Tuesday, July 08, 2008

In Which We Travel from Food Emergency to Food Emergency

After a morning of much sitting around and studying maps, we ventured out of the apartment and onto the streets of Bishkek at nearly 11:00. We exchanged money at a little place down the street and both got ripped off. Paulina lost more than I did. New vow: Be more careful, especially around money-changers.

I had a whole route planned and Bishkek has mountains to the South, so it was going to be feasible even with my wretched sense of direction, except of course it was cloudy by the time we made it out, so the mountain compass didn't work. Besides, our apartment wasn't exactly where I thought it was, so the route quickly went out the window. Still, it's always exciting to walk around a new city, and I was even more excited to discover that the city is a calm one without people on the street approaching you to buy buy buy or men yelling "Hello, American, where are you going?". In fact, we were mostly ignored despite being two attractive blond women and a little bit lost. A good sign.

The drivers here suck, however, so crossing the street is always an adventure. They anticipate when their light will change to gren and are already well across the street when it happens. The safest way to cross is with a local, or at the beginning of a light cycle - wait too long and they'll run you down, even if your light is still technically green.

So we walked and we walked, and I soon realized that my urgent need for food would never be matched by Paulina's. She was nervous to stop at a restaurant because we couldn't read the menus. She wanted a grocery store instead. We actually found two likely candidates, but both of them, even though they looked like grocery stores from the outside, actually turned out to be full of individual booths, mostly of people selling cell phones. Can that many cell phone vendors be profitable? Do they understand about supply and demand? Finally, well after I had reached the medical emergency stage in my food panic, we found a window on the street that said "Fast Food" and had pictures of hamburgers and pizza. I pointed to the hamburger, and the woman at the counter said, "All we have is cheeseburgers and hot dogs." I said "Cheeseburger" with the last of my strength and was rewarded with possibly the most delicious cheeseburger I have ever eaten. Ah, protein after a long walk through the heat.

Our next adventure (after long jet-lag naps) was to find the other apartment with two of our other team members in it. We talked to Tom on the phone and he said, "Is your apartment next to a beat up old playground?" We confirmed that it was, so he said, "OK, then we're in the same complex, just go to our building and come up to the 9th floor." He gave us the address, and we set out, walking up dillapidated cement staircases in our complex and failing to find the apartment he described. Finally with the address written carefully on a piece of paper, I began to approach the young mothers on the beat-up old playground. One of them was so helpful that she even called her own mother on her cell phone and directed us two blocks down the street. One the way, we passed three more beat-up old playgrounds, a street name in Russian script, and no house numbers at all. I had to ask 3 more young mothers (and Paulina had to use her Polish to understand their Russian) before we finally found the building. Addresses are not a big thing here, apparently. You just have to know your building by sight. Also, beat-up old playgrounds make terrible landmarks in this city.

This second adventure also ended with food, because even though Paulina still wasn't hungry, I was, and so Denise (one of the other group members) took us out to dinner at a German restaurant with pictures on the menu. I had more beef and the second food panic of the day was finally subdued.


jenn said...

All the N's, Cat & Finn are wishing you good luck in finding more wonderful meat meals. Hopefully closer together as time moves forward.
I guess waiting for pounds wasn't so much necessary :)

Anonymous said...

The Pemberly group are following the blog and waiting for each new post!

Alex said...

Hi Jenn and Pemberly,
I keep looking at pictures of you all on my digital camera. Not homesick, exactly, just love you.