Ashgabat, Turkmenistan Report of what it's like to live there - 10/02/12

Personal Experiences from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 10/02/12

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Florida. Approximately 31 hours including the layovers with multiple stops.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

(The contributor was affiliated with the U.S. Embassy and lived in Ashgabat for two years, from 2011 to 2013, a second expat experience.)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

If you work at the U.S. Embassy, you are located either on the housing compound, in a 1970’s style townhouse, or you are in town in a white marble apartment building. I can’t speak for the townhouses, but the apartment buildings are horrible. The central air conditioning is only turned on after June 1st (and by this time it’s over 100 degrees outside), and the heat is turned on starting November 1st. You cannot control the heat or air conditioning. The apartments are literally leaning, as they were not build to support the heavy marble that the president ordered to be placed on every apartment building. Traffic is terrible unless you want to leave your apartment before 6:30 a.m. God forbid that the president is driving anywhere in the city at the same time you are, because the police will literally close every road and leave you sitting in traffic for an hour or more. If not for the traffic, it would only take you approximately 10 minutes to get to the embassy.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Just open-market shopping. The rest has to be shipped in via amazon.com. Oh, and the COLA doesn’t even come close to covering your expenses. Forget buying pork, and expect to get served camel meat when they tell you it is beef. No words can express the anger you will feel when you try to find decent meat without maggots and that hasn’t been mixed with some other type of meat. Keep your eyes on the vendor, too. They will put rotten vegetables in your bag (when you aren’t looking) mixed with fresh vegetables. You won’t find out that half of your vegetables are rotten until you get home.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I would have shipped everything the CLO told me not to bring and left everything she told me to bring. Sometimes I wonder what planet she was from. My 2500-pound consumable shipment only lasted about 8 months. Yes, it’s that bad over there.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Fast food? There isn't one fast food restaurant in the entire country! There are a couple of Turkish-style restaurants (if you can call them that) and lots of small cafes that serve shashlik.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants infested the housing compound. There was a rat problem on the housing compound. And dont forget about the cobras that are everywhere.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch only! No UPS, DHL, FEDEX, APO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

If you dont use the Embassy's domestic help pool, you can get full time domestic help for $200 USD a month.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are several gyms, but be prepared to work out in a place that is left over from the Soviet cold war.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

There are no ATMs in the whole bloody country. It's a cash-only society.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Not that I'm aware of.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

AFN only for TV.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

If you dont speak Russian or Turkmen, forget about it.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

The city is not equipped to accommodate people with physical disabilities.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

There is no public transportation unless you want to get robbed or pick pocketed.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Bring something you don’t care about if it gets scratched, damaged, dinged, or wrecked. The Turkmen are probably the worst drivers in the world. They are aggressive and have no regard for the rules of the road (not that there are any rules of the road in Turkmenistan). A 4x4 is preferred since the roads are terrible.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

70 USD a month for the slowest internet you will ever find. you can't even watch a YouTube video!

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

They are horrible. There are only two companies in Turkmenistan, and they both dont work half the time. There is no voicemail, and expect the towers to be overloaded 23 hours out of the day.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

None!

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No!

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

formal usually.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Absolutely. Turkmenistan is located between Iran and Afghanistan. Read between the lines! Also, crime statistics are a state secret, but there is plenty of crime, ranging from murders to pickpockets. There were also rumors about kidnappings of kids for their internal organs, since the black market pays a very good price and most citizens are poor and without work. The government wouldn’t confirm this story, but embassy personnel claimed it was true. AIDS is also rampant in Turkmenistan due to prostitution, high drug usage, and the sharing of needles.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

None! If you get hurt and a band aid won’t fix it, prepare to be medical evacuated.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Pollution, Pollution, Pollution. One sinus problem after another.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot in the summer (130 degrees) cold in the winter (-10 to -20).

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

We did not have any children in school at the time.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

None.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Nannies are available, but don't use the Embassy pool as they are overpriced and will demand more money every few months and more days off. Find your own and you will pay a lot less and get more work for your dollar.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

the school has very limited programs.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Too small.

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2. Morale among expats:

Low, almost non-existent. If anyone tells you different, they are lying to you or trying to get you to bid on that god-forsaken place so they can laugh at you later.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

This is a closed society and they don't care for Westerners.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

No/Maybe/No. Single men will have a good time, as there are plenty of young beautiful women who are looking to marry a westerner and get a better life in the U.S. Families will find it very hard there, and couples will be bored to tears!

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Absolutely not. Homosexuality is forbidden in Turkmenistan.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes! Unless you are Muslim.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

None! There is nothing to do after you have spent the first week looking at monuments, carpets, ruins, etc. Yes, you can travel out of country, but Thailand is 7.5 hours away and dealing with the KGB --- who trash your luggage and go through all your stuff everytime you fly in and out --- makes it not worthwhile.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Once again, there is nothing to do after you have spent the first week looking at monuments, carpets, and ruins. There are no movie theaters, malls, shopping centers, ski slopes, golf courses, etc. in Turkmenistan. You can exercise and drink. That about covers it.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

carpets, carpets, and carpets.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

There no special advantages to living in Turkmenistan other than you can buy cheap Turkmen rugs.

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11. Can you save money?

Maybe, if you don’t spend it all on carpets, Amazon orders, or alcohol!

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Not on your life! I'd rather slam my head in a sliding glass door than to go back there.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

expectations of this country being anything short of a maximum security prison . If you look at it like you are serving a prison term with hard labor, than you won’t be disappointed. All anyone did after the first day they arrived was count the days until their release. You had better have your head screwed on right before going to this place. If you don’t keep your mind right, this place will get the better of you.

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3. But don't forget your:

wine, x-box, dvd player and dvd's, a calender to mark track the days until you depart, and your mental mind set.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Dont know of any.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzRvqKSqUtI&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIKFXo8VHPw&feature=relmfu

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6. Do you have any other comments?

If you like pain, do yourself a favor and get a root canal. It will hurt a lot less than 2 years in Turkmenistan. I don't know what post the last person who filled out this survey was, but it surely wasn't in Turkmenistan!

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