Soviet Bloc Meets Ikea

Wow!  I do not even know where to start this post.  SO MUCH has happened in the past 48 hours.  We are in the middle of moving again, and I wanted to get this post out, so please excuse the choppiness.  Please know that we are approaching all of these challenges with good humor and are still very grateful that we have this opportunity…

We arrived late on Wednesday afternoon.  Our flight was late and we were delayed coming out of customs because my bags were flagged by the drug sniffing dogs.  (Do not worry, I’m not carrying drugs, it was my herbs and vitamins! ;o)  The airport is tiny and very old.  It was an interesting landing, not the roughest I’ve been through, but definitely wobbly.  Then,  there are all the old airliners lining the runway.  Old cloth Soviet era airliners, rusting out, flanking both sides of the run way.  Interesting.  (BTW, I’ve been saying that word a lot!)

Our first night was long.  We were able to see our apartment for the first time, find out that if we thought the beds in China were hard, we were mistaken, and also learn that the little restaurant in our apartment building doesn’t have a table for six people and will therefore, not let us in!  (Ha ha!)  We ate barely cooked noodles with Hitnz sauce with Fruit Loops for dessert.  Because of my peripheral neuropathy I was unable to sleep on the bed.  I tried the couch for a couple of hours, and then ended up back in the bed with the egg crate padding (purchased in the US) folded in half on my side of the bed.  I believe I got around 4 hours of really bad sleep.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am for Da and his ability to give priesthood blessing.

The next day was spent running from store to store, but first we needed to go to immigration.  A company van picked us up and then proceeded to drive to immigration (out by the airport) via a dirt road.  We were told that the one and only paved road to the airport was too busy.  Not only was this road not paved, but it was also along the side of a mountain AND it had large areas of water damage.  Huge crevices, rock slides, deep dips and sharp turns…all in a square tourist van.   I tried to distract myself by asking the travel office employee about the gers that we were passing and it worked…to an extent!  I learned that she grew up in a ger even though her family also owned a house.  Apparently the ger is much easier to heat!

(Sorry, no photos yet!  I haven’t taken my camera on these trips.)

Immigration was simple but long.  We were fingerprinted, had our pictures taken and turned in our passports.  We won’t see them again for about 3-4 weeks.  I’m a little stressed about that, but trying to remain calm.

Da wanted to show me everything that was available in the markets around town so we visited the top three; Mercury Market, Good Prices and State Department. We also visited Mobicom and purchased a pre-paid cell phone.

We spent around $300 US stocking up on food items and still have very little in the house.  Food prices here are very high.  Most grocery items are 2 to 3 times what they would cost in the U.S. and household goods are even more.

The funniest thing is the availability is Kirkland (Cost*co) brand items.  Most of the stores are a mix-match of products and the first impression is that items were scavenged from containers that have fallen off of a train, truck or boat!  There is also a wide selection of products from Russia with product descriptions in Cyrillic.

Some of the items we purchased:

  • 1 gallon Kirkland brand olive oil $28
  • 4 apple pears $8
  • 12 bananas $5
  • 1 bag local potatoes (tiny and yellow inside) $4
  • 6 tangerines $4
  • Organic (yeah right) Romain Lettuce 10 leaves, $5
  • 1 liter Pomegranate juice $4
  • 1 med size Toblerone bar $2
  • Small bag cashew nuts (maybe 8 oz.) $8

In addition to food items, we also purchased two tupper-ware like containers for left overs (we will not need more than that, our fridge is too tiny), a broom, a ceramic frying pan, two plastic buckets for the littles to keep their clothing in and a key board so that the girls can keep up their piano practice.  Department stores here are very similar to China in that they write down a serial number on a card, then you take the card to the cashier, pay for your item and then return to pick up your item.

Driving here reminds me of China, but even scarier!   The roads are much worse! The weather wrecks havoc on the roads every year and it has probably been years since work has been done to repair them.  Most roads are only single lanes going each direction, but often there are two rows of cars in both directions.  I have yet to see a street light.  Honking isn’t done in anger or frustration, it is mostly done as a notification of your presence.  If you want to make a left hand turn across traffic, you just go…and hope that everyone coming at you stops.  (It definitely makes my heart  stop!!)  There is one large round-about on our way into town and the only way to enter into the traffic going around it is to shove your way in.  If you can get a corner of your car in, you’re good to go!  Babies and children do not wear seat belts and in the past two days we have seen more than one driver holding a tiny baby.  On our way out of the cell phone store we walked behind a man backing up while holding a tiny baby in one hand and on the cell phone!

