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November 14, 2002

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We must be on the trail less traveled; local people keep asking if we're Peace Corps volunteers. This could also be a sign that we're lost. Over 70% of the population is unemployed, but most people aren't destitute because the government subsidizes water, gas, heat, rent, and it's possible to live on $20 per month. We find vibrant action at Ashgabat's Tolkuchka bazaar. The word Tolkuchka is derived from Russian, to push, and that's what happens at this flea market that spreads over many desert hectares on the city's outskirts. Miles of leaning scrap wood and metal stalls press together along tight thoroughfares in a seemingly unplanned sprawl, until you observe that vendors selling the same goods congregate in the same area. You can trade your car for camels, buy any type of accoutrement (quality not guaranteed), and of course, browse for handmade rugs in a selection that could cover the desert. Where else in the world can you barter for goods with a man wearing a five gallon sheepskin hat?
Assembly line shopping. Browse amidst long corridors of human clothes hangers. Some sell belts, others socks, scarves, bandannas, or khalats (long robes).
Bazaar pizza, called Gouk, a round flat bread filled with mutton, cooked in an clay oven, taken out and flipped a few times for good measure.
Turkman and his telpek, a sheepskin hat worn all year, even under the desert sun.
Get ready to haggle!