Today was the worst day I’ve ever experienced in Kazakhstan. Well, it’s been the past three days, actually.
But before I get into it, let me rewind a bit. I just spent two weeks with my family, visiting the countries of France, Spain and Italy. I had delicious coffee every day (usually more often than once); I ate food that wasn’t served with dill or mayonnaise; I drank delicious wine and beer. I didn’t have to do my business in a hole; I used actual bathroom facilities. The taxi drivers did not paralyze me with fear of dying; in fact, the traffic was quite tame and orderly.
My ears, well trained to pinpoint English speakers, went into a state of panic. I found myself trying to listen to all the English speakers passing, but that proved to be useless since Americans seemed to swarm every corner of Europe. Instead, I found my ears searching for Russian speakers; finding comfort in the all-too-familiar phrases. There were moments when I couldn’t quite remember where I’d been all year; the only distant reminders being the realization that I was using words, or formulating thoughts, in Russian.
I’ll spare you the details about all that we saw in Europe – while beautiful, it was much of the usual sites any tourist gravitates to when in the area; the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa, Tapas Bars, the Vatican, Statue of David … truly amazing. I could write for ages about what I loved but two weeks is a lot to digest.
Fast forward to September 14, 2011.
The night before, my sisters and I decided to say goodbye to Rome by going out and enjoying some of the surrounding places. At most, I slept maybe 3 hours. Two weeks of waking up to the sounds of my mother and sisters, and before I knew it, I was sitting at the airport, waiting to say my goodbyes. My flight was three hours later, so I spent the time reading a grammar book and studying vocabulary flashcards.
I boarded my flight at left Rome at 12:55. Four hours later, I spent a two-hour layover in Kiev, and proceeded on my four-hour journey to Almaty.
I arrived in country at 02:15.
It’s so hard to sleep on planes; I’d dose in and out, but it was difficult to stay asleep with flight attendants literally shaking me awake to serve me food, refreshments and coffee. As luck would have it, I spent the majority of the second flight picking debates and discussions with an intelligent young man traveling through Almaty to his home country of Kyrgystan. He didn’t know much of Almaty and lacked a working cell phone, so together we waited for his friend to pick him up. The guy never showed, so we ended up sharing a taxi.
By 04:00, I stared down at my bags, strewn about the Peace Corps Lounge. I managed to get an hour of sleep before my doctor called my cell phone, reminding me that he was waiting for me. I lurched off the couch and stumbled to the medical office, where I endured some unpleasant womanly procedures. I also got a very painful flu shot. Blah. I slept another hour before heading out to lunch with a couple other volunteers. Then starts the hell that was completely self-inflicted.
14:15 – The taxi was late. I should have known better. He also drove like a snail, despite my numerous pleas for him to hurry up. On the way to the airport, we discovered a large chunk of highway under construction. The detour was grueling. Then I ran to the wrong check in. I went through International instead of domestic. By the time I was able to screech to a halt in the correct line, I was hit with the realization that the boarding period had closed. Without me. WITHOUT ME.
The next 40 minutes consisted of a lot of begging, pleading, and explaining. A couple of attendants called the airplane to ask if I could be let on but they were told no. I was sent to another woman, who told me the ticket would not be reimbursed or transferred. I was then sent back to the main desk with the nicer ladies. Same deal. Then I was sent out of the airport and across the street, where the customer service was located. I was given a telephone, where a customer service man calmly explained that I would not get any credit for the ticket I had purchased. Then he asked me questions about my finance that were none of his business. He gave the impression that I would need to bribe him to get any help. I refused, and his tone became stiffer and he informed me, yet again, that he would not help me.
17:05 – I was faced with the dilemma of going to the train station and trying my luck with a 30-hour train ride, or staying the night, at the airport, for a flight that leaves at 06:25. I would need to pay double what I originally paid for the first ticket. I paid the dumb plane ticket. I couldn’t stand the thought of arguing with taxi drivers (because you NEED to, out of principle), going to the train station, finding out there were no trains or seats, going back to the airport after, once again, haggling with the taxi driver… I just wanted it all to stop.
The best part of my story? While the attendant was leading me to where the customer service building was, she insisted I use the escalator. I said no, because I’d never used those push carts on an escalator before. She continued to assure me it was perfectly fine and like a completely dimwitted idiot, I relented. I, then, got to watch as my precious carry-on bag tumbled down the entire length of the escalators. I burst into tears halfway down. She didn’t seem to care much, she kept saying my computer was fine. It isn’t. There are many, many hairline cracks throughout the screen and the cover is slightly bent on the right side. This is not covered in my warranty. I’m still furious with myself for going against my better judgement, but my thoughts within the last 60 ish hours have been more rapid-fire than fluid. I still haven’t slept because the seats are extremely uncomfortable and the floor is all marble, not carpet. What’s more, I fear what sleep will do to my brain. I’m finally functioning at a decent rate and napping will only sabotage this.
So, now for the good news— home is getting closer and closer. I checked in an hour ago and I’m starting to formulate plans on fixing my laptop screen. That part is the most annoying out of all of this, but as I comfort myself with the thought of the Pusan Palace, the stress has eased considerably and I’m finally thinking clearly again.
So there you have it. Three plane rides in three days, and the death of my beautiful computer screen. It was hard to be optimistic through any of it but then I heard my coworker on the phone with her cheery “Welcome back to Kazakhstan!” and then a loud voice in the background yelling, “Come back already!”
Ah. Who am I kidding? I still love this place.