One of the things that has caught us off guard is the number of pregnant women we are seeing.  Lots and lots of them!  We don’t usually see that in our travels, so it feels a little strange.  (But AWESOME!)  Nursing is very common and I’ve seen more women than I can count on two hands nursing openly in public in the past two days!  I’ve seen it on buses, in cars and even in the Irish Pub!  (More on the Irish Pub later…)

After all of our shopping we headed home to try and figure out more about how to live in our apartment.    The appliances are Chinese or Russian with instructions in Cyrillic/Chinese/German.  The furniture is particle board with the glued-on decorative wood finish.  It is dark brown and gaudy.   The fridge works some of the time, the stove heats up, but not hot enough to boil water and the drains drain slowly.  The windows are covered with HEAVY garish curtains and the every light in the house is a chandelier.

In addition to the difficulty of living in a house where we can not cook or keep veggies fresh for longer than a day, we have the commuting issue.  We do not have a car and we’ve been told that we MUST use the company car service.  It is simply not safe for us to walk or use public transportation/taxis.  In order to get a car you need to call the travel office.  The cars/vans are located at a central location in the middle of town.  The drive without traffic would take us about 7-10 minutes (less if there were better roads.)  Today, at 5:40 p.m., we headed into town at rush hour (so logically the traffic should be worse going out of town?) and it took us 45 minutes.  To get an idea of how slow we were going:  as we passed the Orgil store I noticed a very very pregnant woman walking past us along side the road.  I continued to watch her walk down the street and she beat us to our destination by 25 minutes.


An interesting turn of events made it possible for us to trade apartments with someone who spends most of his time out at the mine site.  He’ll be living in a ger most of the time on site and so he said that the issues we are having with this apartment will not bother him.  (He is also single and will eat out most of the time.) The place that he has offered us is HEAVEN IN UB!  It is much smaller (only two bedrooms) but everything works, it has soft beds, on site security and is walking distance from the two buildings Da works in.  (The girls and I will still need to call the car service, but now, they are only minutes away!)

After making the trip into town to see the new apartment, we decided to eat out.  (I still haven’t figured out the oven and burned what was supposed to be our dinner earlier in the day.)  Rather than risk being in town after dark (another thing we’ve been warned about) we decided to eat at the Irish Castle, which is an Irish pub located on the fourth flour of our building (old apt. outside of town.)  As soon as we walked in the door we knew that eating out was going to be different!  The style of the bar looked like it could have been anywhere in Europe but actually had the cleanest bathrooms we’ve seen in UB to date.  First off, this is a bar.  The Soviets left more than architecture behind…  Everyone has a drink and most had a cigarette in their hand.  And yet, this is an Irish pub and so there are families whose children are running around the tables playing games with each other.  At the very first table we encounter there is a woman nursing a 1-2 year old child, with out a cover up (typical.)   We ordered several dishes and sodas for everyone and about 1/2 of the food had been delivered when the power went out.  Within minutes every table in the place had been lit with a candle and food service resumed in the nearly pitch black bar.  The lights were out for 45+ minutes and everyone around us acted like it was the most normal thing.   The lights were back on just as we were walking out the door and thank goodness because our apt. is in the same building.

And yet, this evening we are headed to bed without running water, so the saga continues…




6 Responses

  1. Ginger says:

    Well, I have to say, I’m glad to live your adventures through your writing and not in person. I think I’d rather live in a ger than in the city you describe. But it is very interesting to read your descriptions.

  2. 安妮 says:

    Ginger, from what I’ve heard, you wouldn’t. Quoting Da’s boss, “there is a smell I can’t place. It isn’t sewer and it isn’t B.O., but it is bad!”

    I told Da that I imagine it is a combination of poorly washed men and yack hair. We actually have two yack hair mattress pads in our apartment and they smell so bad I’d consigned them to the hall closet…the closet that we have started calling “outer darkness.”

  3. Ohilda says:

    I love your description and how you make me visualize the country as if I were the one there. I’m sorry for your struggles, but figure it can only get easier from here. 🙂 Enjoy your lifetime adventure. I admit, I’m a tad bit jealous.


  4. 安妮 says:

    Ohilda, the struggles are good for us! They stretch us and grow us in a way that nothing else can! We are ever grateful!

  5. Luanne says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! I hope things will only be easier for y’all from here on.

  6. Heidi says:

    I LOVE reading about your adventures there and have to agree a bit that I’m glad that I can experience it through your writing and not in person. The safety issues would concern me a bit. Sounds like Haiti…never safe to be outside after dark when I was there.

    Do the people who live in gers even in the middle of town do it because they cannot afford an apt? Are the photos posted of your first apt or the second one? Looks pretty decent to me. How are the girls handling all of it?