They’re easy to spot.
Foreigners wear miniskirts, short loose-fitting dresses and tight jeans, all complemented with a pair of stilettos. Turkmen women are unchangeable: they wear the same long velvety dresses and the heavy headgear that they do in winter even when the temperature touches 120F.
They are seen everywhere and if there is a stiletto-strutting world championship, the Turkmen women would win it hands down, with their Russian counterparts as their biggest contenders. Stuck your stiletto in the wrong place and need a quick fix? No problem. There is no shortage of stiletto-repair shops in Ashgabat.
It’s too cold in the winter for peddling. But summer is a different story. I took this picture of these two beggars asking for money simultaneously; one is wheelchair-bound and the other is carrying a toddler in her arms. In a country where the government subsidizes the basics: gas,
electricity, staple food, health care, housing, and where salaries are kept more or less even across the population (a street cleaner earns almost as much as a bank clerk, a whopping average of US$250/month) who would beg? Why? My guess is: foreigners. They are the only ones not covered under Turkmenistan’s paternalistic umbrella of benefits. The other question, of course is: why women? Why did I not find a single man begging? I can only speculate that we tend to be softer and more generous when the receiving hand is that of a woman, especially if the woman is handicapped or the mother of a blue-eye, angelical looking baby.
Weddings. During the day the temperature is scorchingly high, but mornings and evenings are lovely, so lovely that walking back and forth between the two enormous flames illuminating the statue of the ex-president’s father and
that of his mother’s—a whole mile—you can spot couples sitting in the dark, hugging, kissing and almost invariably an old man sitting by himself on the next bench—most likely their chaperone. This park is also a picture point for brides and grooms like this newlywed we ran into. She looks her best in a complicated wedding gown of frills and beads and corset bones, a tiara of made-believe diamonds, white stilettos of course, lacey vest and flashy wheels. A Toyota Corolla all decked up waiting for her down on the street. The car is dressed with all the desert amulets and talismans the culture has to offer; ancient traditions rooted in the belief that a set of camels reins and Akhalteke stud
whips would protect the couple and bless the bride with a bountiful family.