Saturday, May 28, 2011

Apologies (and Strawberries!)

My internet connection has been down for nearly two weeks, which is why I haven't been posting here. Why it was down, I don't know, but as the local expats say, TIB (This is Bishkek): basically, when uttered with a wry smile, it means that trying to find an explanation for daily weirdness and inconveniences is a fruitless exercise which will certainly lead to heightened blood pressure. Like the fact that the hot water gets turned off for the whole month of May across the city, or that you never quite know where your marshrutka is headed.

I must say, though, that all these puzzlements dwindle into insignificance in the face of the glorious springtime. In the last couple of weeks, numberless babushkas have set up shop on crates in the streets, selling strawberries and cherries and apricots that are impossibly delicious. Every couple of days, I stop and buy a jarful. (That's how they're sold: a kilo of gorgeous strawberries in a jar for about 80 cents). Given that I've subsisted on apples and potatoes for the last five months - yes, it's been that long! - I have no compunction about gorging myself.

Well, I did a very brave thing recently, followed by a very exciting thing. The brave thing was that I enrolled in a language course for the whole of July. This means four hours of classes a day, and it could well be the hardest thing that I ever do. The classes are one-to-one, which is splendid, but the textbooks are solidly Soviet in origin, including references to comrades and suchlike. I think it's an old-school learning style - lots of rote and repetition - but compared to Australia, where the cost of an hour's language lesson, in any language, is astronomical, this works out at less than 4 dollars per hour. I'm a little apprehensive at the rigour it will doubtless involve, but I'm also relishing the challenge. For now, anyway! Regardless, I'm getting my money's worth, and daresay I shall be reading Pushkin and Solzhenitsyn in no time. (Failing that, I imagine that I shall be more realistically content if I can grapple with Russian books for small children).

The very exciting thing is that I finally booked my flights to Russia, for the first two weeks of August! Moscow and St Pete's for the win. I know friends and friends-of-friends in both cities, which makes all the difference. Also, it's an extra incentive to learn as much language as I can, since I'll be travelling around on my own.

Apart from anything else, the summer's going to be very lonely. Lots of expats head off on home assignment, and lots of locals leave the city and live in their dachas, which are huts in the mountains where it's cooler. I'll be very busy, with a conference, horseback trek, and the aforementioned language study and travel to occupy me, but I'll also be growing heartily sick of my own company. Which is why you should keep writing, emailing and skyping me.

Speaking of, I had a skype conversation with my whole family on Friday, in which I learned how my sister, who my parents thought was in Thailand, jumped out of a box on my mother's birthday, and is now contemplating a return to civilian life; how both my brothers are beginning new and exciting courses, and how my sister-in-law makes incredible lemon meringue cakes whilst also working a demanding job, studying for her Master's degree, and fostering children with my brother on weekends. I have a pretty spectacular family. I can't wait to see my parents in September when they visit!

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