Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Minor complications

I got from Dushanbe to Almaty with no problems. Even though I showed up at a hostel unannounced and with no reservation, there was a bed for me to sleep in. I spent the evening watching the sunset from Kok Tube and enjoying a meal at a lovely Kazakh restaurant with two people I approached after overhearing them speak English on the bus. I arrived at the airport the next morning and left for Tbilisi on time. Once in Georgia, I breezed through passport control with no issue. My friends Gloria and Shaun had arrived in Tbilisi the day before and arranged for a taxi to meet me at the airport. I almost missed the man holding a piece of paper with "Emily" written in blue highlighter because I was too busy marveling at the Burger King (Burger King! At the airport! In Tbilisi!), but there he was. Our hostel was a little rundown but clean, and the three of us spent a few days enjoying the city and then headed to Batumi, a town on the coast of the Black Sea, to relax for a couple days before going our separate ways--me to Armenia, Shaun and Gloria to Paris.

Are you feeling an sense of impending dread? Like maybe things have been going too well, and that is just not a sustainable pattern? Are you thinking, "Where are the shoes, and when are they dropping?" Well, my friend, have I got news for you! Your sense of unease and pessimistic outlook have been rewarded! Your prize is that I am posting this entry back at the hostel in Tbilisi when I should actually be halfway through a fifteen hour train ride to Yerevan.


I'm glad you asked!

I bought my ticket from Batumi to Yerevan at the train station in Tbilisi on Sunday. On Wednesday, August 5, at 3:30 pm from Batumi Central--as printed on my ticket--I would board the train and arrive in Yerevan at 7:00 am on the 6th. Perfect! Easy! Comfortable!

This afternoon I said goodbye to Shaun and Gloria around 2:30. "Show me your ticket before you go," Gloria said. "Ok,it's Batumi Central, the new station. If you hear them say Makhinjauri, say no. That's the old station. You don't want to go there."

"Makhinjauri, no. Got it."

"Just show the taxi driver your ticket. He'll know."

I've totally got this!

Fifteen minutes later, I walked into the Batumi Central train station. A sign said that the platform was on the second level, so I went up to take a look.

Empty. Absolutely empty. Well, it is new, I thought. I guess it makes sense that there is nothing and no one here. As I was going back down to the first level, I saw another woman coming up the escalator, obviously also on a reconnaissance mission. I waited to see what she did, and then followed her back down the stairs. She sat next to her husband/boyfriend/partner/travel buddy/whatever, and then I went up to them.

"Hi!" I smiled and waited to hear what language they answered me in.

"Hello," the woman said.

Nice. "Are you guys going to Yerevan, too?"

"Yes, we're going on holiday!"

My new acquaintances and I chatted for a few minutes, and I learned that they were Germans who used to live in Ukraine, and so they also spoke Russian. After that, I found an empty seat among a small number of other people waiting for what I (wrongfully) assumed was the Batumi-Yerevan train and pulled out my Kindle to read about that foolish Lamora boy and kill the remaining half hour until the train.

At 3:28, there was no sign of movement from anyone around me, so I turned to the man beside me. "Hi! Are you going to Yerevan?"

"Nyet, [something something something] Yerevan [something something]," he answered and shook his head.

"No, no, the train does go to Yerevan from here," I insisted. "Here, look at my ticket."

He took it, checked it, and then continued to deny that there was a train going to Yerevan from this station. The woman seated on his other side joined in.

"[words words] Yerevan [words] Makhinjauri [words]."

German Man happened to be coming down the escalator after checking the situation on the second floor and overheard this exchange. He spoke to the man next to me and became visibly distraught. Frack.

"We're at the wrong station," he huffed over his shoulder as he scurried over to where German Woman was still waiting, for a shining moment still happily unaware of our shared major inconvenience.

I hurried after him. "Maybe he's wrong," I pleaded. "Maybe he just doesn't know. We should talk to someone who works here."

"No, I'm sure he's right," German Man answered, stepping on my desperate hope. "But we should still speak to someone."

The three of us hustled across the floor again and walked up to a lady in a tickety-looking booth. He began speaking to her in Russian, sighed with irritation, and then turned around like he was looking for something.

