Tuesday, June 07, 2005

One more day in Osh

Another full day in Osh and another chance to treasure all of the unique characteristics of this city, good and bad.

The cherries are fully in bloom and are dripping off our tree at the office. Yesterday the landlady’s son came by to pick them and fell off the ladder with a crash. He lay stunned in the dirt, his pockets bulging with red marbles.

I made it to aerobics this evening for the first time in over a week. Once class had started, a stout, petite Russian woman who is a regular attendee came up to me and loudly declared, “J, you are in my place!”

I had seen her kick others out of “her place” before and I found it annoying. While I don’t particularly care too much where I stand during class, I was already there, I had forgotten it was “her place” and I didn’t feel like stopping the routine to move.

“I don’t see your name on it,” I told her.

“I always stand here,” she insisted, while the rest of the class looked at me.

I moved my step over enough so that she could fit herself in the front row and said, “This is a bit like kindergarten.”

Perhaps it was my comment, perhaps it was the fact that the space I made for her didn’t offer her a full-on view of herself in the mirror, perhaps she took offense that I didn’t move myself to the back of the room, but she grabbed her belongings and left the class in a huff.

I later asked a local colleague in the class if it was normal for someone to claim a certain space of the floor.

“No,” she said. “She’s someone with a very difficult character. She once made me move from her space as well. Somebody needed to stand up to her.” Today I guess it was me.

In the evening, while Nigora prepared plov for dinner, I could hear Faruh’s young voice outside my window chanting in Arabic, like a miniature minaret at home. He stumbled over the tough words, like rushing water caught by rocks. In the other direction, I could hear the roaring of race cars from the video game Farhat was playing.

Later, over dinner, Shavkat told me that Faruh wouldn’t be attending Arabic classes any more.

“I quit,” Faruh said with a smile.

“There is something I just don’t like there,” Shavkat said. “It’s good for young people to learn to read the Koran so when they are 40 or 50 they can peacefully attend the mosque. But to do more than that is not necessary. He could become a fanatic.”

Shavkat told me how the employees of the geological company where he sometimes works rob the company, submitting receipts for goods purchased higher than the actual purchase price.

He told how he was recently told to buy 600 metal boxes. “I was given $11.50 per box,” he said. “But by spending one minute negotiating the vendor, I lowered the price to $6. In a matter of minutes, I saved the company several thousand dollars. But no one said a word of thanks. Instead, I started to become the object of pressure and intrigue. People were telling me not to do things like that because then it makes it harder for them to write inflated prices.”

He cited another example of an employee who recently bought a car for the company for $8800, when Shavkat said he could have bought it for $6,000. According to him, the foreign owners and managers turn a blind eye to such behavior.

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