully fractured pottery has been placed in eye-catching corners and by the
entrance, a river of cocoa grains runs through a bed of burlap and multicolored
shards of glass. The ambience is completed with Turkish music which seems to
have the right amount of ethnic and the right amount of modern. Nothing has been
improvised in this place, which would make this restaurant fantastic if only
our waitress came to our table when I call her.
She's looking at me. Well, we are looking at each other, but when I beckon her to our table,
she looks away. I should be, like Tom, looking at the menu, but I have my eyes set on this girl. The one with the petite sinuous body wrapped in the velvet, skin-tight uniform that leaves nothing to the imagination. While the manager whispers instructions in her ear, I examine her uniform. It's a red maxi-dress with colorful embroidery along the v-neck cut and around a low waist which accentuates her curves. She looks very young, almost too young to be waiting tables and the freckles, the braid and the bangs that brush her eyelashes every time she blinks, give her a babyish air.
When Tom finishes reading the menu, he looks up and before he even raises his hand to
call her, the waitress is by our table, greeting us, asking us what we would like to drink. I order a beer but she is not interested. Tom orders two beers and suddenly, she is.
Although we are the only customers at a restaurant that has a capacity of 100 clients, the
beers take awhile to arrive and when they do, they are slightly lukewarm.
I say, "thank you," the waitress doesn't reply. Ok, I say, "spasiba," and I get something close to a smirk, but truth to be told, her face looks more like she just swallowed an apricot whole. Tom says, "spasiba" and she is all smiles. I'm getting the hang of this. Either she doesn't think that I'm Tom's wife but rather a "paid companion" of the sorts who come to the hotel to offer their services to businessmen and because of this, she refuses to acknowledge me, or she is not used to having female customers ordering their own food because that’s a man’s job. Either way, I'm not bothered. I'm curious and slightly confused, but not bothered. Not yet, anyway.
She stands in front of our table and looks nowhere but in our direction. Yet, when I call her
to ask for some bread, she looks at her shoes. I ask Tom to look at her and in seconds she is taking his order.
We order, correction, he orders chorek, which is the local bread (a round thick chunk of dough baked in clay ovens called tamdyr). A long while passes before she brings a tray of chorek and fresh hummus. I say, "spasiba," again and she swallows another apricot.
The bread is just out of the oven and the hummus is as fresh as it can be. Tom finishes his
portion before me, but I'm thoroughly enjoying my bread and decide to take my sweet time and savor bread and hummus. I'm halfway through my combo, I still have bread and hummus left on my plates, when the pretty waitress takes my bread away. I catch the plate midair. “I’m Still Eating," I say, but again, she doesn't say anything and proceeds to take away the other plate. My hummus.
"I'm Still Eating," I repeat, as we both struggle to take the plates from each other. I want to
finish my bread, I want to eat the last bit of hummus but this woman seems to have different plans. I don't think so.
"I'm Still Eating," I say.
"Stop Chorek," she replies.
"Why?" I ask.
"Hot Food Coming. No more eating bread," she says.
It Doesn't matter that the hot food is coming. I want to finish my bread, but she is adamant that I have eaten enough bread and it's time for me to eat hot food. I'm not as amused as I was earlier. Now I'm thinking National Geographic. I'm recreating one of those episodes in which an African Savanna lioness eats her kill under a Baobab tree, only in my imagined documentary, she is dragging not a carcass but a plate of chorek to a secret cave where she can dip it in her hummus in peace.
I win the wrestling match and she lets go of the plates, so suddenly that I almost hit my face with the dishes. She's not amused either. I’m breaking a dinner etiquette rule; the one that dictates that once the main entrée is ready, the patron ought to stop eating anything else.
The food takes forever, but we know this is a good sign, an indication that nothing is being
thawed, everything is fresh and made especially for us. And it is delicious and over-priced and tastefully displayed. Everything on the plates and around the restaurant, is there to please the senses, even the uniforms of the waitresses and the waitresses themselves who seem to have been chosen based on their physical attributes.
So here is a short list of a few things I have learned about eating out in Ashgabat:
1. If we want to eat cheap, we need to go to the Ruski Bazaar (the open air market). Food at the hotel is dear.
2. If we want to drink cheap, we drink water. A glass of wine goes for 40 to 60 manats, 15 to
20 dollars, which is a few bottles of good ol’ Rex Goliath back at home
3. Bread on the table doesn't necessarily mean a chunk of butter. You have to ask for butter
and be ready to get funny looks.
