02 May

“I haven’t seen Dave today. Didn’t he want to come along?” Brenna asked distractedly as she scrutinized her new surroundings. 

“Dave has been in the dog house for the past three days.” I responded and laughed. Oh, I so wanted to say it. But I had had to wait for the right time. And it had finally arrived. My new colleague, who joined us from South Africa only recently, and I were walking and chatting. I was taking her to the market to get some basic stuff and to orient her in what was going to be her new hometown for the next eight months. It was true. Dave had spent the past three nights dog-sitting for a couple we met, who are a part of a small group of expats in Nukus. 

One thing that became obvious a few months into our stay in Nukus was that we had almost no chance of meeting anybody but nice people. Our pool of expatriate acquaintances consists almost entirely of people who work for nonprofit organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders. These people tend to possess more refined traits of humanity in general. If asked the meaning of profit, the first thing that would probably come to their mind is profiteroles – the delicious French dessert. And that is not just because many of them are non-native English speakers. Natalie and Dorian are a good example. She is Dutch and he is German. Dorian’s work for a German NGO often takes him back to the neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where they had spent three years before joining our motley Nukus crew. They found Masha when she was a puppy wandering the streets of Bishkek and adopted her. Dave and I volunteered to look after her while Natalie went to Tashkent for a medical procedure, since Dorian was somewhere in Kyrgyzstan attending, no doubt, to some good deeds. 

We don’t talk about money but, entering their house for the first time, it was rather obvious that they were not exactly rolling in it. I would not mind the shabby wooden floors and rusty bathtub. After all, it was Dave who ended up drawing the short straw and spending the nights there. Even the parade of ants on the counter was a sight that left me unmoved. But seeing the fly trap on the windowsill made me recoil. It meant only one thing - they had TONS of flies in the house. In fact, it was a horror house of flies 

I like animals. But my affection begins only at the mammalian level. I refuse to co-habit with anything that doesn’t suck milk as a newborn. Any bird or fish in my home would be found only on my plate. And any insect is totally off the table for me. 

I really don’t like insects. It’s not that I hate them, in fact, if I can help it, I don’t hurt them. If I see a long line of ants marching somewhere, tending to their own agenda, I try not to step on them. And it’s not just because I don’t want them to accidentally divert their route up my leg, I simply don’t hold any grudge against them. They may live. The same goes for spiders. I have been known to use a jar and a paper to capture a spider just so I could release him outside. Why is it always HIM? After all, Charlotte was a female. Mostly I do that with spiders because they catch flies, and I reserve a particular dislike for flies. My distaste regarding flies dates back to the fifth grade, to a short movie I saw as a part of a well-intentioned unit on Personal Hygiene. It scarred me forever with some very realistic cinematography. It began by showing a fly close-up, as it sat on a pile of cow dung displaying tiny hairs on her legs as she rubbed them. The camera did not shy away from anything. You were meant to see the excrement sticking to the tiny hairs. The movie continued, following the fly taking off and flying straight through the window into the farmhouse. There was, conveniently placed on a plate, a tasty looking doughnut. The fly didn’t waste any time checking out anything else. She headed straight for that plate. There followed the inevitable close-up. She rubbed her legs again, specks of dung flying all over the doughnut. Horror scenes like that should not be presented to impressionable 5th graders. It left a permanent impression on me. Sincste then, I stay away from doughnuts and I can’t stand flies. My diaste even goes so far that I disinfect the handle of a fly swatter after using it, and wash my hands after touching the swatter’s handle. 

My biggest peeve about the accommodation provided by the school is not its spartan size, and the room being too hot in summertime and too cold in winter, but the fact that the window in my room has no screen. To make sure I get no flies in my room I keep my window closed during the day, opening it only early in the morning and hoping the flies are not early risers, and then late at night when I would have more chance of trapping a bat in my room than a fly. And yet, to my great chagrin, a fly still sneaks in occasionally. 

The horror house of flies is good for Masha. It has a sizeable yard with a garden that the family Natalie and Dorian rent it from uses to grow their own produce. At the back of the yard is a small enclosure that houses several sheep and a ram. Our friends don’t have to take care of them. The animals are under the jurisdiction of an old grandma who comes every evening to feed them. I was just checking out the menagerie when she arrived. It was about the same time that I noticed a dove trapped in the pen. It must have gotten in through the small gap between the wall and the roof. Disturbed by my presence, the dove started flying around looking for an escape route. Quickly, I came up with a rescue plan that involved Dave preventing the loose sheep from escaping the pen while I took care of the dove. Grandma was not a part of the plan so much, since I was only able to communicate with her on my 3rd attempt, “Good day to you. Look! A bird!” I did not worry about the ram, because he was tethered to a post in the middle of the pen. He was not going anywhere. 

I did not want the dove to get hurt by needlessly hurling herself against the wire mesh of the enclosure so I tried to approach her slowly from behind. The idea was to shoo her gently towards Dave, who kept the door open for the bird but guarded it so the loose sheep would not escape. It was a sound idea, but what I did not count on was the ram’s unpredictability. I expected him to stand still and patiently wait for me to get rid of the feathered, uninvited visitor. Instead, the ram got spooked by my presence and by the bird flopping around and started running around the post to which he was tied. Maybe, if I were ready for this unexpected hopscotch, I would have stood a chance. But as it was, I didn’t jump over the rope when it snuck around my ankles for the first round. Several rounds followed, each of them faster, each of them wrapping the rope around my legs tighter. It all took seconds. 

“What just happened?” I asked from the ground. I started untangling myself from the rope wrapped around my ankles while keeping my eye on the ram. I was hoping he would not get some crazy ideas about revenge for his future fate, but he was eyeing me more curiously than suspiciously. I suppose he never encountered a dumb human before. I picked myself up and dusted off my clothes of some dirt and lots of dry dung; a lot more of it than a fly could ever carry on its thin legs. The dove was gone. Grandma was looking at me, shaking her head, muttering something in Uzbek. Dave stood there speechless. “Well, that went well. The dove is gone”, I said almost cheerfully. 

While relating the story to Brenna, I thought that maybe it was time to let go of my fly phobia. Maybe I could replace it with ram phobia. After all, there aren’t that many rams around. It would certainly make my life easier.

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