Part II: Tashkent Too

So if you know me and you’ve been out drinking with me, you might know sometimes I start speaking odd words. Well, that’s not much of a problem here, as they understand them. Part of my reluctance to use my Russian involves under confidence with it, or more specifically irritation with myself that it is not better. My perfectionist streak is showing again. You go to the trouble of learning a language, and maybe we didn’t use it enough in school for me to declare I was fully fluent in it, and no one would mistake me for a native, but I could get by…and then you don’t use it for six years or so. It’s gonna go away, trust me. However, the under confidence goes away with some alcohol down me. Confidence aside, I think I actually get better, too. Well, eventually it became time to speak out. Small stuff at first. Just bits and pieces, here and there. Then sentences. My main obstacles are of course grammar problems and missing vocabulary. I’m creative enough to work around some of these by over-explaining. Smile

Over the course of the afternoon, sitting at the bar, I start letting more out. My impish nature takes over of course, and I deny any ability to speak Russian. I’d like to thank Jordan, long time friend and hero for the model of plausible denial. His particular trick was that you had something on your shirt – even if you had just checked and knew you didn’t, he had this way of making you doubt yourself all the same. Kamola scowls at me delightfully. I don’t think she’s falling for it. I think she suspects!

Chester is actually quite personable and outgoing, and seems to have met and talked to everyone in the hotel. As the mid-afternoon shift moves in all of his close personal friends stop by to bask in the warmth. Eventually he heads up for nap time, but will come back later. After a while, who comes back down but the codename Goofy. It’s been about a couple of hours since he staggered out. I foolishly try to engage him in conversation. “Hey man, how’re you doing? Were worried about you for a bit, you looked like you felt a bit goofy earlier.” Haha. Only he’s not taking that well at all. Not wanting at all to have caused offense (me happy drunk) and trying to fix this unhappy situation, I try to buy him a beer. Mistake number 2! He seems to have headed upstairs to hit the bottle some more. Oops. Unfortunately he seems to be angry grumpy drunk instead of a happy drunk. “Where I’m from, you don’t drink with someone that’s just called you goofy. You just don’t do that!” He goes on about that for a while. Ok, this is clearly an unsavable situation. However, at least I have irritated him enough that after only a sip or two of the beer he stalks away. Small victories I guess. Ken and I are a little embarrassed about certain Americans at this point. After we realize he has disappeared, hopefully for good, I tell Kamola I’ll cover his beer if he didn’t pay for it yet, but I guess he did. It seems like too much work to want so badly to be pissed off at things, and we can all just shake our heads.

I get a great idea. Why don’t I email people to let them know I am successfully drunk? Of course it’s a great idea! How could it not be? It beats the crap out of drunken calling, since that would be ungodly expensive. I’m drunk at this point, not stupid. A quick trip to the business center it is! Mr. Attendant Guy (forgot his name, sorry) has left the keyboard in Cyrillic. That’s fine, since I was going to send it out in Russian anyway! I’ve gotten much better at my typing, now I only rarely look at my keyboard reference taped to my monitor, but it’s still hunt and peck typing. I just have to remember to ignore the Latin characters on the keys. Smile Mr. Attendant Guy and I speak a bit, he’s surprised enough I speak but typing, well that rewards me a shocked look. So I send my message, and pass along one for another too. Hmm…time for another beer!

At some point it becomes “must eat!” time. Diana brings us a menu, and it looks like the $14 cheeseburger is a winner. Now $14 sounds expensive, and of course it is. At the same time, it’s a hell of a big burger, double decker no less, with a boatload of fries along for the ride. Still works out to be expensive anyway. Somehow there’s been a miscommunication and we’ve gotten the chicken burger instead. That’s fine with me, but I ask for some cheese. It doesn’t come that way. She’s very earnest and hard working and pretty, and you don’t want to misstep with people like that. However, she forgives us our stupidity and retrieves some shredded cheese for us. I barely manage to eat the whole thing, but at least now I have more confidence I will make it through the evening. Little do I know it’s going to be a lot longer than that. It’s somewhere in the 4PM vicinity now.

