Starting with breakfast. There was some sort of porridge that I didn’t eat which I later learned was just rice with milk, and then a spread of little bowls with different cheeses and some meats. Lots and lots of types of pastries and breads. Some things that I later learned was NOT croissants as I originally thought and some flat flapjack type things, but more of a vetkoek consistency (but sweeter). There are probably 10 types of bread with different fillings and stuff as well. Also always watermelon and melon. Unfortunately the breads and pastries were rarely fresh. Warm foods included spaghetti or Vienna-type sausages on some days, bread on others, slices of pizza on others, mixed vegetables on others. Even a type of French toast on some days!)
We went to get our first briefing close to the Olympic Complex (OC) and got our uniforms. Then lunch at a Turkish restaurant. I had water again with Turkish pizza or Pide. Not bad but very rich (lots of cheese!). At every restaurant you get bread to start with. Here we got some complimentary watermelon and melon afterwards. We ordered tea but they didn’t bill us for that, so we guessed that’s complimentary as well.
I went to do my first supermarket inspection – Prices vary. Dairy products are very expensive, but my other products are very cheap. Fresh fruit and veggies were expensive at the supermarket but much cheaper at the Russian bazaar opposite our hotel (later edit: and even cheaper at the Teke Bazaar a bazaar that the locals seem to frequent, more on that later). We were warned not to drink the water at all (even accidentally), but luckily water is cheap (2M for 1.5litre at the hotel, 3.75M for 5l of water at the supermarket). Considering that we paid about R2 per M, it’s not expensive at all.
Later we went to the Russian Bazaar – first thing: NO PHOTOS. There are guards everywhere keeping an eye. I have a translator app on my phone which I use to communicate in Russian (the Turkmen all speak Russian) so I was walking with my phone in my hand – I was told repeatedly to not take photos.
The stall owners at the bazaar were incredibly friendly. They speak no English but they all showed us their products and asked (by gestures or single words) where we were from. Of course no one believes I’m from Africa… I’m white! We got so many things to taste, everyone wanting to show off their products! Some tiny pears, fresh melon, sundried melon (delicious by the way, I’m definitely bringing some home!), nuts (some from Iran, Turkey and Turkmenistan to compare) and people try to start up conversations everywhere. At one point two stall owners were chatting to each other in Turkmen when I heard one say something sounding like “America”. I realised they were guessing where we were from, I turned around and said “South Africa actually”. I swear the poor boy blushed redder than his tomatoes! We had a good laugh about that! If you show interest, the stall owners will start to bargain with you. Bargaining is big in this part of the world, same with Azerbaijan before. If you’re a good haggler, you can have lots of fun with the locals. They seem to like a good ‘fight’!
I ended up buying some tomatoes, grapes and a pretty shopping bag with a horse on. I will go back for more stuff though, especially to take home! You can buy anything, from a cellphone, an outfit, hair accessories to any fruit/veggies/bread/sugar and even camel’s milk!! Sweets and cookies are sold loose. You say how much you want of what, and you pay per weight. Hand gestures work well for language barriers!
(Later edit: the fermented camel’s milk was really, really not my taste! It’s literally like sour milk! But, at least I can say that I’ve tried it!)