Thursday, March 27, 2014

And then I didn't write for two months...

A travesty! So many twists and turns will be forever forgotten. Let me try to remember some of the things that have happened these last two months.

Well, first of all, I was sick for the entirety of February. I never got totally ill where i couldn't work, but I was too sick to do just about anything fun. Just a sore throat and a headache and then a cough that would just never end. Everyone scolded me for not dressing warmly enough until literally everyone I know in the city got sick. Winter, right?

So it was -20 Celsius pretty consistently, and despite that and my illnesses I had high spirits. But I couldn't run, and the one day I felt healthy enough to go running at -15 Celsius I immediately got sick again. But still, my spirits were high, and I continued to meet interesting people, and teach my classes, and got into a groove of sorts. I even managed to have some mild social experiences, although the skates I bought gathered dust in the corner of my room as my ice skating date plan had more or less fallen through the cracks.

Finally I recovered, but I decided running on the street just wasn't going to cut it anymore. So I finally bit the bullet and bought a gym membership to the gym literally 100 feet from my dormitory door. That got me to at least run and lift a few light weights a couple of times a week.

But now I am heading to Kyrgyzstan (tomorrow!) and I will be training twice a day (God help me).

That's why I wanted to get somethings onto (virtual) paper. Tomorrow is going to be the beginning of a totally new and different experience (again). I think I'm destined to be a drifter. It doesn't matter where I am, within a few months I want to be somewhere else. Someday I'll settle, but that's kind of been the theme of this whole blog, right? Settle; find home.

And winter is ending, and will be officially over for me in 24 hours. It's already "warm" in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. It's supposed to get down near freezing every night, but it might get as warm as +20 Celsius next week!

But mostly I'm going to Kyrgyzstan because, well, how many chances does an American get to go to Kyrgyzstan. And I can go there without a visa, so it's easy!

But there is more to recount from my adventures here the last two months.

While February I was sick, in March I became the busiest I've ever been. But two things stick out above the rest. 1) 9 Turks moved into my hall and became a part of my life. And 2) I had to meet my gopnik friends again.

Let's talk about the latter, and save the Turks for the end.

So it turns out that the Russian justice system is not as miraculous as it seemed, and they can't finish a mugging case in a swift 12 hours. On March 17th I was told I needed to report (ASAP!) for "очная ставка." I don't know what the actual term is in English, but it translates as "confrontations." Basically, I had to sit down next to my assailants and convey my side of the story, and then they would say their version.

My first attempt, on March 19th, was a failure because I forgot my passport. I was so focused on remembering those gopniks faces and getting my story straight that the thought of bringing my passport never even crossed my mind. In America I always just brought my wallet, within which was my driver's license (both of which are either in a trash heap or a muddy snowbank). Old habits never die.

In any case, I earned a shot at redemption, and a trip to a Russian jail, the next day. Finding the place was hard enough, and it looked just as you'd expect a Russian jail to look like. It's a small brick building hidden behind a gas station, and the only entrance is through a hidden ramshackle guard house at the back of a cratered driveway. There I met my interpreter and the investigator, and handed my cellphone and passport to the guards.

The room for these "confrontations" was a small room with a small wooden table and several small stools, all attached to the ground with sturdy metal legs and bolts. There were two identical stools inside two tiny metal cages, with about one square meter of space each.


Just being in this building had my heart racing. I could feel it beating in my chest, my neck and head. As I waited in this small interrogation room, the detective, my translator, and another woman (the criminal's lawyer) joked in Russian. The detective was remarkably cheerful, calm, and bored. I don't know if it was comforting or worrying that she was in this sort of mood. Did she take this all seriously?

Finally a police officer escorted a grunty looking man into the cage nearest the door. He had a shaved head and deep set eyes. He was smaller than I remembered, wiry and seemingly limber, but not a heavyweight boxer. He reclined against the wall in his cage. He looked sideways at me, and I glanced sideways at him out of the corner of my eye. It hurt to look him in the eyes. This was the man that robbed me, no doubt. This was a bad man. The tattoos on all of his fingers told as such (Thank you, Eastern Promises).

