Saturday, July 16, 2005

preparation for guests and a family friend loses his mind

Tomorrow Nigora is having 13 of her female neighbors over for lunch. They meet once a month and alternate hosting the luncheon. It comes to her home once a year and is a big event. She’s been planning it for weeks and I stayed in town this weekend just to be here for the guests. In her free time, she makes lists of food and costs, puts new pillowcases on pillows, and hangs new white lace curtains around the patio where the guests will gather. Today she spent much of the day killing bees. “Bees might be the only problem we’ll have,” she said. “We’re used to it and just sit here quietly. But if the bees come, the women are all going to go home.”

“Let your neighbors go home early,” Habib said in a typical sarcastic teenager voice and Nigora laughed.

Lutfulo spent two evenings whitewashing all the walls – from the patio to the outdoor kitchen to the interior of the banya and the bathroom.

Shavkat and Faruh had been out of town for the past four days. Shavkat was working as a driver for two Swiss tourists and Faruh was allowed to go along. The guide was Maxim, the aging Russian who we used as a guide last fall.

This afternoon, Nigora called me out of my room. “Shavkat needs some help translating,” she said. I went out onto the porch and saw Shavkat sitting on a stool, two tall, bearded men standing nearby.

“I don’t understand what they are saying,” Shavkat said. “Could you help translate?”

“We are really displeased with our trip,” one of the men said. “We are preparing to climb Peak Lenin (one of the world’s tallest peaks) and wanted to prepare by hiking several high passes. This is what we were promised, but we didn’t get this. The guide didn’t do any guiding at all. Yesterday we went hiking by ourselves. The only good day of trekking we had, the day before yesterday, was done by the driver (Shavkat). We’re happy with the driver. If it hadn’t been for him and his son, the trip would have been a nightmare. The guide showed up drunk on the first day and refused to take us on any long hikes. We originally agreed to a price of $280, but we don’t want to pay that now. We don’t want to pay for yesterday. We gave the guide $160 in the beginning and are willing to pay $80 more.”

I translated and Shavkat accepted. “Yes, Maxim was sick,” he said.

He drove the tourists back to their hotel and I sat at the table with Faruh and Nigora. Faruh began to tell us of their experiences. He said that Maxim had gone crazy. “He talked nonstop all night, so none of us could sleep. He said things like “You won’t get me alive!” And he kept saying that he saw a man. He would point at the air and ask us why we didn’t see him. One night, one of the tourists got up around midnight to go to the bathroom and Maxim grabbed him, asking where he was going. On the drive back, he kept talking and moving his hands nonstop. He yelled at us, asking who turned on the radio. But there is no radio in the car.”

Nigora said that when they arrived home, the tourists, Shavkat and Faruh all calmly got out of the car. Maxim came out yelling, then took off barefoot down the street. “They were already used to it,” Faruh said, referring to the tourists. I was surprised they only complained about the lack of high altitude treks. They had a maniac as a guide.

Shavkat tried to find Maxim on his way home, but didn’t have any luck. He returned and while he was in the shower, Maxim called.

“He’ll be here in a minute,” Nigora said. “He’s in the shower.”

“I’ll come over,” Maxim said and hung up. No one wanted Maxim to come over, so Shavkat went out in the car to try to meet him on the way. Somehow he missed him and Maxim came to the door. Nigora invited him in and to sit on the porch.

“Would you like some watermelon?” she asked in a friendly voice. He refused.

He talked nonstop from the moment he entered the premises. “I want to apologize to you J and to you Nigora, but I’m not going to apologize to those goats (the tourists). They said they were foreigners, but they were whispering to each other all night and they were whispering in Russian. They were really Russians, but wouldn’t admit it. I knew they were going to run away and not pay. All night they were planning against me, then the next day, they acted normal, like nothing had happened. But I knew who they were.”

We all looked at him, trying to keep straight faces, trying to hide our joint shock and laughter at the absurd. I looked at his thin legs, clothed in jeans, his grey beard, and his stiff jaw, like a nutcracker, filled with golden teeth. He was really out of his mind. I felt sorry for him, and even sorrier for the tourists. Not only did they have a crazy guide, but the guide thought the tourists were spies or evil beings. In that sense, they were really in danger.

He continued. “In the car on the way back, we were talking about music, about Deep Purple. And they started saying High Purple and Low Purple and Quiet Purple. Purple, purple, purple. They repeated the word nonstop, for a whole hour. I couldn’t stand it. Those jerks. I don’t ever want to see them again. I couldn’t even sit at the same table with them.”

Much to my dismay, he then turned his attention to me. “And I apologize to you J. You can’t help it that you grew up in America. When you were yelling at me and running after me..”

“J wasn’t there. She didn’t hear anything,” Nigora said.

“You know, I saw a photo from America where 40 people were in the mountains and all of them were smiling. How is that possible? Forty people can’t be happy at once. One person is happy, the other has a hanging face. But in America they are taught to present themselves that way, even if they aren’t happy. Everyone is supposed to smile and look OK. And I realize, J, that you have many good qualities and you are a good person. That is why I respect you and will respect you to my death. I realize that you can’t help it that you were brought up in a culture that taught you to be that way.”

At that point, I was wondering how to get out of there. I have to admit I was curious to see Maxim after what I’d heard. And now I saw it was true.

“He’s speaking in stream of consciousness,” Nigora whispered. Faruh had to turn his back to Maxim and drink his soda to hide his smile at the things Maxim was making up, especially after he said Faruh was a witness to the terrible things the tourists were doing.

Shavkat led Maxim to the car. Maxim returned, popping his head through the porch. “Again, I’m sorry,” he said. “But what would you do if someone kept saying purple nonstop for 15 minutes?”

We nodded in agreement and let Shavkat lead him away, back to his home where his brother and partner in business also has a drinking problem.

Nigora and Shavkat tried to make excuses for him. “He’s never been like this before,” “It’s because he drinks too much, it’s messed up his brain,” “He’ll come to himself in a few days,” “It’s due the stress of his wife leaving him and not letting his son even see him,” etc.

When Shavkat returned home, he slept the entire day. “He didn’t get any sleep for three nights,” Nigora said. “He was trying to calm Maxim down. And he was afraid that Maxim could hurt the tourists. So he sat up all night to make sure that nothing happened.”

It was a good thing that the tourists didn’t know Russian. They probably didn’t know that Maxim saw the tourists themselves as his tormentors.

Nigora asked Shavkat and Faruh about what Maxim said. “They said the tourists didn’t speak a word of Russian,” she said. And about the purple. “The tourists sat silent in the car the entire four-hour ride home.”

Maxim needs an alcohol recovery center and he needs psychiatric help. But it’s unlikely he’ll get quality help in either area. He’s an aging Russian alone in a Kyrgyz society. The world he always knew has been destroyed. Now he’s forming his own universe.

No comments: