New food of the day:
I came home from work yesterday and saw that babushka had left me a plate of beshbarmak (national dish) on the table. I was starving, so I went at it with my head down. There was one piece of meat that confused me, but I ate most of it before asking any questions. Because it had the consistency and appearance of muscle, at first I thought it was regular smoked horse. The taste was different though, so I asked my host-brother if he thought it was liver, Maybe, he said, looks like liver. We both talked about how we didn’t like liver, and I stayed away from the rest of the mystery meat, having already eaten more than I wished I did. My host sister came in to have some tea, and was pouring it when I asked her where I should put the rest of what was on the plate. Just leave it on the table, she said, we’ll give it to Odie (our nutty dog). Yeah, I said, I tried to finish it, but…. I trailed off not wanting to offend. Don’t worry, she said, I don’t like heart either, dad and Abu are the only ones who eat it.
It’s been raining for the past month in Sergeyvka, painting the plants and trees a dark green and making them so heavy that they bend ponderously on their stalks and limbs. Today was no exception, but I’m going nuts from being inside and not doing anything. I haven’t been running for the past three weeks because I’m trying to rest an old ankle injury, which means that I don’t get that much cardio workout because there’s a lack of other options here in Sergeyevka. No biking, swimming, ellipticals, stairmasters, or rowing machines, but behind our house there are abandoned soviet industrial buildings that form massive yards filled with old cars, machines, and junk. Every once in a while I hop the eight foot concrete wall that separates two of the buildings and go inside to do yoga and shadowbox.
Today, after a lunch of horsemeat, fried bread, and sour cream, I went outside in the rain, jumped the wall, and started shadowboxing in the ghostly courtyard of the abandoned complex. My internal ipod was playing an epic soundtrack, and I could practically hear a deep voice-over dramatizing what I considered to be a pretty bad-ass moment. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a rough-looking guy making his way over to me from the far side of the complex. I kept boxing, kept my eye on him, and moved over to where I had left a pair of bricks to do lunges with. As he neared I called out hello, he was middle-aged, dirty, wet, and unhappy looking. He stopped about ten yards away from me and asked me what I was doing. This question seemed self-evident, but I rolled with it and told him that I was working-out. Oh, he said, why don’t you come with me, it’s raining. No shit, I thought, but I couldn’t understand what the guy could possibly want with me, so I said no thank you and that I’d rather keep working out. Oh, he said again, why are you working out? I felt like our conversation was getting rather stupid, so I said, I want to keep working out, and I don’t want to talk to you. Is there any problem with me working out here? He was close enough now that I could smell drink on him, so I wanted to keep the ideas simple and concise. He lit up a cigaret, grunted no, and shuffled off.
I was finishing up my workout about twenty minutes later when I saw a red car pull into the complex and park out of sight behind a large building, the bum shuffled over behind the same building, obviously with the intention to communicate with the car. I climbed up on a raised slab of concrete to do my next exercise and give myself a better view of my surroundings while separating myself from the road. After about five minutes the car came into view and then pulled around the corner making its way towards me. The car stopped in front of me slab, and driver and passenger both got out. The driver was a middle-age, slightly overweight, very angry-looking Russian man, and the passenger was the hobo who’d been pestering me earlier. The driver shouted at me, What are you doing?, while making his way to the rear of the car. I quickly understood that the the situation had the potential to turn nasty, so calm as I could, I said I was working out and asked if there was a problem. Working out?! Working out?! Wait a second there, and I’ll teach you something! the guy bellowed while opening his trunk. Oh shit, I thought, if he’s got a gun it’s over. Therefore when I saw him pull a thick three-foot long piece of rebar out of his trunk, I breathed a sigh of relief. I still didn’t think he’d actually attack me until he starting screaming that he’d teach me karate jumped up on the slab swinging the rebar at me with an expression of crazed rage on his face.
Time to go I thought and jumped off the concrete onto the gravel road. I started to jog towards the wall, which was about sixty yards away, but broke into a dead sprint when I heard tires screeching behind me, I couldn’t believe that I was actually being chased by a car. Part of me though it was pretty cool. Everything got quiet in my head as I flew over the wall and into the grassy yard next to our house, just about landing on my host-mother who was herding baby geese next to her potato patch. Crazy man, coming in a car, he’s got a metal pole, I tried to say as quickly as I could. Get inside, go away, let me talk to him, please, go in the house. She didn’t listen. I think it was one of those situations that’s so far-fetched that it doesn’t even register. So were you doing yoga, she asked, how was it? This isn’t working, I thought, and looked up to see the car flying toward us on the dirt road. I left my host-mom and ran over to a rotted fence lying on the ground, tore a post out with a nail on the end, and ran between her and the car just as it pulled to a stop.
