After getting evicted, we lived in our coworkers’ apartment for about a month while they were in the States for the summer. The building was one of several in an old Soviet apartment complex built for workers at a now defunct brick factory. It felt like a Hyatt.
Before these same coworkers left, they introduced us a local young man who used to be a member of their English clubs. Literally translated, his name means goodness. Let’s just say his name fits him very well. The young man, who goes by the English name Jay, lived just behind the apartment building on a small plot of land. His parents operated a store on their property, and behind that sat their house.
We asked Jay if he knew of any other apartments for rent. (This single apartment complex that consisted of five buildings was the only one in the area.) He said he did and set up a time for us to see the place. It was in the same building as our coworkers’ apartment, but it was on the first floor (not the second) and bigger. The ceiling and one of the walls in the living room had extensive water damage. The floors, walls, and kitchen surfaces were dirty. The bathtub was stained with grime. The windows in the kitchen were nailed shut from the inside. We were told that we couldn’t use one of the rooms because that’s where the owner stored his stuff while he was in Russia. We just hoped this apartment wasn’t representative of all the rest.
They wanted 8000 soms per month, which, at the time, was about $160. It seemed high. We told them we’d need to think about it. We kept looking.
Later, in a window of an apartment in a different building of the complex we saw a red sign with white letters: words we didn’t understand followed by a phone number.
“Does that say ‘for rent’ or ‘for sale’?” we asked Jay one afternoon.
“Oh, that says ‘for sale.’ But maybe you can call and ask if the owner would let you rent it until he sold it,” Jay said.
We had a better idea. We asked Jay to call for us. He agreed, explained the situation, and got the owner to agree to at least meet us to show us the apartment.
A few days later I found myself walking up the steps with Jay to the front door of the apartment. We rang the doorbell (which, oddly enough, sounded like a flock of canaries), and a Russian woman opened the door and let us inside. The tour didn’t take long. The apartment had a bedroom, a living room, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a balcony. Though it hadn’t been lived in for months, the apartment had been kept very well. It was dusty but other than that immaculately clean. No stains. No water damage. No grime.
I called Laura right away.
“You have to come here right now and see this place. This is the place we want to rent.”
Since our coworkers’ apartment and this apartment were in the same complex, Laura was there in just a few minutes.
Finally, the moment of truth came. Would she let us rent until she found a buyer? Her piercing eyes looked us over as we stood in the kitchen after the tour. She stood with her hands on her hips in front of the widow. The light of the sun poured in behind her and reduced her to a silhouette. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and her face was free of every emotion but intensity. We asked Jay to ask her the question. Seemed like as much as we were sizing up the apartment, she was sizing us up.
In the end, her distant, no-nonsense demeanor was what sealed the the deal for us. She wanted a contract drawn up, signed, and notarized, not just a verbal agreement. She wanted to make sure we fully understood that if she sold the place, we would need to find other housing arrangements. If something broke, it was on her. If we broke something, it was on us. She didn’t want pets. Her asking price was $200 month. For the area and the size, that price was high, too. We didn’t care. The place was well kept and clean, and by all appearances this woman would make a serious, conscientious landlady. At that point I would have given her a kidney.
We said OK, and with that, we had found our first real home in Kyrgyzstan. By July we’d cleaned the place and hauled all our earthly possessions from our coworkers’ apartment into our apartment. Our apartment.
We didn’t feel it at the time, but that tiny place would turn out to be the soil our long-bared roots were finally able reach down into and soak up some much needed water. By then we were feeling a little dry.
Of course, settling is a slow process. We didn’t have any furniture, and the only furniture in the apartment were two heavy plywood cabinets in the living room and a wardrobe, vanity, and two night tables in the bedroom. But time took care of that.
A local woman we were getting to know went to the bazaar with us one day and helped us buy a kitchen table, four chairs, a fridge, and a washing machine. The man who lived in the apartment across the hallway from us was a plumber, and after a couple of visits and a lot of grunting and groaning, he had the hot water working and the washing machine hooked up in the bathroom. The internet man came and worked his magic, and suddenly we had wifi. We somehow managed to buy a mattress by ourselves and even had it delivered. The stuffed mats we’d been sleeping on became our couch.
It was kind of like two dandelion seeds that had been floating on the breeze for much longer than they deemed necessary finally, finally, landed in some soft earth. The temperature was just right. The moisture was just right. And in a moment of completely common, completely unnoticed magic, the seeds could finally germinate. And that’s exactly what they did right there in the small, second-story apartment of a stern Russian woman in the middle of a poor Bishkek neighborhood. There was no plant yet and definitely no flowers, but any growth we’ve experienced over the course of these last four years began then and there.
And not once has God forgotten these two dandelions.
This post is part of a series we’re calling Places Where Flowers Bloom in which we recount tales from our first days in Central Asia. Read more posts from this series here: