I haven’t necessarily been avoiding going downtown on my own, I just haven’t really had a reason to (and it’s not like the weather has encouraged exploration of the city). Last week though, after living in Astana for three months, I had a reason – I needed to refill a prescription and needed to see a doctor to do so. Luckily there is an international health clinic that many of the foreign employees use, and a friend recommended a nice English-speaking doctor there. Getting an appointment was easier than anticipated (and didn’t require me to use any Russian). I just had to figure out how to get there. Our receptionists in our building are amazing; they will help you with almost anything, like scheduling a taxi! So, appointment – check, transportation – check, money and paperwork – check!
My cab ride was actually quite wonderful. Usually I’m with a group of people and we either are too busy conversing amongst ourselves to speak to the drivers or one person speaks to them in Russian. This time, the pressure was all on me to communicate. I am very obviously foreign and am very shy when it comes to trying out a new language. My driver was perhaps my age or in his late 20s and knew some English and was very patient and goodhearted in my attempts at Russian. We managed to converse for most of the 20-minute drive to the clinic; my Russian tutor would be pleased that I did my homework.
After the visit, I had to find the only pharmacy in Astana that had my medicine in stock. Luckily it was just across the river from where I was and the weather was great for walking. I managed enough Russian to get my scrip filled and paid for – another small victory. The next big challenge was figuring out how to get home. I wanted a bus and waited at three different stops for the one I needed, but it just never arrived and disappeared off of the transit board (a digital display of the next buses coming and how many minutes until they arrive). Eventually I gave up and headed for a part of town where I knew I could catch several buses back to my apartment. The stop also happened to be next to a flower shop I’ve been wanting to visit. I bumbled my way through an awkward shopping experience, but came out with two beautiful plants to brighten our apartment. After three miles of walking that day, I finally managed to catch a bus and head home.
You might be thinking, “Wow, that was really mundane, thanks for sharing…?” You’d be right. It is completely mundane; however, for me, it was a hurdle I’ve been wanting to overcome. I’ve traveled on my own a lot, but it’s always been in places where I knew I could manage no matter what (or perhaps I was more confident or arrogant when I was younger). I didn’t feel that way when I arrived in Astana. It felt foreign, it felt different, it felt intimidating. I had a hard time orienting myself when we went out, which I can usually manage. Being a mile outside of the city is isolating and the winter made it even more so. I really felt like I’d never get the hang of it.
Now that I can recognize parts of the city, I know some more Russian, and have proven to myself that I can do things on my own, I know I can do it again and it will only get easier. As with most things in life. I still don’t have a lot of reasons to go downtown on my own, but at least it’s an option now.