Today is officially the last day of our bonding period, I think we both feel at alternating moments as if we arrived a second ago and have been here for months. Our court hearing is this Wednesday the 3rd and barring any issues I’ll take the train to Astana next Sunday the 7th and then a morning flight to Almaty on the 8th where I’ll be using an office I’ve borrowed from a law firm there. Allyson will stay in Arkalyk and she and Veronika will travel to Almaty at the end of the month where we will take care of the US embassy processing and head home.
A few things to report from Arkalyk, the first one being our first encounter with Kazkahstan-style medical treatment. Veronika’s cold got worse in the middle of the week, and we were told she’d arrive late to the apartment on Wednesday because she had a fever overnight and was getting her “treatments.” When she arrived around noon that day her face was flushed, her shirts (they dress them in three, typically) soaked, her hair wet and we discovered that she’d gotten a shot of some kind. She just wasn’t herself the whole day, didn’t want Allyson to hold her, didn’t want to nap or eat. She totally lost it when we tried to change her out of her wet clothes or put her down for a nap, and it took almost the whole afternoon for her to return to normal. When we asked about her “treatments” we were told that she’d been given a steam under a hood, which sounded scary but OK for a head cold and a shot containing more narcotics than a linebacker gets for a hip injury--as the saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. She’s a lot better now but I wonder how many days shorter her cold would have been without the treatments.
In other news, the sheep has found a temporary home. If I’ve got the story straight, Khabiba has a distant cousin who has a niece by marriage who was recently married, and this cousin is obligated by tradition to host a big dinner for the newlyweds in a few weeks (it’s a big Kazakhstan tradition, during which the cooked head of the sheep is presented to the guest of honor, who then cuts symbolic pieces off the head and gives them to other family members—the children get the ears so they’ll listen to their parents, etc.). When she heard that the price of the sheep had dropped to $50 due to low demand she called Khabiba and asked to borrow the purchase price so she wouldn’t bring dishonor on the family.
We’ve been out and about a lot more. I can handle most simple transactions at the market, we took a walk through the park to photograph the rusted-out Ferris wheel and I was asked politely but firmly to leave the Russian Orthodox Church during midday mass. It wasn’t my fault, it was impossible to see until I was several steps in that other than the priest all of the other worshippers were women.
We don’t need to buy much given the homecooked meals but to give you a sense of the cost of living here, a 750ml bottle of good Russian or Kazakhstan beer costs 120 Kazakhstan Tenge ($1), a 750ml bottle of water costs 250 Tenge ($2), a 750 ml bottle of vodka at least as good as the Stolichnaya we’d get at home costs 400 Tenge ($3.33) and a pair of essentially authentic addidas gloves cost 600 Tenge ($5). We also found the last two bottles of Diet Coke in Arkalyk. We had a small dinner party at our apartment last evening (which kept growing as the night went on) and Allyson made her famous bread and tomato salad for the group, which went over well. The tomatoes here are the best I’ve ever eaten. Many of you have heard me wax poetic about the oddly-shaped, multicolored heirloom tomatoes that show up in the greenmarket for a brief but glorious (there I go again) period during the summer, and that’s what the tomatoes all look like here and they’re all out of this world. They eat as many as they can, make sauce out of the rest, which they can and store in their cellars, and wait for the new season next September.
Yes, this is a photograph of Veronica texting. No, I have not been using my blackberry when she's around. I swear.
That’s about all for now, thanks again for the emails, they’ve been great.