4. We haven't had any waiters so far. It seems that waiting tables is a woman's job and that ordering food is a man's.
5. Do not tip. Tipping brings about a notion of social inequality that doesn't gel too well with national pride.
6. Don't let a pretty face fool you. These women are tough as nails and if you don't stand your
ground, they'll take the bread and the hummus out your mouth if they feel so inclined.
Why do Turkem women wear clogs that are one size too small? Why do the street cleaners work with brooms that are only two feet high? Why are the modern pedestrian underpasses always empty? Why are there more police than civilians wherever we go? Why are the streets and markets picture-perfect clean when there are no public garbage cans? Why are people not allowed to smoke in the streets but are allowed inside restaurants, cafes and clubs? Why are there more security guards at our hotel than guests? Why does the hotel open its three restaurants, spa, bar, business center, two gyms and three swimming pools if there is hardly anyone staying at it? Why does every tree in and out of Ashgabat have its trunk painted white? Why are cakes so prolific and why are they so thick and so large? Why are the stray dogs so big?
But my most pressing why--once I absorbed the view of city blocks of nothing but empty marble palaces, empty marble office buildings, imposing gates that lead nowhere; once I walked past pristine butcheries and odorless fish markets, past the array of monuments, statues, fountains, and national emblems, past the presidential palace with its majestic screen showing the president's speeches 24/7; once I crossed the expansive, modern, four-lane highways with no traffic--was: why is everyone so serious and, and, more important, why can I not find leave-in conditioner for my curls?
We have a great variety of TV channels, but BBC news is the only one in English and I have never liked watching the news. I’m left with the rest, which is a melting pot of stations from Turkmenistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Romania, Russia, France, Germany, China, Qatar, Kazakhstan and India.
It’s 9 PM. I’ve been reading and writing for about 10 hours and we have absolutely nothing to do, nowhere to go and very little to watch. So while Tom gets some paperwork done, I play with the TV control.
I catch something similar to So You Think You Can Dance. The judges are two women and a man with more lip-gloss and mascara than his two female counterparts put together. The first contestant is a young man that looks like Prince (the artist formerly known). He wears purple satin pants, an open bullfighter jacket with sequins, and platform shoes. He’s short, slender, has a diminutive waist and a round, petite backside like Prince’s, which he shakes like nobody’s business. I look at Tom. He makes a tsk, tsk noise and carries on with his paperwork. The next contestant is the spitting image of Johnny Weir and wears similar attire but instead of the jacket, he wears a pirate shirt with tassels. The stage is about 4’ long but in that space, this Johnny Weir pulls some moves that I have only seen Shakira and Beyonce do. He is amazing and the male judge agrees with me because he jumps off his seat and claps with the tips of his fingers, like a seal.
I change the channel and I watch for a few minutes The King of Queens dubbed in Russian, some commercials in German, and a Chinese talent show where a little guy pulls a woman in a wheelchair with his eyelids. Then something catches my attention.
A girl in her teens is crying to who appears to be her mother. The mother looks indignant but somewhat compassionate. I look at everything on the screen. They live in a mud house with low ceilings. They are sitting on the floor, on rugs, and rub their hands by a fire in the middle of the living room. They do some crying together and when the camera pans out, I see the baby. It’s a stiff bundle of white fabric that clearly doesn’t have a baby in it, but I get the idea. The young girl holds the baby in her arms and cries some more. As the mother leaves the room, the father walks in. They exchange nasty looks. I feel the tension. The father gives the baby another mean look and shouts things at his daughter, who hasn’t stopped crying. Then the father gets close to the girl, uncomfortably close, and he whispers something in her ear. She looks disgusted and recoils and so do I. Oh, no. Oh no, is all I think. But then the father leaves the room and she ponders and cries and seems to make a decision as she kisses the bundle. The next scene shows her leaving the house with the baby in her arms. She wears a long green tunic with a hoodie-like head scarf similar to those Afghan women were made to wear a few years back, and a black, stiff-looking veil that covers her face and hangs all the way down to her knees. She walks past other mud houses baking in the sun, past donkeys lazily grazing under dead trees, past other anonymous women wearing similar clothes, until she gets to a secret location: a barn, which is another small mud house. There, a young man awaits.
