Tuesday, February 28, 2017

End of a month, beginning of spring?

It sure doesn't feel like spring, but the 0°C weather is now a welcome friend of mine, after enduring temps below -25°C during my first week here.

It's amazing to me, always, how time passes so slowly during the workdays, and as I look back, I'm just blown away by life's rate of change.

Just over 2 weeks ago I unknowingly dropped my cell phone as I was departing an express bus on a Sunday, accompanying two friends to the other side of the river on our usual day off excursion to no place in particular. As soon as the bus barreled away into the swarm of mid-afternoon city traffic, I realized it was not with me, in my pocket, backpack, or in my hand. It was back on the bus, whizzing away from us.
We attempted to hail a taxi, without any luck, and it donned on me that this was going to be not a Sunday for lollygagging and wandering.  Along with my friends, we were then thrust into a surprise mission of tracking a cell phone in our capital city with a population of, lucky for us, just over 900,000 people.

I immediately asked for my friend's phone to get on the internet, and access a website called AndroidLost.com, a really great tracking app for cell phones (Android only, sorry apple users, it's above and beyond ilost or whatever apple phones have.) We spent the next few hours contacting bus drivers with some help from barely English speaking locals, and the app. We jumped onto the express bus on the return route looking for it. But it was gone. We weren't able to catch-up to the phone in time, as sometime during the few interim stops, it turned off either due to low battery, or someone turned it off, and it was gone.

So luckily, I had my work cell phone still. An ancient brick of late nineties technology with polyphonic ringtones, enough memory for 59 contacts, or one photo, and of course one game: Snake. But seriously, the lost phone wasn't only my phone, but my computer, internet connection, entertainment, and connection to friends and family back home.

The Android lost app has some nifty features including GPS tracking, and one particularly useful feature where the phone will take a picture using the front facing camera if a user enters an incorrect phone lock passcode, which I had enabled as soon as I lost the phone, using the associated website linked to the phone.

So the next day, using a co-worker's phone, I see three pictures and a GPS location. Some random Kazakh lady, facing directly into the camera, looking very befuddled by the locked phone, and an accompanying location I assume is her home.
I got some help from one of the girls at work to contact the police and bus company about the now "stolen" phone, and appropriate reports were made with who I assume were the appropriate people. And I kinda lost hope after that.

A bit later in the day, the day after the loss, some of my superiors who come in and say hi in the mornings and also near the end of the day, caught wind of what happened and came to talk about it, asking about the girl, and if I'm going to go find her and then ask her on a date?
But one of my superiors in particular, Mohammed, got very excited about the whole ordeal, assuring me that he knows some people, and that nothing is lost if you know the right people, assuring me we'd have my phone back by the end of the week.

The days elapsed, and the excitement waned for everyone, including myself, but not Mohammed. He kept checking local bazaars, visited the bus company's main building, the police station, and his "friends" around the city. He would come back with questions about the particulars of the day I lost it, getting copies of the girl's pictures, the GPS locations from when we tracked the phone, and the IMEI number of the phone. Ever zealous, he pushed on with a big smile on his face, always.

That Friday, I went and bought a new phone, because honestly it was really depressing to watch TV in Russian or Kazakh, and not be in touch with my friends or family, sans a few Facebook messages sent from friends' phones during work hours.

Apparently, anyone can be bribed here.
The bus station clerk in charge of the bus's cameras said he would look into it for a fee, even though only the police are supposed to be allowed access to the video recordings. Then, when the police learned the clerk wanted a fee to find the phone, that particular officer asked that he be issued that money instead, and he would find the phone. All of this is unofficial of course.

Lo and behold, that next day, Saturday, Mohammed called Hashem, who sits across from me at work, and says he thinks he found the phone!
I'm wondering how the hell he actually "knows a guy".
Like some private detective with untraceable street cred and contacts in all the right places, he says he'll come with his driver to pick us up and we'll go to the bazaar, which happens to be where  Mohammed took Hashem's broken phone to get the screen fixed earlier that morning.

So we go with him and his driver, in the company Toyota pickup, on official work business. Seriously though, Mohammed is in the acquisitions department, and we really did pick up a few parts from various repair houses and markets.

We go to the bazaar, entering into a crowded slew of kiosks, counters, cubbies, cubicals, and shops, ALL SELLING THE EXACT SAME STUFF. Not even exaggerating, the exact same 25 cheap phone cases at every small storefront. The same 15 phones on every counter. The same stack of pre loaded sim cards on every corner stall. Everyone is chomping at the bit to sell you anything. After we follow Mohammed briefly through the sea of salespeople, we arrive at our destination on that early afternoon.

Firstly, I'm in a bright orange work jacket with reflective silver strips around the arms and a very visible and legible set of company logos that say Arabtec on one side and CCC on the other. Not exactly blending in. 