"Ticket?" I asked and offered the useless piece of paper I still had in my hand.

He grabbed it and handed it over to Booth Lady. While she began examining my ticket, German Man and German Woman rifled through their belongings to find their own. They continued going back and forth, until the German Man pulled me forward and said, "Here, sign this."

"What is it?"

"The back of your ticket. To acknowledge that  you're getting a refund." All is lost. I have no way of getting in touch with Shaun and Gloria. I'll have to sit outside the apartment door and hope they come back early. Or sit in a marshrutka for six hours. Should I wait and take the train tomorrow? What if I lose my hostel in Yerevan because I didn't show up when they were expecting me? Can you get a marshrutka to Yerevan directly from Batumi? I signed the ticket.

As Booth Lady passed back our money, thirty percent of it sacrificed for who knows what cause or reason, we grumbled about needing to go find a ride back to Tbilisi and kicked ourselves for not asking that we were in the right place when we all first arrived--because apparently I was supposed to just know it's the other station? We were turning to go away, our regrettable business here unsatisfactorily accomplished, when Booth Lady spoke again.

"What did she say?"

"There's a train to Tbilisi leaving in an hour, but the only seats left are in first class."

A sinking feeling, followed by a strong aversion to spending the rest of the day in a grimy minibus. "Ok," I sigh. How much?"

It turns out to be twice the cost of a seat in a marshrutka, but I take it. I'm desperate. The money left in my wallet was meant for my return to Georgia in two weeks, but it is what it is. I hand my money over with a wince, and that's that.

I sit with the Germans at the little cafe, and German Man and I complain about our misfortunes and mistakes.

"There is no use whining about it now," German Woman says wisely, and she is right. I pull out my notebook and start working out what this means for my schedule, budget, and next steps. With the helpful Germans translating a page of their guidebook for me, I figure that by taking the train first class to Tbilisi today, paying to stay another night in the hostel, and finding a seat to Yerevan early the next morning, I'm only losing about fifteen additional dollars. This is not the collosal amount that it could have been, so I begin to feel a bit better. If all goes as replanned, I'll arrive in Yerevan tomorrow in late afternoon instead of early morning, thereby still managing to salvage a bit of my first day in Armenia.

The bad news is that I'll still have to take a six hour marshrutka ride. The goods news is that I learned that walking up to someone and saying "hi!" turns out to be an excellent way to start a conversation. What a world!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sorry, I'm still Miss O.

Today, English class started as usual. We greeted one another, said how-are-you-I’m-fine, and then someone asked a question.

“Emily, what is the difference between Mrs. and Miss?”

This is a great question! I explain how Mrs. is a title for married women and Miss is used for single women.

Which—of course—yet again opens the floor for discussion of why I am still a Miss and not a Mrs.

Now, this is a very popular topic when speaking to young women of marriageable age. I have this conversation at least once a week. Depending on my mood, I either shrug and move past it as quickly as possible or think to myself, I am so desirable that people literally cannot believe that I’m still on the market.

This all got me pondering the comments various Tajiks—from my very first host family to my current coworkers—have made about the singlehood they seem to find so troubling. Which, in turn, made me wonder, If they were going to create an online dating profile for me, what would it look like? I have used my formidable Photoshop skills (read: MS Paint) to recreate the imaginary profile, using phrases that people have actually said to or about me (see figure 1):

Figure 1

Ok, fine, no one ever said out loud "0/10." They didn't say it with their words, but they said it with their eyes. 

I guess I should just be glad that I haven't let it slip about sliding over the rocks at Suleiman Too—then I'd really be in trouble!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Locked out

There are three ways to lock our apartment door. It can be locked and unlocked using a key from both inside and outside—the nice, normal way. The door can also be bolted from inside, which is also fine. And, get this, it can be bolted from the outside. This is a great way to lock your roommate in so that she has to call her boss and tell him she’ll be late for work because she’s trapped in her apartment and then someone has to leave the office to come to her rescue and she has to twist her arm through the bars on the window that doesn’t open the whole way to toss her keys out to her new coworker and then explain that yes, she actually does know how to use a key, but it’s impossible to unlock that lock from the inside, let me show you.

