You get on the elevator and ride up to the 9th floor looking forward to fixing yourself some lunch. As you get off the elevator, you pull out your key from your back pocket, fumble, and drop it. It falls into the small space between the elevator and the floor. You peer down into the space and see an endless elevator shaft. You didn’t hear the key fall all the way down so you wonder if it’s on a ledge somewhere. You wait for a few moments hoping to wake up from a bad dream. Then you spend the next ten minutes riding the elevator up and down hoping that the next time it stops you’ll look down and see your key. It begins to dawn on you that the features of the apartment that you liked when you took it – the big steel door that looks like the opening to a bank vault, the fact that there’s only one key (yours) – are now distinct disadvantages.
You go outside and look through your knapsack for any useful phone number. You have the landlord’s number, your coordinator’s number, and your translator’s number written out neatly on a piece of paper that is sitting on your desk. In the locked apartment. Amongst the baby stuff in your knapsack you find a scrap of paper with the number of a lawyer in Almaty who might know your coordinator’s phone number. You head off to find a phone. A plain old-fashioned (and increasingly rare) pay phone. You find one at the entrance to the Ram Store and realize that it only takes cards. Looking around frantically you catch the attention of a security guard who points you to a small store nearby. You walk in to buy a card. You make the universal sign for “I want to use the pay phone” by holding your hand up to your ear, but you are in a store that sells mobile phones and every kind of accompanying phone gadget so the signs you are making don’t really help narrow things down. At this point your first English-speaking angel might appear and offer to help you by translating. You don’t have the exact change to buy one card so you buy two. You try calling the lawyer’s number, getting cut off at the third digit, at least seven times before realizing it’s not a Kazakhstan number after all.
Next you head off to an internet café to see if you can find one of the e-mails from your agency from March or April in which they had sent you your coordinator’s number. Your agency has sent you many e-mails. But you find the crucial one and manage to open the attachment by assuming the prompts in Russian say exactly what they would in English. You write down the number, pay for the internet time, and make the universal sign for “Is there a pay phone nearby?” to the people in the internet café by holding you hand up to your ear. You are met with unconcerned shrugs. You walk half a mile back to the Ram Store (casting wistful glances at your locked apartment which you have to pass both ways). You now try to call your coordinator. You try three or four times. You dial, it rings, she answers. You yell her name desperately into the phone but she doesn’t seem to be able to hear you and hangs up. You keep looking around to get someone’s attention or even just a sympathetic glance but everyone you see is too wrapped up in their own worlds because they’re all talking on their phones. On your fifth or sixth try your second English-speaking angel might appear, tap you on the shoulder, and show you a small button on the pay phone that you must press in order to speak and be heard. Supressing the urge to howl WHY??? you try calling your coordinator three or four more times except she is now (sensibly) screening her calls and not answering the ones from your number. Eventually, after a pause, you reach her. It is an hour and a half since you were dropped off.
Amazingly, a young woman associated with my landlord showed up within half an hour with a big burly Russian man carrying a small black bag. He eyed the lock for a while, then proceeded to take out various tools from the bag and by a combination of manipulation and brute force literally bust through the lock in about three minutes. The woman told me to pay him 2000 tenge (about $18) and he left. I was happy to be in my apartment but a bit worried about having a hole instead of a lock. The young woman communicated to me that she’d return in a few hours. She did with two other big burly Russian men who installed a new lock which is even more impressive (in a bank vault kind of way) than the last one. It cost 15000 tenge ($130). I’m trying not to think about how many minutes it would take the Russian lock destroyer to get through this one (five?) And I made sure we got two keys.