Posted by: cousindampier | 16 December 2013

A Taxi Driver, or Why I Wish I Knew Russian

Jon, Saranna, and I are standing on Satpayev, trying to catch a cab to the Language Center’s New Year Party.  It’s about 8pm on a Friday night, we’d just finished taking a final exam, and Almaty is dark and cold.  I was one layer short, and the longer we waited, the more I thought about places I could be instead, like Vietnam or Thailand or any of those places where a tank top is considered winter clothing.

It takes longer than the usual 35 seconds to get a cab.  And by cab, I mean random car on the street.  The custom here, when you want to go somewhere, is to stick out your hand like you are hailing a cab, but any driver will stop and pick you up.  There are very few cabs in the American sense – Crown Victorias painted bright orange.  Occasionally, you get a bad driver; most of the time you get where you need to go.  .

(But yes, Mom, literally.  Any random driver.  And believe me, we have communication issues at times).

The gentleman driving the car is old, probably between 60 and 65.  He has close-cropped white hair, and his face has seen a few smiles.  Jon gets in the front – of the three of us he is the most well-versed in Russian.  Saranna and I climb into the back, and off we go, fast as we can to the traffic jam a block away.

And yet, something begins to happen.  I wanted to learn Russian, and learn it well enough to understand people, because I want to listen to people tell stories.  The people of Kazakhstan have seen a remarkable twenty years – the older people have been through much more.  Sitting down and listening to that, even if it was in the most horrible, basic Russian, is a nice thought.

Jon, being the man in the front, begins to talk to this guy.  And he speaks little English – I think he may know more French than English – but Jon knows just enough Russian, and this old guy speaks just simple enough, that they both carry on a conversation.  I don’t really even remember what it was about – I think they talked about the new pension law, and then about what Jon was doing here – but it was an amazing conversation to watch.  

And I do mean watch, because I could understand about 10% of what Jon and this guy spoke about.  The communication was amazing to watch in its own way.  The old driver was speaking a little simplified, but Jon was taking in a lot of what he said (or at least making it look like he was)  And, in another life where I understand Russian fluently, the old driver and I would sit down and I’d listen to him talk about pensions and whatever else, because he’d be a great guy to talk to


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