But that’s all behind us now.

Anyway, this is our situation. Or it was, until this weekend. Here, let me tell you a tale.

On Sunday, upon leaving my apartment, I locked the door with the bolt that cannot be undone from the inside and then went off to go about my business. This was not a problem, since there was no one else inside the apartment. So, I did whatever one does midday on a Sunday, and then returned to my apartment later in the afternoon with the intent of entering it. However, when I inserted the key into the keyhole, the teeth didn’t fit into whatever locking mechanism should have been in there. I wiggled the key in the abyss for a while, and when that didn’t work I called the landlord.

After exchanging pleasantries, I said, “Our lock is broken. I can’t open the door.”

“Ok, I’ll call someone to come help you.”

I’ve been standing in the hall for ten or fifteen minutes when three men walk up to me.

“Hey, are you locked out?” one of them asks.

“Yes.” These guys don't look like locksmiths, but who am I to say?

“Your landlord called us to come help you.”

“Oh, thanks! The lock’s broken.”

All of them tried the key. “It’s broken.”

Thanks, guys. “Ok, so what should we do?”

One of the other neighbors comes up the stairs. “What’s going on here?”

“She’s locked out.”

“Let me try.” The newcomer tries the lock. “It’s broken.”

I’m glad that’s established. “What should we do?” (I keep saying “we” and not “I” because I have no idea how to fix this and want them to know that they’re a part of this with me now. There’s no backing away.)

“Well, just use this lock from now on,” he said, pointing at the bottom lock, the one that can be locked from both sides of the door.

“But this one’s still shut.” I gesture to the upper lock, the one responsible for every problem I’ve ever faced in my life.


“So what should we do?”

Everyone looks into the keyhole again. One of them tells me to turn the flashlight on my phone on.
“My phone doesn’t have a flashlight.”

“Yes, it does.”

“No, it doesn’t. Look.”

They pass my phone around and ascertain that it indeed does not have a flashlight. One of them scurries off upstairs and comes back down with a headlamp. They look into the little hole and discover that somehow the place where you insert the key, or whatever you call it, has fallen out of place.

“So what should we do?”

My neighbors stare at the door for a moment, and then one of them gestures to the wall next to the door level to where the keyhole is. “We’ll take out this part of the wall, push it back in, and then you’ll just use the bottom lock from now on.”

I don’t see why not! “Sure, ok!”

Someone dashes off again and comes back a moment later with a hammer and a table knife in his hand. He puts the tip of the knife perpendicular to the wall and then hits the end with the hammer.  Blue flakes of the wall start to collect on the floor.

I can’t help myself. I start to smile, and then I laugh. Now we’re all chuckling as these men, none of whom I’ve ever spoken to before, hack their way into my apartment with a kitchen utensil.
After a couple minutes of slow progress, someone turns up with an actual chisel. From there, the hole expands quickly, they push the bolt back, and the door swings open. Finally!

“Thank you so much!”

“You’re welcome. Just use this bottom lock from now on.”

“Of course!”

And off they rode into the sunset.

So, it was a bit of an inconvenience, but the whole ordeal only lasted an hour. I’ve got a great landlord who sends people to help me and four neighbors who didn’t hesitate to come to the aid of a stranger. And bonus—being locked in the apartment is no longer on the table! Another bonus—I now know a pretty easy way to break into people’s homes if I decide to turn to a life of crime!

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Central Asian Thanksgiving

As a proud red, white, and blue-blooded American, last Thursday and Friday I shirked my responsibilities and took off work to celebrate Thanksgiving. I spent all day on Thursday cooking at a friend’s place, and we managed to pull together a decent dinner. Everything went smoothly, except for all the things that didn’t.

Now, the elaborate meal demanded by the holiday requires a great deal of preparation in a place where the appropriate ingredients can be hard to come by. Our dear host, Kate, and I began discussing the menu and guest list in early November. Luckily, we had a friend coming in just before the big day, and she delivered dried cranberries and cream cheese all the way from our cherished homeland. The weekend before, we went to the bazaar and got the items that could be purchased in advance. On Wednesday night, I would return from Qurghonteppa, and on Thursday morning I would make an early trip to the bazaar and get all the things that needed to be bought fresh. What an excellent plan!

