Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String...

...these are undoubtedly a few of my favourite things. But this is Bishkek, so picking up a parcel takes on shades of a Kafka-esque ritual.

Still suffering from gastro, but bored and tired of watching the repetitive news cycle on CNN International, and needing to get out of the flat, I decide to walk to school to see what I've missed.

A receipt has appeared in my school pigeonhole; I show it to the kind-hearted Russian-speaking accountant, who interprets it to mean that there's a parcel waiting for me at the main post office in the heart of the city. (Previously, parcels have arrived directly to the school, but ours is not to question why.) She advises me to take money and my passport and pretty much any other official document I can find. This I do, although I exercise common sense (dangerously, considering that this is Bishkek) and decide that my university diploma probably won't be called for.

I set off to walk the five blocks to the post office, guided by the giant clock tower that marks the spot. About a block in, I begin to realise my folly. I really am sick; the smell of the roadside samsas is doing frightening things to my stomach. That's ok; I'll just walk really slow - this is fine. But then a group of black-jacketed Kyrgyz men walk by and one of them spits a big gob mere centimetres from my feet, and I begin to gag in earnest. I walk the next four blocks trying desperately not to vomit. Yes, I should have turned back, but I wasn't terribly logical at that stage, and I was pretty set on my parcel, having a fair idea of what was in it.

I found the post office easily enough; followed a labyrinth of Russian signs with some intuition, and eventually arrived in a dim, grimy room with a barred window. "Excuse me?" I said tentatively, craning my neck around the window. A small unsmiling girl came and took the receipt I proffered at her. She demanded my passport; scrutinised it furiously for some minutes; gave me a form to fill in, which I did haphazardly, not knowing exactly what it asked for, but figuring that no one would really know the difference. Having done this, she disappeared into the depths of a room which looked like nothing so much as the aftermath of an earthquake, and emerged with an enormous sack. My little parcel swam at the bottom of it. She unswathed it for me, and demanded, with a pair of scissors, that I open it in front of her. At this point, I realised that she was in fact looking out for my best interests; she wanted me to compare the contents to the customs sticker. So I did; and once satisfied that nothing had been tampered with, she taped the package back up and gave me another form to sign, to indicate that I was duly satisfied. I added a smily face to my signature - something I never do, but the whole thing was so grim that I wanted to cheer her up somehow.

I lugged my three kilo parcel back home, and when I tell you what was in it, you'll understand why I risked my health to get it:

Item #1: two pristine teatowels. These are impossible to find here. I never realised the worth of a teatowel until I was without one.
Item #2: two packets of Carmen's muesli bars. My favourites. Healthy muesli bars don't exist here.
Item #3: three bars of chocolate; two Cadbury, one Lindt.
Item #4: a little red teapot, a beautiful thing! Also, a matching teaspoon.
Item #5: a little coffee plunger!
Item #6: two packets of Twinings tea and one packet of Lavazza coffee. The commonplace has become luxurious.
Item #7: Multivitamins.

Yes, the risk was justifiable. I have a kind and generous mutti!

I have to crawl back into bed now; that was my adventure for the day. There are lots of REAL adventures planned over the weekend, so I very much hope that I and all my innards will be returned to health in time.

1 comment:

  1. Erin, I am very much enjoying reading about your Kyrgystic exploits. I wish you a speedily recovered large intestine and all other parts of you to function as expected as well.

    love and hugs, Sarah H