Since the bus to Akkol was AWOL, I had to take a taxi there. Me and two other guys got in a car with a Russian dude and we were off. This Russian driver was special because he cursed more than any person I have ever met in Kazakhstan. Basically his version of the period was the Russian word “Blyad.” (Sorry for any Russian readers.) That’s the f-bomb around here. Although to me, it seems really weak. It’s like you’re saying Blah or possibly making a vomiting sound, and then ending it with a hard “d”. Really? That’s offensive? For locals it is, but this guy was dropping it like crazy. Yeah, this road is really nice, blyad. (Road was soooo nice. It was paved well, had a divider, and had exits for all the towns. I felt like I was back in America.) We’ll be there in an hour, blyad. If you want to pay me 200 more tenge, I’ll take you to the house, blyad. (For non-Russian speakers, you have no idea how offensive the last three sentences were.)
What? 200 tenge! (That’s about $1.33.) That’s the equivalent of 2 beverages. He told me he knew where my friend lived (there is only one American in town) and it was a thirty minute walk from the center to his house. 30 minutes walking in -20 degree weather or paying 200 tenge? I called Ken and told him to meet me at the center. Ken said we’d meet halfway and gave me the directions of “Keep walking straight down the street you were on.” After about fifteen minutes, I run into Ken and he takes me back to his place for warm, delicious chili. We feel like we are supposed to hang out because we haven’t seen each other in a month, but honestly, its 10PM and we are both tired, so we watch some ATHF and call it a night.
The next morning I wake up and Ken is cooking me pancakes and bacon. Bacon! What? There’s bacon in Kazakhstan? For most of the 120 volunteers, if we want bacon we have to get it shipped in from America. (The exceptions are Sagar and Audrey who somehow have bacon at a random store in their town.) It was delicious. I ask him if he has school. (If it’s too cold, they cancel it.) He says no one has called, so of course he has school. He decided to call his counterpart to double check. “What? No school. Why didn’t you call me?” So Ken doesn’t have school, but they didn’t want to tell him that.
Unfortunately, school or no school, Ken was able to snag a cheap ticket to Petro, and I was not. So I have to take the electrishka to Kokshetau where I’ll meet Jenny and then take a bus the rest of the way. The electrishka is pretty cool. They run an electric commuter train between Astana and Kokshetau a couple times each day. The tickets are cheap. Inside the wagons there are seats like in a metro. It’s a surprising convenience in a usually inconvenient country.
My feet were so cold from my poorly insulated shoes (bought for 2000 tenge in the South, about $17) that I took my shoes off on the train. This was really strange for the people around me, but my shoes are somehow coolers rather than insulators, a fact that would not be fun for the rest of the week. What I could see out the windows wasn’t all that impressive. Some steppe, some trees, some small mountains near Beravoi. Then everyone got off, so I got off. I was in Kokshetau.
Jenny met me at the station. We had lunch while we waited for our bus that was coming in an hour. Psych. Not a bus. A small van with no space for our luggage. So we sat with our bags in our laps for three hours. Not very comfortable, but not that unusual. It was nice to hang out with Jenny, because we never get to hang out. She was one of the people I remember from staging in Philadelphia, and I thought she could become a good friend. But then she never came to Almaty-nights during PST, and she was put at a site about 20 hours away. A lot of potential friendships are nipped by the enormous size of Kazakhstan. (Or with competing cell phone plans. If I meet you, and you only have an Activ number, there is no way we will become friends.)
Once we get to Petro, we get off the bus and call Niall. “Niall, what bus goes to your house from here? You don’t know? How do you not know? Okay, we’ll call Katie.” Niall didn’t know what bus to take. We figure we’ll go to the bathroom while at the station, but we can’t. That half of the station is closed because they were mopping the floor there. I don’t know if it’s everywhere, or just I seem to notice it, but cleaning crews don’t usually do the night time thing here. They clean in the middle of the day when it’s convenient for them. So we instead of going to the bathroom, we call Katie, find out she’s at her house, get a bus number, and head out into the city of Petropovlask.