We each, in turn, have our telling of the events. He lied, of course. I spoke through an interpreter, but I could understand at least half of what everyone spoke in Russian. He said he was alone when he robbed us, and that he had no knife. He laughed a dark, relaxed laugh when I told my version of the events. His raspy, gurgling, chuckle mocking my words. "What a tale!" He exclaimed. He seemed relaxed, even comfortable. He had been here before. He didn't seem nervous. But who knows? The psychology of criminals will fascinate humanity forever, and will never be understood.

I was given the chance to ask him what he had in his hand, as he said there was no knife, but there is a small pierce in my jacket that proves he had something sharp in his hand. So I asked "what was in your hand?" And he said, "nothing." Liar! I am now doubly certain that he had a knife. You could show me every knife in Novosibirsk and I wouldn't recognize it, but by God, that bastard had a knife.

The man argued with the investigator - he showed no respect. Occasionally the investigator would tell him to shut his mouth. Meanwhile, she dutifully took notes of all that we said and then had me sign in a dozen different places.

They ushered me to another, similar room, and the other Alex took his turn in the "fun chair." As I wrote, I heard a similar scene play out across the hall, as Alex worked to remember a traumatic event of 11 weeks ago that we both hoped that at this point we could just forget.

The lawyer of the second suspect was late, so we lingered, speaking friendlily - Alex, our translator, the investigator and I. Eventually, the lawyer arrived. My task for the second suspect was short. Speaking honestly, I never saw his face. I couldn't really identify this man. I was shown a picture of him at the police station once, but it would be impossible for me to say with certainty that this was actually the 3rd guy that robbed us. If they put me on the stand in a fair court they could crush my testimony against this man. Besides, he didn't actually do anything to me. He robbed the other Alex, so it's up to him to be the good witness and identify this guy. Again, I never saw his face that night.

So while it was tempting to provide further evidence that this man was working with the knife-wielding bastard, I had to refrain out of a personal sense of honesty. I hope I made the right decision.

After this fun event, I felt the need to stuff my face with KFC. It's actually not bad in Russia, but all the same I feel like a dirty American idiot when I eat it. And then again, Russian's love the stuff too. So whatever. After that I felt the need to buy 300 rubles worth of vegetables. I arrived back to the dormitory, and my Turks, with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, onions, and one cucumber. It was a weird day.

But my Turks were pleased to have the vegetables! They don't speak English nor Russian very well, so it's hard for them to do much of anything. Being the good citizen of the world that I am, I decided I should show them a few things about the town. This earned me their endearing love, and they constantly make me food. Turkish food is actually pretty darn delicious, and I hate cooking and washing dishes, so it's a good deal!

The Turks always hang out in the kitchen next to my room and one plays guitar. The others feast on soup and bread and onions and other nice things. There are 7 girls and 2 guys. The girls cook, and they cook for me, but they don't seem to cook for the two guys. After the girls finish cooking some stew or meat, the guys come and heat up a frozen pizza.

One night we went to a night club. Or we tried, anyway. The first club we arrived at wouldn't let us in because, ostensibly, two of the girls looked too young. I have my doubts. The second club didn't let us in and gave no reason "The club has the right to turn away anyone without a reason!" Well, we weren't dressed well enough. I finally settled for one of the less nice clubs I could think of, which actually turned out to be a big hit for them. They are second year students after all! College students don't need nice things. I got my head all turned around hanging out with my older Western friends in the fall.

So they had a great time, and out of the 7 that came, 4 of them were sick the rest of the night. So I guess that's evidence #2 that Turkish university students are not very different from American ones.

And at that, I bid you adieu. I wrote almost 2000 words without even mentioning Crimea.

I'll save that for later ;)

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