Before she arrives, he prepares the love pad. A few Persian rugs and lots of hay. It is obvious that he has plans because the camera zooms in on his face and I see the smirk of a teenage boy about to get lucky.
I’m watching a soap opera in a language I’ve never heard before. And I’m hooked. I look at Tom and he has stopped working. He is watching the soap opera too and he is digging it. We speculate. Tom tells me what he thinks and I make my predictions.
The young man tries to seduce the girl (who is still carrying the baby in her arms) by touching her feet. He is on the love pad and invites her, begs her to lay with him. This Casanova is ready to go. She paces back and forth, crying, explaining to him her predicament, (at least that's what I think) but the guy is overcome with desire and all he can do is paw her feet and salivate. She gives him the baby and runs out of the barn.
Then everything gets complicated. Many characters appear and the dialogues are long and the camera focuses on their faces and their fake tears and without action, we can’t tell what’s happening. I’m getting a headache.
I change the station and watch a Bridal Show on the equivalent to the Home Shopping Channel. The dresses look heavy and the models struggle to move in them. These gowns are loaded with colorful beads, rhinestones, sequins, tiny mirrors, and everything shiny. The telephone number flashes on the screen. You can call right now from just about anywhere in Asia and get one of these beauties.
I watch Sesame Street in Romanian, a version of American Idol in Uzbek or Turkmen, some cricket match narrated in Hindi, and a tasteless, borderline raunchy skit in German à la Benny Hill. But nothing, nothing can get my mind off the fate of that fake baby. I wonder who the father is and whether the young girl will be forced to marry an old cousin. I also think about the young man and if he will ever get lucky.
I have never liked soaps, but this one? I’m digging it.
I have to admit, I like dancing with Marina better than with Maria.
Marina is tall, curvy, with hair that has been dyed in all the wrong shades of blonde and straightened with all hot appliances, except a proper iron. She is Russian and speaks very good English. She wears a black dress-sweater with a thick belt under her bust and black, knee-high boots. And when we dance together, we are a thing of beauty. I think.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Maria. She is Turkmen, petite, wears jeans and a plaid shirt and her face hasn’t been marred by makeup. She sports an unassuming short haircut and laughs at everything I say but I know she doesn’t understand a word. She doesn’t speak English. And she dances like she's got her own private DJ playing other songs in her head.
They are sitting next to us at the disco where we are the only patrons. They are taking pictures of themselves. I offer to take the pictures for them and that’s it. We are friends. And because we are friends, Marina wants to know if I like mushrooms. I consider my answer very carefully. Before I know it, I’m having visions of us hallucinating in some Russian ghetto somewhere in Ashgabat, having psychedelic encounters with aliens and speaking in ancestral tongues that poor Maria can’t comprehend. Heck, I like the sound of it. I say, Yes, Sure and Marina proceeds to recite the recipes she has in mind. Gigantic mushrooms that she’ll stuff with ingredients the names of which she says in Russian because she doesn’t know them in English. It doesn’t matter. It’s all about the mushrooms being stuffed with garlic and cheese and capers and everything I deem edible, for I have no idea what she’s saying and I’m having to come up with my own recipe. She asks me if I would like to go over her house and eat mushrooms. Not right now, of course. It’s three in the morning. Time to dance.
They pull me to the dance floor and we dance. First to La Bamba, because the DJ knows I’m Colombian and he thinks La Bamba is one of the top 40 in South America. Then to something catchy that makes us turn and bump, turn and bump. It’s hysterical. I’m doing the bump and liking it. Tom is still sitting at the bar, snapping pictures and laughing at me for doing the bump. Then, much to my surprise, the DJ plays, of all things, Hava Nagila. I feel like reminding him that this is a Muslim country, but, oh, he knows. And so we dance to Hava Nagila and Marina says I’m a good dancer and I tell her that she is too and Maria laughs some more. We join hands, make a circle and do a little can-can that seems perfect for a Jewish song. Then the DJ plays Zorba The Greek and we do some genuflections but can’t agree on either direction or beat and end up bumping each other’s knees, which makes the whole situation even more hilarious. Marina says that Zorba The Greek is my song and when I shout “Opa,” she shouts “Arriba, Arriba, Arriba.”
We go back to the bar where Marina and Maria order another round of pomegranate Vodkas. I take a sip of my fizzy water which is salty, smells like seaweed and reminds me of some laxatives my mom used to give us growing up. Don’t laugh, I tell my husband. I’m having a great time. He shakes his head and finishes his Berk. By the time Tom puts his bottle down, Marina is already by my side. She has an invitation and a question.
