(I’ve been incommunicado for the past few days on account of the combination of sickness and power outages... But here’s my story of what happened this past Wednesday. I’ll try to update on the rest of the week when I feel better.)
We don’t teach classes on Wednesdays, and while I’ve spent the previous two Wednesdays busily engaged in lesson planning, I decided to actually *do* something with my mid-week break this time around.
I awoke promptly at 9am, not thanks to my alarm or my brilliant internal clock, but to the annoying chiming of my doorbell which whines a synthetic Beethoven at an obnoxious volume. After persistent ringing, I stumbled out of bed and peered through the peephole to find S., the school’s cleaning lady, with my freshly laundered clothes. (This is a service we have to pay for, but in my opinion, it’s well worth the money.) After she left, I managed to convince myself to go ahead and get dressed. The lure of the internet will do that.
After spending some quality time (not to mention soms) at the internet café, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and go buy a cell phone. The whole process was remarkably easy. (Additionally, I got to select my own number from a list of options. I ended up with 43-64-51 as my last six digits. Some people might note the significance of these numerical combinations, especially what with 6+4=10 and all. Yeah, old habits die hard.) It’s good to be vaguely wired again, even if it’s not via constant internet access.
A new teacher (he’s actually a student here on an internship, and will only be teaching for one month) arrived on Monday, so we decided to take him out for lunch to get to know him. We went to Fatboy’s (yes, I go there a lot, ok?) and hung out there for about an hour or so.
Before we left Fatboy’s, I.T. showed up. She and I decided to make our way to the Osh Bazaar to see what we could find. The journey there, in and of itself, is quite an adventure. Transport in the city of Bishkek consists mainly of marshrutki, or mini-buses. They are somewhere in between a mini-van and a regular van in size, so they are not very big. Additionally, they don’t seem to have any capacity limit outside of how many bodies can be crammed inside. When going to a popular destination – such as the Osh Bazaar – one should be prepared for conditions that make a tinned sardine’s life seem spacious.
The weather was absolutely frigid, and after wandering about the food section of the market for a while, we decided to take refuge in the one large, fancy(ish) indoor part of the bazaar. (For people who’ve been to Vladimir, Russia that section is like Dobryak was before they remodeled it and made it all fancy.) While inside, I managed to buy the most awesome woolen felt slippers ever for myself, as well as a pair of tiny slippers for M&A’s soon-to-be-baby. The proprietor of the stall where I purchased the slippers threw in a felt-covered papier-mache yurt for free – probably feeling guilty that I’d simply accepted his price offers without bargaining. I.T. and I also spent a long time chatting with a seller in one of the indoor stalls who used to be a Russian teacher. She invited us to come by on Sunday to meet her daughter, whom she claims speaks excellent English. I told her I would come, although as I am currently rather ill, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to make it.
We left the cozy indoor part of the market and headed out to the clothing stalls. The people who run these places must be utterly miserable, spending all day outside in subzero temps with no heat whatsoever. While I.T. didn’t find what she’d come to the bazaar in search of – a dull yet warm sweater – I managed to come away with a fabulous green and yellow prayer rug. I’d love to hang it on my wall, but as my walls are concrete, I’ve currently got it draped over the side of my wardrobe.
After spending way too much time wandering about the Osh market in the miserable chill, we decided that what we really needed was a nice cup of tea to warm us up. We found a café on the bazaar grounds – indoors and only *slightly* warmer than the great outdoors – and ordered our tea. The interior of the café was thick with cigarette smoke, and cold enough that we could see our breath.
I.T. drinks tea.
Only two other tables in the joint were occupied: one, a man and three women, all exceedingly drunk; the other, a group of seven Kyrgyz men celebrating the birthday of one of their group.
Inevitably, the men began approaching us, one at a time to chat. One told us that he owned a nearby restaurant, gave us its name, and said he hoped we’d stop by. Another, the only young one in the group, shyly sat down and asked for my phone number (which I gave him – not sure if I’ll regret that or not). He told us that he lives in Almaty, in Kazakhstan, but that he often travels to Bishkek to work in the market. Then he returned to his friends.
When I’d taken my camera out to snap the photo of I.T. drinking her tea, the group asked me to take their picture as well. One of the members of the group said he was a photographer (as in for a living), but didn’t have a digital camera. After I took their picture, he asked if he could take the memory card to print out the picture, promising to return in ten minutes or less. You know how I covet my electronic goods, and I was not too thrilled by the prospect of lending some strange man my memory card, but he was persuasive... not to mention that his friends seemed very much to want him to return with photos. He returned with copies of the photo for all of the men, into which for some reason he had photoshopped the Taj Mahal into the background! And, of course, he returned the card to me.
I.T. and I were just beginning to contemplate getting on our merry way, when the waitress arrived at our table with three cups of coffee. At first we were quite confused, but then one of the men came over, said they were from him, and asked to join us. This was another creepy-old-dude of the mouth-of-gold-teeth variety. However, the warmth from our tea had worn off and the café was cold, so the coffee was welcome, even if the companionship was rather suspect. The photographer soon joined us. While Gold Teeth pumped I.T. for information on how she managed to get from Norway to Kyrgyzstan, the photographer quizzed me about my camera, then offered to buy it. When I turned him down, he asked if he could just borrow it, because it was so much nicer than his. Again, I turned him down, although I doubt he had expected me to agree. Besides, I totally understand camera envy.
Then Gold Teeth suggested cognac. Now, I am fully aware that cognac is pretty much an open door to drunken catastrophe, but for some reason (mainly because he went to great length to express to us the purity and quality of Bishkek Cognac) we agreed to one shot, stressing that by one shot we meant just that: ONE. And of course, instead of bringing us each one shot, the waitress brought out an entire bottle. We insisted again that we would only have one shot, and they didn’t press us. However, after our first shot, Gold Teeth made a nearly successful attempt to kiss I.T., although she quite forcefully pushed him away just in time. He didn’t seem too offended, although he did try to defend himself by claiming a kiss after a first shot is Kyrgyz tradition. Um, bullshit. At that point, we decided it was probably time to leave, and despite their attempts to bribe us into sticking around with more shots of cognac, we refused and ventured back out into the cold.
By this time, the sun had set and it was definitely well below 0F (and I mean 0F, which is -17C) outside. Just walking from the café to the nearest place to find a marshrutka van left us cold to the point of pain in our extremities. The marshrutka we took back to the city center was not crowded in the least. Unfortunately, the ones I needed to cart me from the center back to my apartment were all packed to the gills. I squished into one, but only made it about halfway home before desperately needing to get back my personal space and tumbling back out into the freezing night air.
When I finally approached my block, I noticed something eerily familiar: darkness. Yep, the power in my block was out again. Luckily, after Monday’s adventure, I managed to locate my superfabulous LED headlamp, so the next three and a half hours I spent at home were not spent in darkness. Additionally, the state-provided heat and hot water was not out, so my apartment was dark, but not cold – which was excellent, as I was in desperate need of a thaw. The power surged back into life at around 10:15, only to blink off a mere 45 minutes later. Sigh. But I’ll write more about out frequent power outages when I’m feeling a little better.