05 Feb

Well, Actually, the sink. And no good deed ...

Very early into my Nukus stay, I started taking my walks through the university grounds. I can’t say that it was the greenery that attracted me, not in December anyway. It’s a bit off the main road, though, which makes it quieter. The Nukus region has very little precipitation, sometimes resulting in serious water issues. The Aral Sea, located in this same region, is drying at an alarming rate because of water mismanagement dating back to the days of Soviet rule. The country has been independent since 1991, but some attitudes born of the earlier era die hard.

One afternoon in the middle of December, while walking in the nearby university grounds, I needed to use a toilet. Noticing a small building that I correctly identified by its smell as a washroom, I went in. As I was leaving, I noticed that the sink’s faucet I wanted to use had a small but steady stream of water running out. With the vital tap missing, any manipulation was impossible. I just couldn’t stand seeing this waste so, even though I was technically a visitor on the Uni grounds, I gathered my chutzpa and went to a nearby building. As it happened, a guy was locking up a door in the hall, giving him away as someone working there. He wore a black blazer that looked like part of a school uniform, and blue pants the color of old-fashioned work coveralls. The fashion statement that he presented said clearly, ‘there is no female in my life.’

This is our conversation, which I carried out in my pidgin Russian. “Hello, you work here, yes?” A nod followed.

“Please. I watch problem. Small building there,” I waved my arm expansively in the direction where I believed the washroom was and continued. “There much water runs away. You understand, yes?”

The guy was still nodding, which was a good sign, so I shared my inner thoughts about wastefulness due to negligence by saying, “Nobody has joy when nice water runs away. Needs fix. Do you understand?”

Now comes the fun part. The guy, using his hands said, “Blah, blah blah, building.”

I replied, “Not this building. Little building, there. Yellow it is.”

The guy continued, “And where are you from (still in Russian)?”

Me, very firmly, “I work here.”

He was not satisfied and asked again. Now I played my trump card, just in case he wanted to kick me out for trespassing. Our school is very highly respected by the locals, so I said, “I work at the Presidential School.” I have this sentence down pat in Russian.

The guy nodded and said, “Good. But where are you from?” So, I told him that I was from Canada, and he gave me a big smile and continued saying something about hockey. After a few minutes, during which I gathered he was a hockey fan, I departed with what I interpreted as a promise to let someone know about the water issue.

Three days later I walked the same route, so I couldn’t resist poking my head into the washroom. Sure enough, the water was still running. Ok, now you can call me dumb or extremely stubborn, although I would prefer persistent, but I went back to the same office where I had found him earlier, and I told him that the water was still running. He seemed genuinely miffed. Luckily not at me, but probably at someone who was supposed to have taken care of it. After several “Blah, blah, blah,” I understood ‘engineer’ and ‘repairs.’ I think an engineer means a technician in Russian, so we said goodbye and I left. 

A week after that I couldn’t help my morbid curiosity, and marched into the washroom just to see. And yes! The faucet had a brand-new tap and the water was no longer ‘running away.’ I was tickled pink, I felt good, I felt like I could chalk up one good deed for the day. But then again … I am easy to please. But not cheap, as my dear husband keeps reminding me.

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