Except when my alarm went off at 7:00 on Thursday morning, I could hear rain hitting the window. Who wants to go to the bazaar in the rain? Not me. So, I will get another half hour of sleep, and then when I wake up it won’t be raining and I’ll go. But it was still raining at 7:30. And then it was still raining at 8:00. And still, at 8:30. This is the point at which I realized that I can’t actually control the weather by sleeping in thirty minute increments, and I got out of bed.

So, I started about an hour and a half later than I had originally intended, but that was all right. No big deal. I stopped at Kate’s to catch up on any developments that had occurred in my brief absence, then headed out to do the last of the shopping. It was a pretty quick and painless excursion, even taking my circuitous route through the stalls, which I have developed in order to avoid the pepper man who always demands to know why I haven’t called.

With a reusable shopping bag filled to capacity over my shoulder and an abnormally large cabbage cradled in my arms, I made my way back to the kitchen around 11:00. I piled my plunder on the table, grabbed a cutting board and a knife, and made the first cut into a pumpkin, when—darkness.

Now, ok, I am exaggerating a little. Windows exist, so it was not a complete darkness, you’re right, fine. It was actually still pretty bright. But the important bit is that the power went out. And electric stoves need electricity to function. That’s what I’m getting at here.

So, what do I do? Do I swear out of frustration? Do I curse the memory of Benjamin Franklin? No! No, of course not. I handle it very well. I stoically continue cutting, peeling, and chopping while Kate calls her office to ask when the power is expected to return, a half-baked cheesecake in the oven and a bowl of cracked eggs on the counter. Under the assumption that the electricity will return “in the early afternoon,” we soldier on and hope that “early afternoon” means “exactly at 12:00 because that is when the turkey needs to go in.”

Not too long after but not at noon, the power came back on, the cheesecake finished baking, and the turkey swapped in around 1:30. It was a setback, but it also gave us the opportunity to be the underdogs making a dramatic recovery. We could do this. We could still be champions.

The thing is—there was not really room for anything to be in the oven at the same time as the turkey.  The other thing is—I am not great at estimating timing. As a matter of fact, I am pretty terrible at it. So when people began turning up around 6:00 under the assumption that dinner would be served at 7:00 or 7:30, I was just squeezing the stuffing that wouldn’t fit in the bird on the rack above the turkey. And two separate vegetable dishes had to go in after that. And also the turkey was still not done.

And that’s about when one of the people who had RSVPed as unable to attend texted to wish me a happy Thanksgiving. I responded in kind and said that he and housemates should stop by if they got a chance, thinking that they either wouldn’t come at all or would turn up sometime after dinner. And he said, “Ok, we’re on our way.” Oh boy. Kate’s not going to be happy about this.

I confessed what I’d done, and she pardoned me (I think). The guests—both expected and unexpected—had arrived. “Come on, let’s get them seated,” Kate told me.

“But the food’s not done yet.”

“It’s almost 9:00. We’ve got to get started.”

So I went and shouted at some people because I am a lady, and they all came to the table. There was just enough room for the sixteen of them, as long as Kate and I stood weirdly by the sink and ate standing. And you know what? It all came together. Not all at once, obviously, but in stages. There was a field of roasted vegetables, salad, mashed potatoes, pumpkin sambusas, couscous, cranberry sauce, stuffing, cornbread, and the main event—the turkey that Kate had lovingly tended to/repeatedly molested over the course of the day. The table was ravaged, and I found myself confronted with a carcass of dirty plates and empty bowls. Crap.

I had grudgingly started collecting the dishes and piling them in the sink when the surprise guests came over. “We’re doing the dishes.”

“No, no, it’s fine. I’ll do them.”

“No, come on. We’ll do them.”

“No, it’s ok.”


And that, friends, is why you should always let whoever turns up at your door into your home (or, in this case, your friend’s apartment).

After the majority of the dishes were washed and stomachs were given time to digest, we served dessert. People ate, hung out, and chatted. Over the course of the night, I only hid from everyone twice. It was a lovely evening, and the last of the guests left around 12:30. Except for me. I was tired.

