Saturday, May 8, 2010
Shopping Trip to Karaganda, Part 2
Sunday morning we woke up early so we could be out of our hotel by 8:30 am (thus paying the cheaper rate). We went downstairs and drank some tea in the hotel's 24-hour cafe and then went outside. The bazaar was closed and the sign on it said it opened at 10 am some days and 11 am other days but nowhere on the sign did it say which days.
So we wandered in the direction of the huge park. We walked to the lake and then from there to the park, where the fair rides weren't open yet, of course, but Sophia really enjoyed watching two people set up their stand for selling toys. Finally, she bought a toy.
We wandered back towards the bazaar and crossed what looked like part of an abandoned amusement park.
The bazaar was open and I wandered through the stores a while. Winter boots were on sale, of course, but I couldn't find my size.
My brother and Sophia headed back to the park while I shopped. Then I met up with Rebeca and her daughter; we bought pizza to-go and picked up our luggage and went to the park so the kids could play and we could eat. We sat by the lake to eat, and a man with a kid started talking to Rebeca. He seemed friendly enough, but it soon came out that he's been to America (New York) and doesn't like America. He left with the final question, why are so many Americans fat?
Then we got back in the car to return home. We still had enough time to make Mass at 6 pm in Astana.
The car ride was uneventful enough. The kids played and fought some, and we listened to Rebeca's French lessons tape.
We finally passed a sign that said we had 35 kilometers until Astana. Good, the steppe is getting boring!
Then, as Rebeca was passing a large truck, I heard a car honk. I looked, and a small car was attempting to pass us! This is a small, two-lane highway. So we were to the left of the large truck and to our left was this other car, halfway in the lane and halfway on the shoulder. What was the driver thinking?
The car lost control, veered in front of us and hit the truck's headlights. Then it spun around, off the road, and into the ditch.
Rebeca drove for a bit more, dazed, and finally stopped and pulled over. We sat in the boiling-hot car for a good 15 minutes, not sure what to do now. My brother said he had seen the driver, still in the car, in the ditch, and right-side up. The driver should be OK. We were not involved. We could go on.
But neither Rebeca nor I could bring ourselves to think that's a good idea. So we got out of the car and walked back.
The truck had stopped and the drivers were examining the headlights. The car and its driver were still down the hill, in the wild grass on the steppe.
Rebeca went to talk to the driver while we watched the kids. I learned from Rebeca that, yes, the driver was okay, but she thought that Rebeca was at fault. She thought that Rebeca had pulled out after her, was the reason she had lost control and crashed. So now we had to wait for the police and hope that they weren't corrupt.
We wait for maybe 2 hours on the steppe. This was good for Sophia and Alison, they got to run wild and play. It was good for me, the steppe is far more interesting when you're not just driving through it. But in general it wasn't good. The police appeared to believe that Rebeca was not to blame, but couldn't let her go either.
There was a group of horses a ways off, wandering around slowly, and we eventually noticed that a man was riding one of them. After a while, the horses ambled closer to us, and we decided to get closer. The man noticed us and started riding towards us. I warned the kids not to get too close, and wondered whether the man would be friendly towards random strangers, or not want strangers near his horses or on his land.
At least, I thought, we have Alison, who can explain who we are or what we're doing here.
As he got closer, the friendly Alison, who had been all-too-eager to get near the horses, changed her demeanor. She became a bit frightened, put up her fists, and jumped up and down, punching the air, looking quite ready to get into a fist-fight with this guy. So much for her explaining about us.
Luckily, the man was really friendly, and realized that a tiny 9-year old girl is not a threat. He encouraged her to not be afraid of his horse, and soon he put her on the horse. She was scared, and so he took her off, and Sophia and Alison spent some time petting the horse.
He rode off and we wandered back to the scene of the wreck, where Rebeca was still talking to policemen and waiting for more to show up. The other driver still thought Rebeca was at fault. We still had a long wait in the steppe.
The man on horseback was most likely following his horses as they grazed and after a while they were near us again. The flat steppe is down rather steep hill from the highway. The man and horse walked right up that hill and the horse walked up. I couldn't walk up that hill but the horse had no problem.
The man talked to the police and then returned to "chat" with us. By chat, I mean exchange a few words and then sit idly on the grass, since we couldn't quite communicate. I contemplated how vastly different his life must be from mine. Spending all day idly following horses around.
Finally, we learned that we could go. Well, not go home, but at least leave this middle-of-nowhere location. We would follow the policeman back to the main town. Although we were close to Astana, we were not in Astana's district and had about a half hour drive--away from Astana--to the town where the police station was. Rebeca would then take a drug and alcohol test. Though I hope they believed that she wasn't drunk or high since they were letting her drive to the town!
The town was dirty and decrepit. Rebeca parked in front of the police station while we waited outside. The station was surrounded by a fence. Some children across the street were playing. My brother wandered off to take pictures while I fed cereal to Sophia and Alison.
A few cars drove by, and again I contemplated how my life differs from those of the town inhabitants. But maybe not by too much, I thought as a modest 4-door car drove into the station. A young man drove, his wife and child were in the car with him. The child was maybe 2 and wore a pink coat. They looked like they could belong anywhere, not just some random town in the middle of the Kazakh steppe.
After driving through the gate, he turned his car to park but HE DID NOT STOP. The car rolled right over the parking-curb and through the fence, crashing into a tree.
At this point, I thought maybe I was dreaming.
Soon after, Rebeca came out of the station. She heard that the guy's brakes hadn't been working. But still, even with no breaks, wouldn't the parking curb or even the fence have been enough to stop the car? It hadn't been moving very fast, and it had crashed pretty hard into the tree.
We had to go somewhere else in the town for her to give a statement. By now it was starting to get dark, so maybe it was around 8:00. We were tired, dirty, hungry, and starting to get cold.
Rebeca followed the man into a building and my brother went off to take pictures of a tiny, run-down mosque. We wandered to the road and then to a small playground.
Some teenagers soon came to the play ground and overheard us speaking English. "Do you speak English?" one teenager asked me. "Yes," I said. "Yes, I do," she said, correcting me.
We had a short conversation. Her English was very limited so we couldn't say much. She wanted to know what I was doing in this town, how long was I staying? Oh well, I didn't want to tell her the real reason and she wouldn't be able to understand me even if I did.
We then wandered back to the car and then had to use the bathroom. There was a bathroom or outhouse of sorts nearby, but as we approached, the stench was so bad that I felt like I was going to vomit. I've never smelled anything so bad. So I took Sophia elsewhere and we just went behind a tree. That's not too uncommon around here, and better than throwing up!
Finally, they let Rebeca go. She said the police officer had written a statement for her, but it didn't contain much of what she had actually said, and so she had insisted on writing her own statement. They told her that for now, she was OK, but if the other driver decided to press charges, she might have to come back.
We got into the car, exhausted, and drove home. We made it home close to midnight, tired and dirty.
Luckily, the woman never pressed charges and all is well. Perhaps we learned a lesson--never try to do the right thing when the police are involved?
At least we got to see the steppe! And I'm pretty convinced that I do not want to drive a car in Kazakhstan.