Monday, June 24, 2013

June 13, 2013

The weather started out cool and overcast as I headed to the bank to withdraw money and then to the currency exchange place to obtain rubles for it. It was then back to the guesthouse to observe the teachers’ presentations and give them feedback. The teachers had chosen to go to their respective rooms to work as pairs or groups, so that Willoughby and Gulnara were in lobby free to chat for a while.

Lunch was the usual lackluster affair: a nondescript salad, bland lagman soup and a main dish consisting of everything being white: white pieces of chicken in a white sauce with white rice on the side. I turned it down completely.

I only got to observe two presentations after lunch before it was time for me to leave to run all the errands regarding our departure for Russia. Mairamgul asked me to wait a few minutes as the teachers had a present for me: a hand painted piece of felt made by another Gulnara. We had to take the requisite group photos along with others taken with individual mobile phones.

Met with Larissa in front of the Russian embassy and she handed over the passports with the visas stamped in them, two letters of invitation in case we were asked to provide them and the bill for her services. Willoughby had already paid her, but I had held out until the visa had been secured. I asked if I could go to the office selling the train tickets first and then to her office to pay her bill.

She offered to go with me to the train station to buy the tickets. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were since I was very apprehensive about conducting the transaction with no Russian whatsoever. The prices had gone up by then, so the clerk asked for 10, 900 som or $227.00. I called Willoughby to inform her, and she agreed to pay the new price.

Larissa and I walked to the travel agency and there I got the two airline tickets to fly from Saint Petersburg to Bishkek. I declined to fly on Aeroflot, the Russian airline company, as they have a terrible safety record, and instead bought tickets for Avia Traffic, the same one Ryan had flown from Dushanbe to Bishkek. We paid 13,500 each or $270.00.

Damira called while I was still at the agency saying she wanted to come by and pick up a few things I wanted her to have including the hefty dictionary I had brought from the States. I had the leftover chicken and rice with beans from the night before for dinner. When Damira came, she had some of the leftover baklava and tea while discussing CATEC and the reading she’d been doing on critical thinking.

I thought about the fact that everyone we had encountered and heard about our plans to travel to Moscow by train by ourselves, and with no language skills whatsoever, felt we were crazy and expected something to go wrong at some point. Damira mentioned that immigration officers in Kazakhstan were infamous for finding something wrong with the documents provided in order to extort a bribe from the passengers.

I sent a note to Irina, our Couch Surfing host in Moscow, confirming we had obtained our visas and would be leaving the following day. She’d sent me detailed instructions on how to get to her suburban house from the main train station, but my printer refused to work and I gave up in frustration as I was very tired. I still had done no packing of any kind.

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