Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Kazakh Step

Attention good readers!  There is a horrible inequity being perpetrated amongst us every day!  Everyday there are those that are raised up, while the majority find themselves cast low, equal only unto themselves in a world devoid of equality.

I speak, of course, of that injustice which is called the "Kazakh Step."  One p.  One e.  What is the Kazakh Step?  In every staircase there is one step which is different from all others in the set.  There is no pattern, no rhyme or reason which determines which step it will be.  Most often it is the first or the last.  Rarely it is another.  This step, whichever it may be, is always just a bit taller than all the rest.  This step inequality causes unrest among all the others.  Indeed the users of these unequal stairs cannot help but trip and stumble their way through the mire resulting from this arbitrary step warfare, and it should not, nay must not, be tolerated.

And it is not only in Astana that this terrible state is allowed to persist.  The stairs of Almaty, too, toil under this curse.  To the American stride, this is indeed a heavy load to bear.  Raised in a country that believes in dignity and equality to all its citizens, that one step out of many is allowed such great standing through no greater merit of its own does great injury to our civic spirits.  We are a tolerant people, but a civilization must have order; it must have justice; it must be able to walk up a flight of steps without falling on its face.

Take the elevator, you suggest.  Ah, yes, the elevator.  That great equalizer.  And yet, in many buildings, in order to use the elevator you must be one of the elite--possessor of that object of great worth, the elevator card.  Buy one, and you can ride 100 times.  Do not squander your rides though, for you will have to pay again when your 100 times runs out.

We are caught, as the saying goes, between a rock and a hard place.  Watch your step.  The only way out, is up.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Room of One's Own, part 3: Success?

How do you measure success when finding an apartment?  Location?  Amenities?  Low utility bills?  Great neighbors?  In Astana, Kazakhstan they measure by number of months you can stay in one place without being driven out by a lessor with delusions of empire.

If you'll recall, in my first post in this series, A Room of One's Own, part 1, I described my apartment hunting experience.  During that time I looked at a number of apartments before settling on the palatial prison.  Turns out we should've taken the place that looked less nice.

There are some rules for interior decorating I've noticed in my months here that it seems property owners should follow:

  1. All rooms must have at least 2 different wallpapers (except bathrooms)
    • with the corollary that all rooms must have wallpaper (bathrooms optional yet not excepted)
  2. All rooms must have a chandelier-like light fixture as the primary source of light
  3. All apartments must be decorated according to a pre-1990 style or contain at least 2 fully non-functional items with resemble functional items
  4. All apartments must contain at least one anachronistically-placed appliance or piece of furniture
Our new (also current [5 months and counting!  cross your fingers!]) apartment (we went back to the less-pretty apartment) breaks some, though not all, of these rules.  And it's my hypothesis that the less an apartment follows these rules, the less likely it will be that the property-owner will conform to the crazy landlady paradigm.  Our new landlady takes a hands-off approach to the lessor-lessee relationship, only dropping by after calling in advance to pick up the rent money or coming over to fix a problem.  

She's also wonderfully patient with the fact that I only understand about half of what she says (she only speaks about 5 words of English), and that I generally only reply with "yes" or "no" to her questions.  And she also handles the utility bills for us, paying them when they come in and letting us pay her back afterwards, instead of us having to stand in line at a post office and then getting yelled at by a disgruntled postal worker in a language we barely understand.

So, were we finally successful in finding a good apartment?  I'll get back to you in a few months.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Room of One's Own, part 2: Reveille

Never, not since I lived in my childhood home, nor with roommates during and after university, have I been made so aware of my enormous lack of cleanliness.  The floor was never clean enough, the dishes never washed soon enough, the toilets never scrubbed often enough.  Did I have an overly picky roommate you ask?  No, that’s not it at all.  It wasn’t the people I lived with who were the trouble, but the people with whom I didn’t.  Inspection could come at any time from without, and we (or so we came to believe) must be prepared to receive it.  Even my mother, after a time, stopped demanding entry to my room.  Kazakh mothers, I suppose, are not given to granting such leeway.

The most hard-bitten drill-sergeant I ever encountered had nothing on this landlady of ours, who seemed determined to insure that ours was not a life of great rest and luxury.  Oh, we paid for the pretty rooms and the pleasure of being in them, but we were not to make use of them, to be sure. 

Like many things we weren’t made aware of before such a momentous emigration, the nature of the lesser-lessee relationship was not mentioned, nor was it brought up when we were in the process of finding a place to live.  Post-soviet they may be, but these women can browbeat a poor foreigner better than any sergeant ever drove a poor private to distraction with demands to clean the same speck of (non-existent) dirt fifteen times without even batting an eyelash.  I knew better than to make eye contact with my superior officer; had the lesson stayed with me I’d have been much better served this time round.

I’m also convinced that the United States CIA should seriously look into adopting the spy networks employed by these Kazakh landladies.  With such a system we’d surely have found Osama bin Laden years earlier, and maybe some weapons of mass destruction thrown in just for kicks.  Somehow ours seemed to be daily apprised of the comings and goings of both us and any guests we might have had.  She had an uncanny knack for appearing at our door in the middle of a movie we happened to be watching with friends, or the morning after a dinner party when we hadn’t yet cleaned up.   Or even woken up.

I remember I could lock my locker to the prying eyes of superiors and comrades, but the door to the barracks was never barred to a sergeant.  Quite so, there are no locks on doors in this country, it would seem, as well (at least the kind that are supposed to keep out landladies).   And after all, who wouldn’t object to a strange lady strolling into your home any time of day she pleases, and just to inspect your toilet at that.  Call ahead, you inquire?  Why, isn’t the doorbell enough notice?

And so, we were evicted.  Obviously there was somewhat more to it, though it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when it all began to turn sour. Mostly because it began almost as soon as we moved in.  And, like all reasonable people, politely asked our landlady to come back at a more convenient hour, and to call ahead of time. It was a bit of a rude awakening for us all, in the end, but we all got what we wanted, I suppose, in the end: we our freedom, and freedom from surprise inspections; she the daughters she really wanted and thought she’d found in us, only to be cruelly disillusioned. And our new place?  Well, stay tuned.