In eastern Turkmenistan's Lebap Province, there is a girl named "Justice" who lives in a place called "Independence."
Sounds like the start to a heart-warming story. Unfortunately, her story just gets worse.
Before we go to a courtyard in "Independence," there is something worth noting about Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan has the fourth-largest reserves of natural gas in the world. The country currently is exporting some 40 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, but that amount is likely to top 70 bcm in the next 10 years. Turkmenistan sells gas to customers Iran and China at prices lower than usual world rates, but the roughly 30 bcm exported to those two countries should still bring the country at least $10 billion annually. Add in the volumes sold to Russia (at a higher price than to Iran or China) and the figure should be closer to $15 billion.
The population of Turkmenistan is about 5.5 million. So gas sales amount to a bit less than $3,000 per person. The average salary in Turkmenistan is less than $100 per month.
Now let's go to "Independence."
Adalat ("Justice" in Turkmen) Hemdemova is a young mother with a 4-month-old baby. She lives in the town of Garashsyzlyk ("Independence" in Turkmen).
Adalat and her baby live on the street, or more specifically, in a courtyard.
Adalat is unemployed and says is her husband is too. He never appears in the video that RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, filmed about Adalat.
Asked where she resided before finding herself living under the open sky, Adalat points to a door right next to her and says her mother-in-law lives there and she once lived inside also. "My mother-in-law locked it," Adalat says.
Clearly there are some family problems here, but the point of Azatlyk's report was not how this young woman came to be living in a courtyard but rather why there appear to be no social services capable of providing help to people in Adalat's situation.
Adalat's mother appears in the Azatlyk video. She says she couldn't take her daughter and grandchild in where she lives because she herself is living in a one-room flat with a "sibling."
Adalat and her mother say they have been to the mayor's office and the district administration "10 or 15 times" seeking state help. On one recent visit to the district administration building, Adalat's mother says she tried to explain "with tears in my eyes" how desperate her daughter' plight was and she pleaded for help.
"They kicked us out and said: 'You live wherever you live,'" Adalat's mother says. Adalat's mother seems genuinely distressed in the video, lamenting how difficult it is to see her daughter and grandchild living in their current conditions and being unable to do anything much to relieve the situation.
She says she previously asked for a plot of land but was refused.
Still, all there is in the video is their side of the story, and again, there are key details here that are missing.
But in checking Adalat's story, Azatlyk hit a nerve in the local administration.
The district administration knows who Adalat is and what her current condition is, although the person Azatlyk spoke with at the district administration said Adalat's claims were simply a "lie."
The second time Azatlyk called, the person hung up.
After Azatlyk aired and posted the first report about Adalat, a representative from the district administration approached the correspondent reporting on Adalat's case.
This representative said that if Azatlyk would cease publicizing Adalat's situation the district administration would help her and her child.
So far, there have been no signs that officials have moved to assist the young mother.
I mentioned above that Turkmenistan should be taking in some $15 billion for gas exports annually and that will increase substantially once all four planned gas pipelines to China are operational.
It is no secret that very little of that money goes into improving living standards in Turkmenistan, and that includes allotments for social services.
That said, Adalat notes she is feeding her "family" with the money the state provides for the baby.
Beyond that, there appears to be little that the state can or is willing to do for someone like Adalat.
I could write pages about where the gas revenues go, but it is enough to recall the articles on Qishloq Ovozi about Turkmenistan hosting the international windsurfing championship at the Awaza resort on the Caspian Sea.
The point of those pieces was to show how money is spent in Turkmenistan.
Adalat is an example of the consequences.
Azatlyk has received hundreds of comments on its Facebook page after reporting on Adalat. Qishloq Ovozi is sharing three of these:
Nargiza Nergiz Samedova no matter whom you beg no one is going to help you, take in your grandchildren and send your daughter to turkey to work, you have no other option, the president is not stupid, he won't help you, he is busy celebrating his birthday party and paying billions of dollars to artists [performers].
Aslı Melek her mom probably has a home, she should take her daughter in, and her husband should use his brain and find something to do. What is this, instead of blaming the state, make some effort.
Yaşar Arslan (responding to Asli Melek) what a terrific thoughts, but I worked in Turkmenistan for 10 years as a journalist, I am sorry to say this, there are lots of similar examples in Turkmenistan, you are talking as if you don't know anything about them, if this woman goes to mayor's office today asking for work, she will be told to pay USD 500-1000 and here is your work, sorry to say this, but the state of Turkmenistan is soaked in corruption from top to the bottom.
-- Bruce Pannier, with assistance from Muhammed Tahir, director of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service