“If you let me sleep on your couch I’ll do the rest of the dishes tomorrow.”

“It’s a deal.”

When I finally woke up around 11:00, Kate was just about to head out for work.

“Here’s the spare key. You won’t hate me for leaving you alone with the dishes?”

“No, of course not! That was the plan.”

She paused for a moment, surveying what having eighteen people over for dinner had done to her apartment. And then, proudly, “I can’t believe we pulled it off.”

“Yeah, it really turned out great!”

Kate nodded with satisfaction and declared, “I’m never doing that again.”

Fair enough.

Friday, November 21, 2014

I live like a king.

In my last post, I wrote about a trip to the salon to get my feral hair tame enough to enter civilized society. As you may recall, I was very impressed with the result. So you know what I did today? I went back!

No, I didn’t get another haircut. I’m saving that for my (temporary) return to the Land of the Free next month. This time I got a manicure.

“A manicure‽ You? Who are you!” I know, I know. I hear you. I surprised myself, too. Hear me out. My hands looked and felt terrible. They hadn’t been that bad since high school, when my after-school activity was scrubbing pots and pans and washing three hundred-ish senior citizens’ dinner dishes. So I thought, Why not?, and used my lunch hour to go make an appointment.

I went in and walked up to the counter. A woman wearing a black t-shirt printed with the name of the salon, the same outfit as the rest of the staff, asked me how she could help me. (Sidebar:  I am very impressed by matching t-shirts. This is not a sentiment limited to places of employment. Also encompassed are t-shirts printed to identify the members of large groups visiting amusement parks together, to proclaim affiliation with History Club, to commemorate participation in an athletic tournament, you name it.  I know it’s cheesy, but there you have it.) I told her I wanted to schedule an appointment for a manicure, and she said, “Right now?”

I answered, “No, I’d like to come in tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? What time?”

I hesitate. “Umm…”

“Right now?”

“No, I think… uh… hmm….” This is not something I had bothered to think about before I came in.

“Right now?” She sees that I’m weakening. “It only takes half an hour.”

“Well… ok. Right now is good.” I check my phone to make sure. “Yes, right now.”

“Here, she will take care of you.” And she passed me off to a black t-shirted employee standing nearby.

“Hello!” the second woman greets me. “This way please.”

She leads me into a little booth near the back of the salon and sits me down. “My hands,” I begin. “My hands—they’re really bad.”

She examines them. “Yes, they’re very bad,” she reprimands me. “You pick at them, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I admit sheepishly.

“When is the last time you got them done?”

“Well…” I start, pretending to think. I know the last time was in middle school at some classmate’s thirteenth birthday party, and even then it was really just the color. But I can’t tell her that. She’ll write me off as a lost cause and send me packing. “It’s been years,” I decide to say. True enough.
She looks at me knowingly and gets to work rehabilitating my crone hands while I enjoy the extravagance.

Now, I know I’ve complained that there are certain comforts found living in the United States that are not available here. For example, the apartment does not have a dryer. In the heat of the summer, this was not an issue, but now that the weather is changing, clothes take about three days to dry fully. The stove shocks us consistently. Central heating is the stuff of legend. The electricity cuts out fairly regularly, as does the water. The weeks I stay in Qurghonteppa, I have to leave the dormitory and go outside to a separate building to use a bathroom shared by eight (?) people at night and thirty (?) people during work hours. People I barely know tell me it’s about time I got married and started producing uterus fruit, and sometimes the police want me to give them my passport. Poor me, right? Wimpy little snot.

Anyway, these are all minor inconveniences that I knew were possibilities/probabilities/eventualities before I came out here, and these are the things that I’ve told some of you about. However, what I’ve been quieter about is that I also live in opulence.