After another indeterminate period of time, the agreed upon bar switch occurs. Kamola is clearly disappointed to lose such great company and stops scowling at me in disbelief. However she understands, and since Chester had done all the arranging to meet up there later. They worship him. Shriven of our sin, we move upstairs. By now I am speaking much more. Alfiya is running the Library bar tonight. Great personality and several other qualities I like in a woman – I like her. We babble at each other some, and she declares that my Russian is good. HA! That couldn’t possibly be true I say, since my grammar and vocabulary are…well, missing isn’t a bad term for it. It’s improved lots since I got here in Uzbekistan, and a good bit more in the past few hours. Actually the grammar isn’t so far off, but the endings aren’t so well remembered. (Quick note: the endings for words tell you what function they serve in the sentence, as opposed to English where it’s word order that does that.) She argues that you don’t so much need the grammar. I agree only when you are trying to speak sloppy Russian that will be understood, but I want to speak good Russian. And then of course the vocabulary lags, but I work around that where I can, and ask when necessary. Not having the words themselves is the worst part. Not using them the correct way is minor in comparison, since people can figure out what you mean to say. I start to feel good about my skills (aside from the nagging thought that it used to be better, but conversationally I must be at the top of my game – before it was mainly with other students that weren’t really sure how to say things either!) but know I need to use it more. The glow of beer gives me courage.

Chester shows up. Chester is quite cool. Very outgoing, talks to everyone even when he isn’t drunk. Alfiya starts a discussion about Cheetos. Alfiya and I talk about advertisements for Cheetos. “Chester lyubit Cheetos” is the phrase. Chester loves Cheetos. She looks at me blankly when I refer to Chester Cheetah. She declares that he is in fact a tiger. I don’t know the word for cheetah, but it doesn’t sound like cheetah. (It’s gepard.) However leopard and tiger are essentially the same words in Russian as in English. It turns out to be a neat conversation over a rather inane topic. I’m drunk. She’s polite and supportive.

One of the things I like about the Sheraton is how everything is so incredibly expensive. Ok, that’s not true. Yes, it’s expensive, but no, I don’t like it. However, the uniform of the day requires short skirts. It makes me all happy inside. Don’t see much of that here on camp. None at all, to be exact.

As time passes I get great enjoyment from speaking to people that expect me to be just like all the other Americans. The surprise is noticeable, and brings curiosity along with it. The more you speak, the more you speak. Outside the library bar, the whole thing just kind of accelerates. I’m talking to everyone now. Eventually I will become positively exuberant in introducing myself to people. Somehow I become very popular. My name is being called from every corner. I’m drunk on beer and friendly acceptance. That people look at me with a bit of wow factor is icing on the cake. People have been aware of me before, but I have never been popular. It’s like a drug. Then again, maybe that was all the beer. Too much beer. No true ill effects, but I think in the midst of experiencing all this, I missed out on some things. Just a mental note for next time, something to improve upon. Drink some. Not ALL.

It’s interesting though, how just one night can change things. Maybe I’m not destined to be just some other schmuck all my life. I’d hoped it’d be that way, but didn’t have faith I could pull it off. I figured I was going to be trapped wanting to be better but not knowing exactly how to be anything other than invisible. A turning point: rounding the corner of the bar, this one woman gives me the eye. It was obvious. It was nice. Instead of running over like a puppy dog, I simply filed her away. Had to get a beer first. Never even got around to talking to her either, sorta got distracted about halfway down the bar. But it was no big deal. I felt like I was on top of the world at that point. I even let someone drag me out to dance – don’t think I even fought it. Twisted Evil Note: I did not suddenly acquire any dancing skills mind you. But I did advise her regarding my lack of dance floor ability beforehand.

[redacted – some other day, maybe]

And before you know it, it’s 4:50 AM. With lightning speed, I throw my stuff into my backpack and roll downstairs with a casual “nothing to see here, I’m not slightly late” look. While we are still waiting I ask Svetlana for some water. Without the gas, you know I can’t drink that stuff. (Asking for water is apt to yield you a bottle of carbonated water if you aren’t careful – ack!) All in Russian of course. She actually did a double-take – the look of shock on her face was the best of the whole day. Cool

So we get to the airport, but I am starting to fade. I vaguely remember going through Customs and ticketing and such. I am sure I performed all the necessary functions with the requisite skill and grace, but certainly was the very picture of exhaustion. Kept going all afternoon, evening, night, and back into the morning, but eventually you are going to run out. We were all flying to Frankfurt, and parting ways from there. Standing in the doorway waiting for the bus to come take us to that wonderful bird, I concentrate intensely on the act of continuing to stand. Someone to the side said “hold on, you’ll make it.” I’m really running out of steam at this point. I just want to sit down. From there I think it will turn into a passing-out. Finally, oh wonderful bus! Up the drivable stairs, into the bird. I’m not introducing myself to people any more. I can’t get the bag into the overhead compartment on the outboard side, but it goes in fine on the interior ones. I didn’t realize they were bigger. I was starting to get concerned. Into the seat! Victory!

I’m sure the plane took off and those kind of things, but to be honest I only dimly recall repeatedly being woken up to eat. Uzbekistan Airways WILL feed you. More on that later.

Leave a Reply

or Log in. You don't need to register to leave comments.

You must be logged in to post a comment.