Tuesday, September 25, 2012

tuesdays in turkmenistan: deportation (not me)

Don't worry, or worry the same amount you had previously, for I am not one of the few being deported (and neither are any of my coworkers). Perhaps that is an outcome some of you slightly hope for, presumably only because you want me to come home and not because you would like to see me spend 15 days in jail before coming home. This is the outcome, or seems to be the likely outcome, for some individuals currently in the clink. Two weeks ago, there was an industry event attended by at least one of the major operators and many service companies. Post-event, there were post-events that evidently took on an adult theme. The word is that four people, a mix of operator and service company employees, are being deported as a result of the evening's "festivities" as I shall so discretely call them.

This is the real deal. This is why newly arrived expats get the lecture about being on good behavior and not metaphorically or literally screwing around. This is why we have an informal 11pm curfew. We get well compensated for being here and it is not because it is dangerous or there is some pervasive risk of malaria. It is because when you are here, it's not that there is no freedom, but there is a distinct decrease in the amount to which I am accustomed. It would sound much more dramatic if I could boldly proclaim that that there is no freedom here, but that would not be true.

What they have is much more watching. Sure, I can walk around the street and, if I am by myself and dressed discretely, I can blend in and won't attract a second look. Well, only if a walk suitably slow enough. My typical fast and purposeful walk seems to draw quite a bit of attention since fast-walking was evidently banned. However, in any sort of expat group, our English and everyone else's appearance will out us very quickly as foreigners. That's not really a problem, but it simply means you cannot lose yourself in a sea of anonymity. People will look, some will stare. Most of the ones who stare are likely staring at the arm sleeve of tattoos belonging to a colleague. I have no doubts that the security guards at the base make a note of every time I/we exit the base and return to the base in the evenings. My presence (and that of every expat) here must be registered. If we go somewhere else like Ashgabat or one of the port cities to go offshore, then that move must be registered. I am being watched. It is not sophisticated. In fact, it is rather clumsy at times. But being in a country with very few foreigners leads to a pervasive sense of always sticking out and attracting attention, not for what you are doing, but for simply existing in this place.

I will have to take solace in the knowledge that at least I am not a spy, because this would make it terrible to do my job. Maybe.

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