Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19, 2012

The nightmare I had foreseen so many times in my mind became a reality this morning when I woke at 6:30 am and found the apartment eerily dark. I can normally navigate the flat without having to turn the lights as there is enough light coming through the windows from the rest of the apartment complex, but this morning there was no power and the place looked ominous. I did happen to notice immediately that it appeared to be just my building out in the dark.

I cursed myself repeatedly for having failed to find an LPG balloon, but no one I’d asked could refer me to a specific place to buy one, not even Natalia from the embassy. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and couldn’t find the toothpaste by touch and only then remembered I had brought my heavy-duty flashlight. With much fumbling and more cursing, I managed to get dressed and left the flat in a rush to see if I could find a cafĂ© open where to have a cup of coffee, or several, before the class observation.

Although it was already 7:30, the city looked as if it was midnight for it was practically deserted and still pitch black. I passed numerous businesses on Chuy Avenue and they all appeared to be closed, so I approached a young woman walking next to me and asked her where I could get a cup of coffee. She wanted to send me all the way to Coffeeman, but I didn’t have time to walk that far and she then pointed to the Narodni supermarket at the corner, which usually opens 24/7, but it too was closed.

I turned left on Manas hoping the university canteen would be open and I could get some coffee there. The snow continued to fall relentlessly while some municipal workers tried in vain to keep it off the passes where students held on to each other to keep from falling down. I asked for the canteen the minute I walked in, but the place was still locked and Asel promised me a cup of coffee from one of the offices. She sent one of the students to run that errand and we proceeded to her classroom where she had hung some pictures on the red board to get the students to practice describing people.

She had six students out of twelve at the beginning of the lesson. She didn’t provide a lesson plan or a textbook for me to follow the lesson. She called on students to come up to the board and individually describe the people in each picture, but since I couldn’t see the detail from where I sat, the exercise was simply frustrating. Asel fed the answers to the students where they faltered and repeatedly called on the two young guys in the class to do most of the talking. I later learned that both of them had been to the United States and thus were the most fluent in the class.

                                         Asel conducting her class

When it came time to explain the grammar portion of the lesson, Asel switched to Russian entirely. While we were having coffee later on, she commented how ashamed she was of her students as they couldn’t speak English even though they were supposed to be pre-intermediate and intermediate level. When I countered by saying that her speaking Russian for fifty percent of the lesson didn’t help any, she replied that her students were studying Chinese five days a week while receiving English lessons only twice a week.

Fortified with a plate of blintzes and another cup of instant coffee, I walked to the Kyrgyz International University to meet with Ainura and had my Russian lesson. I had her write down for me the name of the LPG balloon so I could show it to the vendors at the Osh Bazaar and called Zarina to let her know I’d not be coming into the office as I had nothing specific to do and needed to deal with my lack of power. She commented that I was in same boat as a lot of other people and that young mothers were complaining about not having any power to even cook for their children.

It was bitterly cold when I stepped out of the university and I knew walking to the bazaar was out of the question, so I boarded a minibus and got to the house wares section as fast as I could. I asked a young man about the balloon and he directed me to go ahead, but I could only find a sort of hot plate with a canister of gas similar to what we’d take for a camping trip in the States. The swirling snow and the cold were getting to me as I walked from one stall to another trying to see if per chance someone had the balloon I had used in Tajikistan, but to no avail.

                       These brave vendors were open under blizzard-like conditions

I asked another vendor and he told me what I was looking for could only be found at one of the distributors for LPG in the city and not at the bazaar. He recommended my purchasing the hot plate and, speaking through Zarina, indicated that each canister of gas lasted up to three hours. I caved in as my hands and feet were already becoming numb from the cold and just asked him to show me how to insert the canister and light it. Luckily for me, the contraption comes with its own ignition and needs no matches.

Since I was already at the bazaar and had nothing to cook at home, I proceeded to the butcher section and was delighted to find that they had illustrated each type of meat with the shape of the animal it came from. The staff was bundled up and the women had scarves around their mouths. The guy at the cash register was doing jumping jacks to stay warm and there appeared to be no source of heat whatsoever. I bought enough meat to last me a long time.

The produce section had little to offer and many vendors were gone already, so I just bought carrots, turnips and some Korean salads before deciding to spring for a taxi to take me home. The driver wanted to overcharge me writing the fare on the snow accumulated on his car, but I steadfastly held to my offer of a 100 soms for the three blocks distance and he finally agreed. I was much relieved to find power restored to my building and started to cook a mung soup for dinner. 

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