We get to the stall and ask about the phones, first Hashem's, then mine. The girl at this same counter grabs my phone and starts fitting different cases onto it. I rip them off as fast as she can produce them and promptly pry the phone out of her hands, securing it in my buttoned front chest pocket.
Mohammed mentions the lost phone from earlier.
There it is. A Verizon wireless Motorola Droid. 

Nobody in this country even knows what Verizon is, and Motorola isn't available in any stores. I check it for some small identifying scratches at the edge, and sure enough I know this is my phone. To prove it, we didn't really do much except show the guy the IMEI number, a unique serial number assigned to each phone, unchangeable by almost any means.

During all this, the phone repair/sales guys asked about Hashem's nationality, then mine. Hearing Hashem's nationality as Jordanian they kinda looked like they said oh OK whatever. Then upon learning I'm American, there were 4 or 5 young lads around me being overtly friendly and rifling off questions to Mohammed to translate to me.
What they were asking is if I could, or would, be able to write them or have a friend write them a letter of invitation to the US. I entertained them and said yeah I guess it wouldn't be that hard, give me some time, not giving my phone number directly to anyone, rather transferring them to Mohammed, saying just call him in a few days when I get my phone back on.
Turns out that it's not all that difficult to get into the states from Kazakhstan, (and most likely stay illegally forever), that is if you don't have a history with the legal system. I'm guessing, and learned later on, there's a high probability a few of these guys got denied the first time around, for whatever reason, so getting invited is the next feasible option for them, and knowing an authentic US citizen seems like an easy ticket in. I'll probably just avoid that particular bazaar from now on, and keep the letters of invitation to myself.

The four of us left that market area to go pickup some parts for work, dropping by various industrial areas to search for the right people who had the right parts. Eventually we got some delicious fresh lunch inside a supermarket, empanada-esque fried pockets of bread filled with meat and potatoes. One beef, one chicken, one veggie. Really good, and really cheap. I think we got 12 for around 8 bucks. 3 for each person.

I decided I'm keeping the new phone I bought, as the older one has been with me for a few years now, and the battery performance is marginal at best, and isn't a replaceable type. So I'll have a backup if anything happens.

Work has only today become really interesting at all. Hashem and I moved our desks to an empty office down the hall, WITH A DOOR!  It's kinda a big deal for us, as we were right next to the copier machine, going off every 10 minutes, and people were walking into our area time and time again just to hang out and look for staples or folders or some other insignificant office crap that happens to exist in that area. I also started a new really boring spreadsheet review, updating machine hours used and which machines were hired or released on what date from a master file reference. Real deep stuff...

I'm still amazed that I have the phone back, after all this, and offered Mohammed some whiskey or wine or whatever drink he likes, but as I should have known, he doesn't drink, and wouldn't take any of my money. So instead, I gave 5000 Tenge (about $17) to the driver, (also doesn't drink) as I learned that he was an integral part of the team because the driver did most of the talking. Mohammed isn't a native, and probably wouldn't elicit the same respect or responses if he was asking around about a stolen phone and holding up a picture of a female suspect.

I've been eating better at home, as the food is cheap and mysterious, like these delicious little frozen things I thought were perogies, but turned out to be some type of mashed root vegetable like a potato but even better. Also found out that the chips that I thought were 'kebab' flavor are kebab flavor, but it's a special type called 'шашлык' (shah sh-leek). I've eaten this shashlik twice (the real food, not only the chips) and it's fucking awesome. And cheap. Iyad and I visited this Mediterranean restaurant on our last Sunday after going to a flea market type area, walking through the outdoor stalls in the snow, and there we had the shashlik, chicken and beef types. A delicious dinner with two big plates of food, tea, dumplings, and bottled water cost us almost nothing. In the US it would be over $70 collectively and we payed less than half of that, with wait service beyond any restaurant I've been to.

Also got myself a new pull up bar for the doorway so I can workout a little at home every day, because I'm basically an accountant/data entry clerk at the moment, and I spend most of my day in a chair at my desk.

There's a holiday coming up near the end of March, so I'm taking two days off to make it a 6 day holiday, and I'm flying to NYC to visit my sister and my friend Hope, whom I both miss dearly. I'm also hoping to order a bunch of stuff from Amazon like spices, peanut butter, a 'real' cell phone case(the cases here are cheap and shitty skins that provide no protection), and other various things like Neosporin and a particular shaving soap and face wash.

Well, my fingers hurt from typing all this on a cell phone, and I'm ready for a glass of Georgian wine and to go to bed. Until next time,
Добрый ночи
(Good night).

1 comment:

  1. That explains why my WhatsApp messages weren't going through