Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The heat is on

November 17, 2006

Last night, for the first time, I didn’t turn on my electric heater when I got home. This morning, it was strange to step out of the shower and not be shivering. This led me to go check the heat vents, where voila, heat was coming out!

The city decides each year when to turn on the central heating based on how cold it’s been. I read that the heating season began on November 10th. But hospitals and schools get first priority. It took a week to get to a simple apartment like mine.

I haven’t been too good about writing in the past week. Last Sunday I visited the canyons and enjoyed what might be one of my last opportunities to spend time in the Kyrgyz mountains. I ended up separated from the group, walking with a middle-aged mountain enthusiast who was visiting the canyons for the sixth time this season. His daughter married a Dane and he got a videocamera shortly after the wedding in April. Making videos of nature and people in nature has become his passion and we frequently had to stop for him to film. Worse, he expected me to be the star of his film and asked me to do things like eat wild berries, look around pensively, or walk slowly through nature while he filmed. I’ve never had any talent for acting and I think I may have disappointed him.

He gave me a great tour though, bringing me up to the ridge of the canyons where we could walk along and enjoy the aerial view of the clay and sandstone, the red, white, beige and brown stripes, the whimsical shapes created by wind, and white snails and other signs of life buried within 1.5 million years of history.

Another news item from the week is that there is a maniac loose in Bishkek. He has so far attacked seven people in the 7th microdistrict. The attacks are random. In one case, he asked a man, “Do you know where the 7th microdistrict is?” then stabbed him in the face. He doesn’t rob and he doesn’t rape. But he has killed three of his victims.

Between 250 and 500 police are combing the area looking for the man, a 25-30 year old Kyrgyz who speaks poor Russian and lives in the area. Everyone is talking about the maniac and being cautious at night.

Perhaps for that reason, when I walked home last night at 11, the streets seemed deserted, even on the central main roads. Or maybe I just hadn’t walked home so late in a long time. But in any case, it was freaky. The streets were devoid of the usual families and couples that bring public scrutiny and safety to the streets. Only questionable young men, prostitutes and drunks seemed to be about. I found myself frequently looking over my shoulder and felt I stood out in my brightly colored coat.

Then, as I neared my apartment, I passed the trash area. The other night, coming home from work, acrid smoke burned from just about every trash bin enroute. But for some reason, no one is setting fire to or collecting our trash. It already overflowed the bins several days ago and is now a mountainous island of garbage.

Walking past it should normally speed up one’s pace. But a weird looking guy in front of me – a tall, slender Arab in a long coat over what looked like pajamas and stockings - slowed down and then stopped, pretending to look at a cat. Was he nervous by my footsteps behind him? Did he want me to pass? Or was he himself the questionable one?

I almost flipped around and went the other way, but I would have had to come back at some point to get home. So instead, I quickly passed him and took rapid steps to my entrance. I shut the newly-installed iron door with a password opening and gratefully entered my apartment, promising myself to take a taxi next time.

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