From Ufa!

July 20, 2008
Greetings from Ufa, capital of Bashkortostan!

As I have no telephone line at home, I won't be able to regularly update this website. So, I'm just going to make the posts as always and will update when I can. Thus, there will probably be times when no posts appear for days or even weeks, followed by the sudden appearance of several postings all at once. I don't think there's any other way, at least until I'm back in Turkey. We'll see.

The trip to Ufa went well, but it's been a long day all the same. My flight was at 7:30 in the morning, so I called a taxi company last night in Moscow and ordered a taxi to arrive at my hostel at 5:30. Everything was going well--I got a few hours of sleep in, and then my alarm went off at 5:00. I got up, showered, moved my stuff into the hallway, and had been waiting for the taxi for a few minutes when I noticed the clock on the phone read 4:20. My alarm clock was still on Istanbul time! I had gotten up an hour early! While it was nice to be able to go back to bed for an hour, I knew I wouldn't get back to sleep.

No sooner had I gone back to bed when the phone rang. I ran back into the living room to pick it up, thinking it was the taxi (when you order a taxi in advance in Russia, the driver calls when he gets to your house, and he usually gets there at least 15 minutes early).

Instead, it was some British kid who was staying at the hostel. He'd been out all night and had forgotten the code to get back inside the building. I went downstairs and let him in and he seemed grateful and relieved that he hadn't received a fiercer reaction. I could hardly be that upset with him anyway, given the fact that I was already up thanks to my own boneheadedness.

Just as soon as I lay down again, the phone rang a second time. This time it was the taxi, and I watched the sun rise as we drove off to the airport.

The flight was fine. Mostly I was worried about the two bottles of rakı that I'd bought in Turkish duty-free on my way to Moscow. Fearful that I wouldn't be allowed to board my plane with liquids (there was no reason--that doesn't seem to be a problem at least with domestic flights here), I had packed them inside my suitcase, while carrying with me anything that could have gotten destroyed by a liquor spill. Nothing happened, fortunately, as all of us arrived in Ufa in one piece.

I took an airport bus into town from the airport for 25 rubles (a bit more than a dollar), then went into Gostinnyi Dvor, a glistening air-conditioned shopping center, where I bought a SIM card for my telephone (Russia's cellphone providers are all regional, so I didn't buy one in Moscow). At the phone place I met a couple of Turkish construction workers, with whom I started chatting. They invited me to join them for some tea once my phone business was taken care of, as they were enjoying a day off in the air-conditioned splendor of Gostinnyi Dvor.

We started talking and one of the guys showed me the pictures he had stowed on his phone, including a number of photos of various family members posing with a large handgun. They asked me if I liked drinking, so I told them about the rakı I'd been schlepping around. At this point, the other fellow got serious and told me that he doesn't drink at all. He didn't indulge in that kind of habit, he said with a pious tone, then quickly added that he does enjoy the occasional beer whenever he calls up a prostitute.

Armed with my telephone and fortified by the tea, I called Albert, a friend of my friend Xavier, who had told me he had an apartment I could stay in. Indeed, the apartment is free--something I still have trouble wrapping my head around. Albert met me in front of the Hotel Bashkortostan and we took a taxi to the apartment together.

The apartment is quite good, but since it hadn't been occupied for a while it needed a serious cleaning. I spent most of the afternoon scrubbing it from top to bottom, and once I can get a fan in here I think it will be pretty comfortable.

My roommate
Anyway, it's been a pretty long week. It's hard to believe that just seven days ago I was drinking beer at my sister's house, watching my nephew's Willie Wonka performance on DVD. Two days before that, I'd been swimming in Lake Michigan and drinking gin and tonics on the beach while I watched a (nearly) 10 pm sunset. And now---I'm here, wondering if I'm going to get eaten alive tonight because the kiosk downstairs was out of the anti-mosquito tablets I put in my burner.

For the time being, however, there are more important things to worry about--like dinner. I've got two bottles of rakı, after all. One will go to Albert when I move out of this place, and the other is going to get opened right now. Şerifinize!