I’m getting better at, uh, heating my house. Nights have been dipping down to five to ten below-zero, necessitating heating the pechka too early in the morning. This means falling out of bed onto my cold floor, pulling on my cargo pants, and stumbling outside into the frigid black air before my blood even thinks about circulating. I put twice my weight in wood on my right arm because I don’t want to make two trips, and stumble back inside, avalanching the wood down in front of the pechka. Then I squat in front of it trying to get the snow-covered wood to catch fire, eating into my breakfast and coffee time. The sad thing is that the house doesn’t really get warm until I’m gone. After doing this for a week, because I went to college, I figured out how to make my life easier; bring three armfuls of wood in the night before.
My life is currently an exhausting combination of the new and old world, or maybe just the underdeveloped new world. Between working full-time, running clubs, heating the house, cooking, and shoveling snow, I just barely have enough time to get in a run or two through the steppe. There’s a strong correlation, controlling for multiply variables, between the minutes of skype and teaspoons of Nescafe into my yellow mug. I’m thinking of scrapping skype. But yes, I’m back to running in the snow again, and I love it because it actually gives me an extra three or so hours of running time due to increased visibility. Long story short, I’m realizing what a luxurious life I’ve lived that’s allowed me to spend free time reading books, watching movies, playing piano, and doing yoga to Rodney Yee videos.
Continuing my Odyssey. The train rolled into Almaty at some ungodly morning hour, so I sat in the train station drinking poisonous coffee out of a machine, waiting for the buses to start running. It took me over three hours to get to the Peace Corps office which is a thirty minute cab ride away, but I didn’t care because this trip was about adventure and spending my money wisely on food, drink, and cover charge. The bus I was on quickly blew past capacity due to rush-hour commuting, and by the grace of God I was squeezed and pooped out of the bus at the right stop.
I immediately stripped off my stale train clothes, pulled on my stale running clothes, and jogged out the front gate. Peace Corps office is a little removed from the center of the city and so its home to stunning views of the mountains and city, perfect for a frosty fall morning. Toward the end of my run I found myself in a huge park with a sort of pantheon at the entrance. I ran around the edge of the park, but felt myself eventually drawn to a huge raised monument in the center at the back. I ran up the stone stairs, watching the Tien Shin mountains grow in front of me like giant white monsters, and when I got to the top I spun around to face the city. It spread out before me in all it’s smog and glory, the polar opposite of the ice capped wonderland at my back. It was a cold morning, but I was feeling epic, so I stayed at the lookout and did a monstrous workout as the sun came up. By the time I got back to the Peace Corps office, it was late in the morning and I felt like a god.
As the goal of my trip was to have fun, my first night in Almaty was spent at bars, smoking hookah, and didn’t end until around four in the morning. I rolled out of bed at ten and struggled outside into the cold drizzle in order to get in a run before my six-hour bus ride to Zharkent, where I was going to help conduct a teacher training seminar. The run got better as it went on and by the time I got back to the apartment I was literally shaking with hunger. My traveling buddy and I packed quickly and trudged outside into the rain, finding a ‘lagman’ restaurant on our block, across the street from the Green Bazaar. Lagman is an Uighur (ethnic group between Kazakhstan and China) food that’s basically fantastic spaghetti. As we looked at our heaping plates of noodles, my friend commented that this would either be the best or worst decision of the day. Halfway through my plate I declared it as the best decision, which he cautioned might be premature. On the taxi to the bus station the situation became critical as I broke out in a clammy sweat and my tongue got thick. It was hands-down the worst decision of the day, maybe my trip, but I was healed by a trip to the soviet bus station bathroom and passed out cold once we got on the bus.
Six hours later we rumbled into Zharkent and were met at the bus station by one of our incredible volunteer hosts. He stuffed us in a cab and drove us to his girlfriend’s house where a feast of more lagman awaited us. The table was spread with cakes, vodka, wine, cookies, cognac, and chocolates, but like I mentioned, the main course was another steaming plate of lagman. I don’t know how my stomach handled it, but I didn’t leave my seat for over three hours. Maybe the vodka settled my roiling gut, I’m not sure, all I know is that it was one of the best nights in Kazakhstan and I woke up the next morning feeling like a champ, ready to give a presentation about developing meaningful relationships with your students.