First, the invitation: Would I like to go over her house? not now of course, it’s four in the morning but some other day? With my husband, yes?
Then, the question: Do I like mushrooms?
I knew there was something amiss from the moment we stepped out of the hotel. Tom waved a few cars down some of which slowed down, not quite coming to a full stop as they drove by us, then took off. I've seen a few taxis but they are not necessary here. Each Turkmen has an annual allowance of free gas and if they ever go over their yearly gas allocation just a few pennies buy them more. Gas, just like staple food, is subsidized by the government which allows its citizens to offer rides to one another. Therefore all you have to do if you need a taxi is wave down any car. The standard fare is three manats (the local currency equivalent to one US dollar) from and to anywhere in the city. Not a bad deal.
Eventually a young Turkmen picked us up. He spoke very good English and was delighted to have someone to practice it with. He worked for the Ministry of Culture and asked me if I knew of any theater troop in the USA interested in performing during the next international theater week to be held in May. He and my husband exchanged email addresses and Tom paid him 10 manats for a long ride from the hotel to the Tolkuchka bazaar (which translates as the Push and Shove Market). A journey of about 30 miles. I wholeheartedly disagree with overpaying the drivers; Tom goes by what his heart tells him and by how much we'd pay back in Florida for an equivalent ride. My philosophy is that we should pay what the locals pay even if we feel their services are worth more.
As soon as we stepped out of the car and started to walk towards the massive market (the biggest market in the Middle East) we passed a group of older Turkmen women. They were sitting on the steps of the first building, wearing their traditional hair gear, long dresses and clogs that seem a few sizes too small. It was freezing cold and the ground was covered in sludge from melting snow. I saw them from a distance talking to each other, smiling, puffs of steam coming out of their mouths. As Tom and I approached them, they changed their demeanor. They stopped talking to each other, turned their eyes on me (not Tom) and they shouted things in my direction, arms flailing up in the air. Something about me ticked them off. I was covered from head to toe with layers of clothes to keep my Colombian body from freezing, so it wasn't my attire that upset them. Other than holding hands with my white husband, I could not understand what I was doing that they found so offensive. They kept repeating a word which was easy for me to memorize. It sounded like "bruja" the word in Spanish for "witch." They waved their arms, jerked their heads forward, and hurled what seemed to be insults at me with such determination that Tom and I quickly started to walk away from them into a different building.
When I got back to the hotel I took it upon myself to figure out what these women had shouted at me. As it turned out, the word that came out of their mouths enough times for me to memorize was shlooha, which much to my amusement means "whore" in Russian. OK, I've been called many things in my life, but never a whore (not to my face anyway) and never in Russian. Then again, maybe I’m being paranoid as the women in the market were most likely speaking in Turkmen not Russian and I can’t find any Turkmen dictionary online. All I know is that there is something that ticks them off: my skin color (too dark, too foreign), my crazy hair (too long, too curly, too exposed), my holding hands (probably the only couple holding hands in public), my holding hands with a white man...I'll find out.
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?
This is what I see in the streets of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Women in long, velvety dresses, flowery imposing headdresses, pale faces with either no make up or lots of it. The women are thin yet curvy, shy, modest, kind. I've seen a few dark-skin people, most likely with Mongolian ancestors but other than that, the population is very Turkish-looking, very white and the Russian influence is undeniable, both in their physique and their attitude. Because most women cover their heads with impressive looking head gear, I haven't been able to ascertain if they have as much hair as the men. Men are hairy, they have lots and lots of hair on their heads. So much so that some of them look as though they wear furry hats.
Now this is what my husband looks like: British, white, blue-eyed, ashy hair. And now this is what I look like: Brown, curly hair, very, umm, latina. Now put my husband and I holding hands in the streets of Ashgabat. Quite a sight. Wherever we go, people stare at us. I'm not sure what goes through their minds but I'm sure that it's not my husband's reputation that's a stake. The other day we were walking hand in hand through the pristine Russian Bazaar and a couple of vendors who couldn't take their eyes off us asked us if we were married. Thank goodness for wedding bands. Just like those t-shirts that read "I'm With The Band," I should wear one that reads, "I'm His Wife," and an arrow pointing to the right.