The day started with a quarrel. Lyubova, the owner of the home stay, was not happy that I arrived with a taxi yesterday night. I was in the middle of Almaty downtown, when I realized it was already 7 pm. I was waiting a bus until 11 pm but no public buses at all going to airport area. I forgot, on Sundays all public transport stopped working as early as 6 pm. What a bad luck. I walked under darkness, with only fear of meeting criminals or drunks in my heart, from Respublika Alangy until Tole Bi. I gave up. It was almost midnight. At the end, I had to haggle a taxi (better than staying in a gay bar like last week).
The taxi cost 500T. It was much beyond my budget, but I didn’t have any choice. When I arrived at the home stay, Lyubova was sleeping. The next morning, she started the quarrel.
“Huh. You can pay a taxi but you cannot pay for your stay!” said her cynically.
I just didn’t understand her. I paid what I should pay. Even yesterday she claimed that I had to pay for the rent even when I was in Astana for 3 nights, I gave her already another 1000 T to avoid the quarrel. Now, this morning, I was still hurt to unnecessary 500 T for taxi drive, and this old lady wanted another 1000 T for the compensation of having no guests at all during my stay in Astana.
I found that ridiculous. I was thinking that she saw me having money for taking a taxi but no money to pay her. She forced me to take all of my luggage and leave her house soon.
It was not in the agreement. Yesterday, when I paid her 1000T extra, she said it was OK until 12th December. But now she changed her mind. Her unemployed son, was quiet all the time, now also started to attack me.
What a lovely grandmother.
I was very touched when she prepared jacket and warm socks for me to go to Astana, as I didn’t have any warm clothes at all.
At the other time she was such lovely of telling me Bible stories in a language which I understood 30% and missed the most portion. She also offered me morning tea everyday even at the beginning she said all food should be paid extra.
Now, because of money, she turned to be a cruel lady.
“Not only you who need money. If I keep helping you…hm… what you are? A poor journalist? I haven’t seen any journalist like you before. Hmm… if it goes like this all the time, what we should eat? What my granddaughter will eat? You have money. Soon you will go to Uzbekistan and you can just receive money from your embassy!”
I wanted to argue, but my Russian ability only limited me to a fool argumentation. I also regretted telling her about my friends in Indonesian embassy in Tashkent. I also regretted to tell her I earned money by selling photos. Now everything was a blunder.
“There is no discussion! Go away!!! Collect your luggage and find a hotel by yourself! I don’t think you can find anything cheaper than 1000T. I know, because I worked in hotel before.”
I heard cursing and bad words from her mouth that morning, but I preferred to forget.
For 1000T she became that angry. At the end, I gave her 1000T and her emotion went down drastically. I was angry, she was angry. But at least at this moment, she was not angry anymore and I started to be able to control my heartbeat.
Talking in better manner, I found that there was misunderstanding when I left for Astana. She asked me whether I would book the room during my stay in Astana, so I wouldn’t worry of place of stay when I came back. I thought she was asking that I needed to book for my stay AFTER I came back. I gave her 2000T at that time, calculating that I would stay in Almaty only for another 2 nights before going to Uzbekistan. She considered the money as the payment of the room booking DURING my stay.
OK. That 1000T, less than 8$, had ruined the beginning of this sunny day. But another adventure was prepared already to shock me even more.
I went to the central post office to send some postcards to my friends. I passed through a park in front of the Parliament House. Two boys stopped me, asking to borrow a mobile phone. I didn’t have mobile phone. From my answer they found I was foreigner and started to chat in broken English. I had negative feeling already about the attitude of these two boys, from the way of them stopping me, the way of asking, and just some other manners. I preferred to ignore them and kept walking.
“Stop! Stop!” they tried to grab my attention. I just continued walking, and went to the post office immediately.
I spent about two hours in the main post office. They were in renovation, and the service was a mess. The philatelic section was supposed to close for two weeks, but I insisted that today was the only chance for me to buy Kazakhstan stamps. The lady, seemed very forced, agreed to sell me some beautiful new stamps.
Then I went to an Internet Cafe near Silkway Gipermarket. This is a small internet cafe at a corner, renting out internet connection for a rather cheaper price. There was nobody else. I enjoyed my browsing and email checking, until suddenly, a boy came to throw a piece of paper to me, then going to another computer to use Internet. No. There was not one of them. But two.
“Read!” said the boy.
The tetrad paper was badly handwritten. Looked like a writing of a primary school graduate student in Indonesia. But the message was of course, not of a primary school quality. At one side, at right corner of the paper, it was written:
If You WaNNa LIVe”
I opened the fold, and tried hard to read that ugly writing on similarly ugly scrap of paper.
“GiVe us (8 thouthans (8000) tenGe )
& you stay alive,
WhAt You thiNk?
My NAME IZ GREGG.”
Now I remembered. They were the two boys I met in the park. Their English was comic. The boys even still didn’t master how to use capital letters but their spying ability is somehow reminded me to the invisible KGB. They waited for me during my long stay inside post office, and kept following me until this Internet Cafe, about 500 m away.
“Why you do this?” I screamed to them.
“Because you fucked my mind,” said one of them, the only one who spoke English. I think he was the mastermind of the incident.
I tried to look confident. I continued my chatting, and when leaving I chatted a little bit with the cashier girl. I really wanted to tell her that the two boys following me were criminals, but I didn’t.
I left the Internet Cafe, on my way to the Silkway Gipermarket. One of the boys walked behind me, while kept communicating with a mobile phone to someone else. I bet there were not only two of them. They could have some other friends waiting at the other ends of the street.
It was already 50 m walking, and I know I was still followed by this boy, about 6 m behind me. Now I took out my digital camera, pretending on focusing on his face. He was afraid of being photographed. Seriously. He tried to hide with his cap. I knew it worked I walked closer towards him.
This time the position changed. I was following him, and he ran fast to avoid me. I didn’t want to lose any chance, I also ran to another direction, fast, without turning back at all, until I reached the bus station where a bus just stopped, and without asking where this bus goes, I got in and started to breath again.
Still, I was frightened that there were some of the friends instead the bus. But I didn’t think it was possible. At least now I was safe. My heart still beat very fast.
But today experience in Almaty, in a very bright day, taught me a lot of things. People used to say: don’t walk alone in the park after dark in any Central Asian cities. Now I can add, even a bright day can be dangerous. The recent economic development of rich nation of Kazakhstan has created a huge gap between rich and poor in the cities. Social jealousy created many problems. When rich people could spend hundreds of dollars in a day shopping in Silkway Gipermarket, or a 3000 US$ Oriental Express replica is sold in an underground crossing, just a block away, homeless people are living under canal tunnels.
The two boys who were following me seemed had chosen the wrong target. In Kazakhstan, with only 2000T in my pocket, I was not even richer than a homeless.