“You’re just saying that because you got one manicure and now you think you live in one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces.” Not so! Let me explain. Here, I enjoy many things that are either out of my reach or reserved for special occasions back in the States.  For example, two weeks ago I went to the Marine Corps Ball. At the most expensive restaurant I ever go to, I spend ten dollars to feast on vegetable curry and garlic naan, and I get to take leftovers home. So I eat Indian food three or four times a month. My bed is a blanketed monstrosity, not some little twin in a college apartment. I go to the bazaar, and then the kitchen is stocked with fresh vegetables. I meet people from all over the world. And you know what else I did recently? I’ll tell you. I took a dress—one that was in danger of smelling permanently like a certain Dushanbe nightspot—to the dry cleaner’s. Now, maybe I’m revealing myself as a weirdo with dirty clothes, but I generally consider a tag that says “Dry Clean Only” to mean “Never Needs to Be Washed Ever YAY!” I do not think I am alone in that interpretation, though it’s possible I am. I don’t think so, though. Anyway. I brought the dress, the nice people took it, and then the next day it was fresh and clean. What riches! What abundance!

Ok, so now you know I’ve been misleading you in my declarations of deprivation. The next time I start to whine about my feigned destitution, just throw everything I wrote now back in my face. Back to the manicure! So. I’m sitting there marveling at my Weird Sisters-y claws morphing into the refined hands of someone who actually takes care of herself, while also making a pretty successful attempt at salon chit-chat—a victory of its own. The manicurist finishes up salvaging my damaged nails, but she doesn’t let my hands go. Holding me in place by the metacarpals, she earnestly looks me in the eye and chastises me, “Stop picking at your nails. Stop biting them, too.”

“Ok,” I promise, cowed by her authority. “Ok, I won’t.”

“Good!” She is satisfied with my response and helps me put my coat on so I don’t smudge my not-quite-dry nails. I walk out admiring her work and vowing to take better care of my hands from here on out. As I walk up to the main road to catch a shared taxi back to work, I think to myself, Gee, my neck sure is itchy!

So, yeah, that lasted about five minutes.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Taking the plunge

Well, I finally did it.

I went hesitantly and with great trepidation where everyone who spends any significant period of time here goes eventually.

I got a haircut.

Now, I am rather fond of my hair. It is dark, and it is thick, and it is shiny, and it is on my head. So, I am a little protective of it, and there are only two people I truly trust to cut it off. Every now and then, in my desperation and/or frugality, I have allowed other people—people with scissors and dubious qualifications—near my head.* And let me tell you, friends, four months without a haircut can make a person desperate.

So, I thought about my options, which were as follows:

1.       Don’t get a haircut at all.
2.       Suck it up and go to a salon in Dushanbe.
3.       Cut my own hair.

Over time, the first option stopped being an option. I tried to delude myself for a while, thinking Hey, it’s not so bad! This is a good thing, really. I’m growing a winter coat like a grizzly bear. Yeah! Psh. Right.

On to the second! This was also not a particularly attractive option. I reiterate:  I generally do not trust people with cutting implements to hack at my head. This ingrained aversion, combined with the language issue and what I assumed to be all stylists’ inadequate training, made me reluctant to go to a salon. Well, what else are you going to do? Do it yourself? Idiot, I thought to myself.

And that was the most compelling argument I could have made to convince myself that that was exactly what I should do. Just in case you read that with sarcasm, I’m going to repeat myself, and I want you to know that I genuinely mean the words I am about to write:  I knew it would be terrible, and I judged that to be an argument in favor of option 3.

I want to pause here to emphasize what a rational being I am. Going to a salon would be a risk. The person holding the scissors would either have the skills necessary to cut my precious hair or would not. I, on the other hand, am definitely unqualified. The outcome is known. So it would be the safest choice. Why hazard someone else ruining my hair when I could just go ahead and mutilate it myself?

I’ll get back to that.

Before making a definitive decision, I did some research. I asked friends with nice hair where they get theirs done. Ruling out all the answers along the lines of “I get my hair cut in Istanbul” and “There’s a guy in Almaty who does a pretty good job,” a clear frontrunner emerged. That is, if I decided that the salon would be the way to go.

I also used the World Wide Web to look up how to cut one’s own hair. I found one site that divided the process into pretty clear steps and had pictures. Ok, fine, the instructions were a little bit in Italian and the pictures were weird cartoons. But it looked manageable.

Being an active person who never puts off making decisions, I gathered this information and then did nothing for two weeks. Then one day—some call it Monday—I woke up, looked at myself in the mirror, and thought, You look like a barbarian. Fix it.

