Brad Pitt of Turkmenistan
Bukhara (Uzbekistan), March 20th 2013 

There is no frequent and reliable public transport between the cities in Turkmenistan. There are some long distance buses, but local people seldom use them. The way to travel between cities is the so-called shared taxi. That means that you share a taxi, and the costs, with three other travellers; one person in the front of the car next to the driver, and three on the back bench. This is the way we travelled from Ashgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan, to Mary, one of its provincial cities. The ride was approximately 350 kilometres and it took almost four-and-a-half hours.

The taxi drivers in Turkmenistan, as probably everywhere in the former Soviet Union, are often of the type ‘shaggy guy’. The often have a dark facial expression, a shady look and are masters in negotiating the price. This is also the right description for our taxi driver Adiz (not his real name to protect his identity). But as soon as we left the suburbs of Ashgabat, Adiz started to defrost. His English was as good as our Russian, which meant that we could only exchange some words. But fortunately, one of the other passengers had a dictionary on his smart phone, which resulted in more in-depth conservations.

In the beginning, Adiz was mainly interested in the price of products in The Netherlands. If the price for a product was lower in Turkmenistan than in The Netherlands, than he shouted ‘Turkmenistan good!’ while pointing his thumb up. If it was the other way around, like the price for beef which seems to cost around US$ 70 for a kilo in Turkmenistan, than he yelled ‘Holland good!’. Also the names of the cars we saw on the road, and the countries of production, were discussed. Most of them were from Russia or Japan. When we asked our fellow passengers if Turkmenistan also produces cars, one of them said: ‘No, Turkmenistan only produces camels’, after which Adiz almost broke from laughter.

During the ride, Adiz constantly had to keep his eyes on the road. Not only to get around the holes in the road, but also to keep an eye on imminent and corrupt traffic police officers. The drivers in Turkmenistan use a limited variety of hand signals to warn drivers of oncoming cars for approaching checkpoints. A hand gun signal for example, means ‘radar gun’. If we ask Adiz how high the fine is for speeding, he honestly says that he does not really know the price. ‘I always bride the police officer’ is what he says. Five dollar is enough! ‘If you have money, you have no problem in Turkmenistan’ is what he roars with laughter.

Also women are thoroughly discussed during the ride. ‘Turkmen women no good’, is what Adiz surely states. You have to pay a US$ 4000 dowry for them. When we tell him that we don’t have dowries in the Netherlands, he sharpens his ears. ‘Holland women very cheap’ is what he calls enthusiastically. The next question is easy to predict. ‘You find me a Holland woman and sent her to me, do you? That’s not the way it goes is what we explain him. First there must be love, and than she will come. One of the other passengers suggests that Adiz uses the internet to find one. Ivonne helps him to say that he can use a picture of Brad Pitt for his profile, just to increase the chances. Adiz turn around with a big smile on his face and says: ‘not necessary, I am Brad Pitt of Turkmenistan’.

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