Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Necessity and Luxury

This is, as you might have guessed, a continuation of my previous post, Luxury and Necessity.  

So I decided to take a shower (after a thorough cleaning, of course).  It’s been stated by a very reliable source that when traveling through Europe it’s best to bring your own soap.  Whether or not it simply wasn’t used in these countries, or they just didn’t give it away to tourists, no matter how much they paid for their hotel rooms, it was best to carry some on your person lest you find yourself having to send out for it in the middle of a bath.  Unfortunately hot water is not an easily transportable commodity, well, anywhere.  Especially not enough for a shower.  Also unfortunately in this country, they are not overly concerned to inform you when you might otherwise inexplicably run out of, or not have any, hot water.  Or even any water. 

On this day, not many days after I’d arrived, I decided to take a shower before work.  Regardless of my insecurity issues with the toilet, I was generally feeling pretty confident about the shower.  I’d worked out my earlier confidence problems involving the lack of a shower curtain or wall to keep the water in, and the lack of any shelf to hold the soap which you so painstakingly carried throughout your travels.  I was ok with the fact that no matter how much I cleaned there was always dirt on the floor that would stick to my wet, freshly-showered feet (Does this cleaning product clean floors or windows?).  By ok I meant that it happened and I accepted the fact that I could do nothing about it.  By this time I’d also accepted, though with much less aplomb, the fact that if I didn’t buy an elevator card I have to walk up 6 flight of stairs every time I came back to my room. 

Taking a shower though—I may have to pay for my drinking water, but not being able to wash my hair on a daily basis, now that is an injustice I truly cannot abide.  What’s more, it’s the cavalier attitude that everyone takes towards it.  All water in your building turned off indefinitely and without notice—fine; not knowing what kind of meat is in the meat pie in the cafeteria—fine; open manhole cover in the middle of a sidewalk—fine.  Try to cross the street when the sign says don’t walk though—there’s a fine for that too.  In the U.S. if someone had even considered the possibility that they might fall down that open manhole, there'd have been a lawsuit.  It must be some kind of lack of a sense of personal responsibility here.  They just accept it, and don't bother to do anything about it.  Any self-respecting American would've taken some damn initiative by now and found a way to cash in on that example of gross neglect on the part of someone else who doesn't care and is probably much more likely to fall down that hole and need some settlement money.  Well, not everyone can be as free as us.

I arrived in Astana in June.  It was still spring, or late winter, then, but summer also arrived soon after that.  Looking back, I’m not sure why I worried so much about whether or not I got to shower, since any time my Anglo-Saxon blood encounters temperatures above 80 degrees my body to proceeds every last drop of moisture it contains in what I can only interpret as an effort—well-played, I might add—to make me look as much as possible like a stinky, slimy foreigner.

Astana summers and the lack of running water also made me glad I only had 100 pounds of luggage to bring with me when I moved here.  I tried that one out on a dear friend back home, and her first thought was, poor dear, carrying all that luggage around in that heat!  But no, actually it was practically freezing when I got here—it was only just the end of winter then—so that wasn’t such an issue.  Actually, I was glad of the luggage limit because I ended up leaving most of my clothes in the U.S., so at the very least I only seat all over half my worldly possessions.

In the end, though, I can be glad that my unease with the toilet in my dorm room was never combined with any significant water outage.  I could tell another story, of a day when the water at work was shut off for 7 hours with no prior warning.  Our drinking water was bottled, , of course,because you don’t want to drink the tap water; but it wasn’t exactly getting enough to drink that we were worried about that day.

Ahh… luxury, and necessity.

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