Apartment adventures


Somehow, who knows how, I have ended up in an incredibly swank apartment located on the main street in Khujand (the street is called Lenin, like nearly every main thoroughfare in a former Soviet town). Four rooms: bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining room. Satellite TV. Excellent climate control. Thick windows that keep out all the street noise. Mountain views, even! The icing on the cake, though, is that one of its windows overlooks the entrance to Khujand’s incredible Panjshanbe Market, a chaotic bazaar at which everything can be purchased from produce to spices to electronics to laundry detergent – a subject about which I hope to say more in future posts.

The rent? $5 per day, or about $150 per month. How did this happen???

I have a story to tell about this place, so let’s go back to Saturday, the day I first set foot in Khujand. My Kiva Coordinator picks me up from the bus station and ferries me directly to my new apartment. I have just made the epic trip from Dushanbe to Khujand, I am exhausted and extremely dirty, and I want nothing more than to take a shower. And that’s exactly what I do. After finishing up, I realize that somehow, the shower faucet has sprung a small leak where once there was none.

Ominous music begins to play.

One of the nuts, it seems, is loose. Not a problem, I think to myself. I am not mechanically inclined, but even I know what needs to be done here. I fetch a smallish wrench from the kitchen and adjust it to the right size. Delicately, precisely, I tap the wrench to the right until I have closed the leak, and then I immediately stop. The faucet is now completely dry. Perfect. Didn’t even have to turn off the water.

I watch it carefully for a few more minutes, expecting something dreadful to happen. Nothing does. Satisfied, I eventually retreat to my living room to start writing blog posts.

About an hour later, I hear my bathroom explode.

WHAT. I leap to my feet and dash in. The faucet has spontaneously burst free of the wall. Two ragged metal pipe-ends have taken its place. Torrents of water gush into the basin below, one scalding hot, one freezing cold.

I stare.

“SHIT,” I say, having processed the situation. “FUCK. SHIT.” I slam the shower doors shut so hard I almost crack them. Maybe if I don’t look at the problem it will go away? Um. Okay, that didn’t work. I lunge for the water valves, which are inexplicably scattered all over the bathroom. There are three of them. WHY ARE THERE THREE OF THEM. THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE. AND WHY WILL THEY NOT FUCKING TURN.

Eventually, I get the first one off, the one behind the toilet. I cannot even budge the second one underneath the sink – it has been dripped on for so long that it has nearly rusted shut. That leaves the third, which sits in a corner just below the ceiling. I stand on top of the toilet to reach it. Immediately, my foot crashes straight through the plastic toilet seat, shattering it, and lands in the grotty toilet bowl below. Fantastic. How about I go WASH IT OFF in NIAGARA FUCKING FALLS over there.

The water continues to gush into the basin unabated. Briefly, I try to remember the Russian word for “flood.” I soon give it up, dash across the hall, and knock on my neighbor’s door.

Almost thirty seconds pass before I hear a voice. A woman shouts something in Tajiki through the door. I assume she is questioning my identity, or perhaps delivering a death threat.

“PLEASE FORGIVE ME FOR DISTURBING YOU SO EARLY IN THE MORNING,” I shout, in what I like to believe is a calm and collected manner. “BUT WE ARE ABOUT TO HAVE A FLOOD.”

Наводнение! That was the word! Brain, coming through in a crisis!

Agonizing seconds pass. Finally, the door cracks. A bleary-eyed woman in glasses and a headscarf pokes her head outside. Niagara Falls is clearly audible behind me.

She listens to the gushing water, thinking, carefully considering her options. Then: “JAMSHED!” she suddenly bawls.

Nothing happens. Then, exactly three seconds later, a door slams open on the landing below. Heavy footsteps pound up the pitted concrete stairs. Around the corner comes a hulking, muscle-bound man with a turtle-like neck and more body hair than three of me combined. Either this is a bear escaped from the zoo, or it is Jamshed. From one of his gigantic paws dangles exactly the sort of monkey wrench one needs to turn exactly this size valve. Where in god’s name did he get this wrench from in three seconds’ time? Was he keeping it by the door? Does this happen that often? Or does he just keep it around to bash in the skulls of all who disturb his sleep?

