Marble and sand
Photoblog, Politics and Society, TurkmenistanNo Comment
I want to share with you impressions of the many contrasts in Turkmenistan by citizen-journalists I know. Except for two from Flickr (but I’m reassured are under Creative Commons licensing), I publish these photos with explicit permission from their owners, who must stay anonymous.
Photo #1:Ashgabat is forever under construction, and everything is glistening marble. Always new government ministries everywhere, and elite apartments for the government coterie that cost cost around 100,000-200,000 USD (!). There are some rumors these days that even the pedestrian walkways in the main quarters shall be re-paved with marble. This is all to impression of lightning-fast development in the “era of happiness of the stable state”. But it is false impression, mis-spending money that could be used to increase living standards, healthcare, education, etc.
Photo #2: Only a few blocks away from marble facade are vast colonies of crumbling Soviet-era residential blocs. Many of these are in process of being bulldozed to make way for more marble extravaganza. Kicked-out residents are given new homes in the outskirts of the city. A sharp contrast exists between the center and the periphery. It was always sort of there, even during the Soviet days, but now much more visible, much more pronounced. You notice that the same people of one city live completely different lives and are faced everyday with different realities.
Photo #3: What I find disturbing about Ashgabat’s new modern facade is that each building looks like the other standing in a row. Compared to Dubai or Istanbul, where there is real architectural ingenuity (although equally extravagant as Ashgabat), our capital looks monotonous and boring. The same type of buildings are continued to be built for some time, e.g., this recent building. In one part of Ashgabat, there are 12-story buildings but no shops — and suddenly then you see a huge monster that serves as a bakery.
Photo #4 (Flickr): Even among those marble buildings there are the older ones and the newer ones. The older ones are huge stone blocks with small windows, while the newer ones, built under a newer concept about living, offer more comfort and modernity. Here you see an older type building from the early 2000s. If you look closely, you can see how many of these buildings, as well as the monuments from that period, are quietly cracking and falling apart from lack of maintenance.
Photo #5: The same can be said about roads. Along the white marble buildings the roads are new and broad, but only a few miles away the drivers are faced with an apocalypse of potholes. There are frequent accidents on the roads and destruction of cars. One must be like a circus daredevil to brave and successfully navigate out there on the wild asphalt. Or, you could just take a camel. Many Westerners may laugh, but the dromedary is an ancient and authentic vehicle for us.
Photo #6: But often you won’t even have a chance to drive very fast, because the roads are always blocked up. Whenever an official delegation visits our country (which is frequently the case), roads are either closed or there is heavy traffic along. All of the construction projects also get in the way, like blockades set up by an invading army of engineers.
Photo #7: Eventually, the road enters the desert; sometimes it just disappears into the sand. Like our Turkic brethren in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, we also have a habit of setting up yurts. It gives a sense of the difference between urban and rural here: marble, water, sparkling; sand, desiccated, sunburned.