So! Ok then! Ok! What’s it going to be! What are you going to do! Say it! Say it now!

And I went to the salon and made an appointment. And you know what? I even kept it! The next day I went in and put my life into the hands of a young woman named Aziza. And you know what else?

She did a fantastic job.

Sure, when she shampooed my hair, she also shampooed my forehead, cheeks, and neck, and it’s still a little long for me, and she styled it with an amount of volume that would have been more appropriate thirty years ago than today, but those things aren’t really a problem. My hair is still dark, and it is still thick, and it is still shiny, and it is still on my head. Now it has the added benefit of being shorter, having layers, and not looking beastly. Who knew you could pay a professional instead of erratically opening and closing scissors behind your own head? What a world!

My eyebrows, however, remain off limits. For the time being, anyway. Maybe. We’ll see. No. But maybe.

*Remember the Tragedy of 2012? I do.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Computers, poetry, and skin diseases

This week I began teaching a basic computer class at a local institute, focusing on basic Word, Excel, email, so on. Last Wednesday I had gone in to meet with the staff and plan the schedule:  I would come in Monday of this week, and they would be ready for me.

I had never taught a computer class before—not even in my native language—so I was nervous but excited. I was meant to teach for an hour and half, but I was running a little late on Monday afternoon. No matter, I thought. They won’t be ready for me on time on the first day anyway.

When I walked in the door ten minutes later than intended, I was greeted by two women and led into a room to sit. I sat and the women left. Three minutes later, a different woman entered with a man I had not met the week before.

“Hello, Emily! How are you? How’s work?” she asked.

“Hello. Everything’s fine, thanks. And you?” I asked.

“Good, good. This is our English teacher!” She gestured enthusiastically to the silent Tajik man.

“Oh, hello!” I said, forgetting to switch to the language of his profession. “How are you?”

“I am fine, thank you.” He answered pointedly in English. Oops.

The three of us sat down. There was a pause, and then, “Have you ever been to a Tajik wedding?”

“Yes, actually, I went to one yesterday!” They were pleased with my answer, and we spent the next couple minutes looking at pictures of the woman’s son’s wedding earlier this summer, while in either my imagination or reality the English teacher glared at me. In the middle of all the “beautiful, beautiful,” “Where is this?,” and “Congratulations!,” one of the original two reentered with another man.

“Emily, this is our director!”

“Hi, it’s nice to meet you.”  While smiling and shaking hands, it occurred to me that I might not even teach today, and no one seemed too concerned. All right then.

Just as this thought was passing through, someone said, “Come this way,” and the crowd moved into the hall. The English teacher asked, “Have you seen the room yet?” And I thought, It’s happening! Ok! Let’s do this! I was about to answer when someone said, “No, Emily, this way,” and I found myself ushered into another room behind the director.

“Sit,” he said. “Just a moment.” And then he signed papers while I stared at him and wondered what I was there to talk about. Computers, probably?

What a fool I was back then! No, I was not there to talk about computers or computer classes. The subject at hand was Persian poetry, which I should have known, as well as my command of the Cyrillic and Perso-Arabic alphabets, which I should have anticipated.

“Here, read this,” the director said, handing me an open book and pointing to a line of text. I reached out, took the book, began to read, and—“What’s wrong with your hands?”

“What?” I held my hands out in front of me, palms down, and considered them. They look fine… Oh. “You mean my skin? I have vitiligo.”

“How do you get rid of it? Have you been to the doctor?” And so on, until he decided it was finally time to release me to the students. He gave me the collection of poetry to borrow and sent me on my way. Great!

The class itself went fairly well, aside from the fact that no, there wasn't a room ready, there were three or four people to a computer, a fair number didn't know how to type, and the lesson ended up being cut short by forty minutes. Afterwards, I was not allowed to leave until after tea, during which one or two other people noticed my unsightly affliction and suggested ways to get rid of it. Wednesday went about the same but with fewer computers. On Friday I was yet again running late and left for the institute at the time class was supposed to start, only to receive a call a few minutes later telling me not to come in today, there’s something else going on, see you next class, ok bye.

I do think the English teacher forgave me, though, so that’s good.