I stood between the front door and the trunk as he got out and started yelling. This time though I was pissed, holding a club, and he could tell that the situation had changed. His yelling became more subdued. He claimed that he owned the complex (which turned out later to be at lie) and that he didn’t want anyone doing anything in it. The new situation cooled his steam towards me, so he turned to my host-mother and started harassing her about her potato patch, which was in another abandoned lot that he evidently owned. My fuse blew and I got inches from his face, close enough to smell the alcohol and general stench, and told him to get back in his car. I had already dropped the club once I saw that he couldn’t go for the rebar, and was now backing him up against his car. He looked at me and whined , Go away, I’m over it, can’t you see I’m talking about something else?! I couldn’t believe him, he actually was trying to reason with me in order to abuse my host-mother for an equally asinine claim. Get in your car and leave now, I said, this is between you and me. I’m not going in your yard again because it smells as bad as you do. But, if I see you again and you are aggressive toward me, I’m not going to be nice like today. I couldn’t control the shit spilling out of my mouth, and immediately afterward I saw my (real) mom groaning at me for being stupid and provocative. I was, but he got in his car and tried to beat it. But he couldn’t. I said it’s been raining for the past month in Sergeyvka, and that means the streets are not meant for anything less than a Hummer. So I got to sit and laugh and watch him struggle for 15 minutes before his jalopy slid out of the mud and took him back to whatever hole he crawled out of.
I was just reading some things that I wrote months ago before coming up to Sergeyvka, hoping to gain an insight into…something. But, I didn’t. The door to my little porch is open so I can smell the electricity in the air; I love thunderstorms. It’s really dark outside, which is odd for 10:20 pm, but every once in a while the sky flashes red/pink or white. I’ve never seen lightning this color before, but it makes my heart feel like I’ve downed a jug of Nescafe (which I’m back to now that my coffee supply is gone), and I like it.
Two weeks ago we had banya and it was awesome. Russian banya is a lot like a sauna, but more for the purpose of washing yourself and not just sitting. So my naked tenth-grade student showed me the specifics for their banya, and then I had it all to myself. Weird for me, but he didn’t seem to think it was strange. It was a good night though, I had treated myself to a sunset beer not long before, had bought a bar of my favorite chocolate, watched half the godfather, sweated, washed, smelled hot wood, drank tea and ate dried horse, and smoked a venomous Kazakhstani cigaret on my balcony before going to bed. I don’t have many nights like that, so it was a pleasure.
I went into the city the other day to run a bunch of errands and get outta dodge for the day. More like get out of the house. It’s been raining for the past month like I said before, keeping me mostly inside. I like rain but I don’t like being inside. Dissonance. Anyways, I was in the bazaar looking for some brown shoes, and I was assaulted by vendors. The guys selling shoes were nuts, they were aggressive, insulting, and crazed, the worst vendors I’ve ever met. The few women I came across in the shoe section were nice, normal, and appropriately grabby, but the guys were out of control. Maybe that’s what happens when your one shot at life is selling shoes in a bazaar, I don’t know. I tried on a pair of shoes at a milder stall, the kid couldn’t have been older than sixteen, so he didn’t have time to become socially impaired by his profession. He quickly found out I was American, and we had a semi-decent conversation. Word that I was American disseminated rapidly, and we soon had an audience. I didn’t buy the shoes because they were pointy, just like I couldn’t end up finding jeans that weren’t shiny or distressed beyond being recognizable as jeans.
When I left the stall, the audience went apeshit to get me into their own stalls. I was six feet from the exit of the bazaar when I felt someone grip my arms and spin me around. I think I’ve gotten over the American touchaphobia, but I haven’t got over the beingadumbassmarketguy, so I put my hands in his chest, sent him back into his shoes, and then snarled something in his face. Anyway, for some reason the kid who lost my sale stepped in and told his colleagues in so many words that they were stupid and bid me a good day. Like I said, maybe it’s the nature of the job, maybe they’re so cracked out from how awful it is to not sell shoes every day that they just lose it. That they worked in sales was incomprehensible to me. The only thing I can figure is that maybe the people whom they sell to will buy shoes no matter what they’re like because that’s just where you buy shoes.
They were totally different from the ladies in the underground mall selling beauty products. I was in said underground mall trying to buy a notebook and a pen in order to be somewhat prepared for a meeting I was going to, regarding the women’s leadership seminar I’m organizing. I found myself talking to the ladies selling beauty products because I realized I needed shampoo and a comb. I tried to buy the first comb I saw, but I wasn’t fast enough and I was refused. The lady said she needed to sell me a specific comb for curly hair. I told her I just wanted a comb to clean out all the dead hair, like if you brush a dog, and she laughed and said, No seriously you must buy a curly hair comb which I do not have. Go to windows down to the fat woman bending over the soap, I think she has one. The woman wouldn’t let me buy the goddamn comb, so I went to the fat one. She didn’t have one either, and was equally opposed to me just buying any old comb. I then tried to run away, but was stopped by a thin one brandishing what looked to be a torture instrument. Here you are she said, and I took out a 5,000 tenge bill to try to pay my way out of the situation before I was caught by the man police, That’ll be 60 tenge. I now have a comb that I don’t trust to use because it looks dangerous.