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.