Jamshed enters my apartment. I apologize profusely for disturbing him. Jamshed grunts. Jamshed walks into my bathroom, adjusts his monkey wrench to the proper size, and, with several flexes of his cannon-sized biceps, wrestles the final valve into submission. The water stops at last.

I thank Jamshed profusely. Jamshed grunts. Jamshed leaves.

At this moment, I become convinced that the most important thing for me to do is to lay face-down on my bed and fall asleep. Three hours later, I wake up and borrow my neighbor’s phone to call my landlord, a mousey man named Muzaffar.

Muzaffar comes a half-hour later. He enters the bathroom to inspect the damage. The water has all drained away by this point, leaving behind nothing but a dangling shower faucet, a shattered toilet seat, and two jagged metal pipes sticking out of the wall. He considers the sight. “Ничего страшного,” he finally pronounces. Nothing too terrible. Bless you, mild-mannered Muzaffar. Bless you.

After another half-hour, he returns with a ten-year-old son and a replacement faucet from the Panjshanbe market. They get to work. We start talking.

It is at this point that I discover that Muzaffar, the man from whom I have rented this property, is a senior administrator at the microfinance institution at which I am going to start work tomorrow. I have just trashed my boss’s boss’s apartment on his day off.

This may be awkward.


About Arbutus

learner, traveler, music-maker, explorer, rabbit extraordinaire
This entry was posted in Kiva Fellowship, Stories of People, Tajikistan. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Apartment adventures

  1. Naomi Harper says:

    I thought it couldn’t get much better than the tunnel of death, but I almost died laughing at this. Please do not die in a tunnel of death OR a flood, or by the hand of a man named Jamshed or your boss’s boss. Or any other of the hazards that are likely to spring up involving camels. Take care of yourself!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Naomi Harper says:

    Also, I just realized that probably the most traumatic part of this whole experience for you was having to introduce yourself awkwardly to your neighbors in the middle of the night. I’m proud of you!

  3. Amy says:

    This is amazing. Or was amazing. It’s just amazing. It’s about 7:30AM here, and I’m starting my day laughing.

  4. KWu says:

    Note to self: reading this blog during team meetings is a BAD IDEA, given that uncontrolled grinning and suppressed giggling generally aren’t considered “professional.”

  5. Lauren says:

    If only our School Guides contained such stories. They would sell like hotcakes.

    • Arbutus says:

      Maybe you guys can do a new Socially Conscious Careers School Selection Guide and put this story in the introduction. It can be its own section, titled “A Cautionary Tale.” This, gentle reader, is what EVERY DAY of your life will be like if you choose microfinance.

      Good to hear from you again, Lauren! =:)

  6. Kim says:

    So I just read this in the office because, as we know, my focus at work is second to none. Typically, when I laugh so hard that I cry while at my desk, it’s because I’m reading something gloriously awful. Happily, today was the first time where I was dying over writing that was actually good! (Great, really.)

    Fun office update: Earlier this week, EI came out of his office in the afternoon, and, after a thorough kitchen search, asked us all why we did not have any cookies. Not surprisingly, we didn’t have a good answer to this question. EI decided that we should have a stockpile of cookies in the office, and asked LW to order four large tins from Staples (turns out that they sell cookies). It took some convincing to make him realize why that was too many, but we eventually talked him down to two.

    Long story short, EI is still ridiculous, and now we have large quantities of cookies. Don’t you miss us?

    Also, your desk is now covered in company postcards. They aren’t quite as good conversationalists as you were.

    • Arbutus says:

      Kim, this is awesome. I’m so glad the office continues as it was. This one isn’t nearly as interesting/perplexing/hilarious on a daily basis.

      Glad you enjoyed the read! And good luck to all of you over the next few weeks!

  7. Tejal says:

    I cannot say enough how much I love your writing, Chris! This post had everyone at my office confused, wondering WHAT caused me to break out in 5 minutes of hysterical laughter at my desk at 12:50 pm. Haha. Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures!

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