Welcome to Turkmenistan

They are cautious about receiving visitors to Turkmenistan, it seems. There are a great many people whose job it is to help you get across the border. How happy I was to meet them all this morning at the ferry port in Turkmenabashi.

First there are the doctors. There were four. One stuck a temperature-sensitive patch to my forehead and pronounced me normal. One operated a machine that I breathed through (with no ill effect) and also said I was normal. One talked to me to ask me if I were normal (and told me not to worry). The fourth one just stood around looking doctorly. The use of masks seems fairly haphazard.

Time check:
waiting for doctors, 45 minutes
checkup, 15 minutes
elapsed time, 60 minutes.

Second are the immigration people. The first guy just checked that I had a visa and wished me well. The second guy said I would need to wait until someone gave him an appropriate piece of paper. Fortunately someone from the travel agency (you must be accompanied every day of your visit in Turkmenistan) arrived an hour or so later with the requisite form and all was, eventually well. I had to pay $10 to a Turkmen bank for reasons that remain mysterious (at least I didn’t just have to hand over the bill and I even got a receipt). The third and fourth immigration people wrote out an entry pass (which they keep) and an exit pass (which I need to get out), stamped a bunch of things, and eventually pronounced me fit to enter.

Time check:
waiting for form, 60 minutes
filling in paperwork and organising stamps, 30 minutes
paying $10, 10 minutes (I kid you not)
elapsed time, 160 minutes.

Third came the customs people, with two forms. Fill both in the same, they keep one, you keep the other. In theory it gets checked against your possessions when you leave the country, and the form gets taken from you when you leave the CIS. Make sure you list every single one of your possessions (including individual items of clothing), write down the brand of your camera, your phone, your pocket computer, record how many books you are carrying. Worry that anything that you do not record might be summarily taken from you as an illegal export at the other end. Watch as customs officials look through your bag and announce how interesting it is to see so much stuff packed in so efficiently. Wonder at what this process is actually for.

Time check:
filling in forms, 10 minutes
search of bag, 5 minutes
elapsed time, 185 minutes.

I got a little frustrated with the customs people when they told me I needed to individually list the contents of my backpack (in reality we have ended up with a compromise, where many little things are not specifically referred to anyway). But what was the point of being upset? These were the rules. They were following them. I might as well do so too, because that was the easiest way for everyone.

I guess I am pleased that they take such an interest in me.