Aktau – Part I

Aktau was a mixed bag. Honestly i was generally pretty unhappy most of the time.

Partially because i missed so many people, partially from stress and disappointment, partially … i dunno, probably still because i was still mourning the transition in J and i’s relationship and ending contact with A. Most of the time i carried around sadness and stress, but a few times the city gave me little gifts of joy.

One night i was walking home from teaching and passed a yurt constructed in the middle of a sandy playground. It was spitting rain, which felt gentle and pleasant. I leaned over to look inside the yurt and saw the floor was covered in Indian rugs and there were long tables with candles and flowers. Later when i passed from the other direction, in slightly more rain, the yurt looked even more peaceful under a pattern of taps played out on it’s roof. Outside a barbecue pit spat and steamed and inside children whispered while candlelight created dancing shapes on the walls. I felt like i’d glimpsed something special, but was never sure quite what.

People say that it used to never rain in Aktau. Never. I guess global climate change reshuffled things because we’ve had three major rainstorms in the last two months. Since they never used to have them, the city is completely unprepared for rain: no drains, roads flooded, the dirt lots turn to quicksand and caverns form as the rain flows away. Each time it rained the streets flooded, the sidewalks flooded, everything flooded. The lights failed.

Most days were hot and dusty. Very little grows. When i went out, i walked through dirt lot to dirt lot, from our flat to the school where i worked. In the rain, the dirt lots became quicksand and the weird combination of clay and sand and dirt became slick as ice. Secretly i kind of liked it.

The flat itself was crazy: 30s wallpaper applied incorrectly, a picture of baby Jesus in our living-room, Christmas decorations used as design elements. It took us weeks to figure out our washer and the refrigerator knocked all night. Almost the biggest challenge was our flat itself. They were doing construction on the flat above ours.

Everyday. Eight to ten hours a day for MONTHS.

They repainted the hallway, which helped with the concrete-prison-feel (a bit,) but the paint was so toxic that we had to flee the flat all day on two separate occasions. Our water died twice. We lost electricity four times. Lost internet connection countless times and when it did work, it came in a trickle. At times it was funny, we’d smirk at our eastern block apartment and say to each other, “What’re we doing here?”

But other days we’d already have had a hard day and losing electricity or water was the last straw. We’d sit on the couch, practically in tears, and seriously wonder, “What ARE we doing here?”

My fastest route to work included a tight-rope walk along the top of a long wall next to a school. Once i was balancing along when a cloud of butterflies lifted from a nearby tree and circled me. I was late that day because i couldn’t leave till they were done.

Tomorrow: music and visitors and why you probably don’t want to live in Aktau.

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4 Responses

  1. Dave Raines says:

    I didn't realize things were so bad, glad you got through it.


  2. batirkhan says:

    Was it really SO depressing??


    • gralinnaea says:

      It was what it was. I mean no offense to the people of Aktau or Kazakhstan, but I also don't think I'll be going back there again. (Though there are a few folks from Aktau I'd like to see again.)


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