Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rolling pin Lada

The price of a taxi has come down quite a lot in the past few weeks with a few new firms opening. Back in January a journey around town was 220 tenge but now it has dropped and the lowest is 140 tenge. The mornings at the moment bitterly cold – today was -21 and yesterday -18 – but by the end of the day we have temperatures up to -8 or -6. So over the past few days I have been enjoying a taxi to work rather than the 20 minute walk into the wind. The drivers for the firm I use know where I live and understand me on the phone now. There was a time when taxis were being dispatched to my destination but I think that was my failure in mastering the words ‘to’ and ‘from’ – now to avoid confusion I just say ‘Orphanage. Can I have a car’ and I get the reply ‘...yes, where to’ and then I can say where which avoids the confusion. Anyway yesterday I got in the Lada and I am positive the gear stick was a rolling pin - home improvements are quite common to cars but that is the strangest adaptation I have seen. Then today I phoned a different firm because my normal one was busy and waited for my car and the same guy in the same taxi with the rolling pin gear stick arrived but today is was 10 tenge more than yesterday because I was using a different firm

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bus stops

Overslept on Saturday morning which meant that I was having to make a real dash to get to the bus station for the noon bus or I would have to wait another four and a half hours. As I turned onto the road leading to the bus station I could see it loading up with people and with two minutes to go I thought I was going to miss it especially as it started chugging forward but something must have been in the way because it stopped, chugged, stopped and chugged. This was enough time for me to get close enough to start running to cut it off as it left the standing area… but with my first step I stacked it completely as I forgot that it was ice under foot. Damaging pride more than anything I fast walked past the taxi drivers who has all been watching. Waving frantically the bust stopped and let me on. I then clambered to the last seat in the back row.

Two and half hours later when the bus should be pulling into the bus station at Lisakovsk but actually is stopping 4km outside the town at the top of the turn off for the town. I push my way from the back to the front and manage to pick up a few others on the way who were going to Lisakovsk. The driver tells us that he is not going there when we get to the front because nobody has a ticket for there he has 30 for Kostani and 15 for Rudney – the two others with me protest and show him that here are also 2 for Lisakovsk. Anyway the driver apologised but said this bus never stops there (now this is where the confusion has arisen – he is driving the 611 bus which runs everyday at 5.50am and does not stop in Lisakovsk but he is not driving it at 5.50am he is driving it at 12noon and the 12noon bus does stop in the bus station at Lisakovsk… so he is correct his bus does not stop there but the timetable of the bus running does!). Anyway he gives us money for to call a taxi out from the town to pick us up – I was expecting to do a 4km walk!
While I am now a lot more familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the buses from Zhitikara they still have more surprises for me each time I travel! But that is part of the fun of the buses…

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

International Woman Day

Holidays are a huge deal here - I have already in some form celebrated day of the disabled person, day of the accountant, day of the student, day of the volunteer and day of the tenge (the Kazkakh currency)... and tomorrow is international woman's day....

Today is the day before International Woman’s Day (8th March) which is a bit like mother’s day but on a much larger scale. I was invited to my departments celebratory dinner (unlike at Christmas so I am very pleased about having made the jump from foreigner who works in room 16 to the weird foreigner who works in the internal political department in room 16). And what a spread has just been laid on. In a department of women there was a lot of home made food and after a few days of manic work today was a real break. When I came in to work I was turned around and taken to buy a cake for after dinner and everyone had managed to slink off home to finish their part of the feast before reconvening at 1pm for a three hour marathon eating session with vodka, cognac and wine flowing freely. I get the feeling I may have been here too long when I immediately reach for the pickled cabbage followed by the pickled tomatoes before starting on the fresh stuff! By the time it came to cake and after a lot of toasts I everyone was a little tipsy and the best bit about it all is that everyone then went straight back to work!

Tomorrow, Friday and Saturday have been decreed as bank holidays but people are all a little confused because it was only announced at the end of last week from what I can work out. Most people were expecting Thursday off but not the other two days. But in exchange for a long holiday there is a price to pay which is Sunday has been made a working day! Not sure of the morality of taking away a persons weekend but none seems to be complaining.

You would be forgiven for thinking today is a bank holiday because no one seems to be in work. When I went to buy the cake there was a long queue and an even longer queue for one of the three cash points in the town of at least forty people.

Not sure of my plans for the break as it is all a little last minute and I had no idea that it was such a big thing here!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


My room smells like a municipal swimming pool after the window and surrounding area was cleaned with chlorine to treat the damp/mould. Wouldn’t be so bad if you could open a window or something but there has been no fresh air in my part of the building since September when the windows were nailed shut! Anyway with the stench of chlorine permeating everything in my room my clothes took on a rather special smell a few days ago. The first night after they cleaned the window I couldn’t sleep in the room so moved down stairs into one of the dorm rooms with the night nurse as it was too cold for us to sleep on the sofas without a heater in the lounge. Three days later I am still sleeping with my door open but the smell is moderating. The upside is that the window is now clear of any mould or damp…

The final countdown has begun and looking at my calendar I can’t quite believe 8 months is almost up. I seem to have a busy few weeks planned but pretty much tying up loose ends and fulfilling commitments rather than starting too much new. I think this weekend coming up will be the first weekend that I have not had any plans since before Christmas and I am looking forward to the rest although not quite sure what to do with myself – I guess a few DVD’s are in order and then I’ll head out about town taking photos as it could be the last opportunity. 3 Weekly Guardians have arrived this week so there is also a bit of news to catch up on.

After a cold snap down to -27 I am assured that from here on in it will only be getting warmer before I leave and there are no more forecasted cold spells although it won’t have got above 0 by the end of March when I leave.