By Rob Packer
When you’re slightly late for work, running out of your apartment, then the lift doors open and there’s nothing but a lift-shaped black box, what do you do? Do you get in or do you sprint down the nine flights of stairs?
Welcome to Bishkek, or “welcome to the army”, as someone at work said today. My call was to get in, press 1 and take out my phone to give me some sort of light. On the way back I got in again, but minus phone light. Since I’ve moved to Bishkek, I’ve had to learn to live without things that I used to take for granted, and I don’t mean my iPod, my laptop or the internet. Those all work perfectly, although there’ll be more on the internet another time. I mean gas, water (cold and hot), electricity and heating. As I’m writing this, all of these work, although the hot water is the wrong colour. By Sod’s law, one of these will not work tomorrow.
Lights out! Part one of my journey to work.
Going round the table at lunch, I started to realise how lucky I am, when I heard the number of people saying that on Monday night they had no water, or no gas, or no electricity at home. Getting home to find something not working is a fact of life in Kyrgyzstan and a fact of daily life everywhere outside of Bishkek where austerity measures mean that electricity stops at midnight. Once you know this, going to work in a blacked out lift is really nothing, and it reminds me that today’s another lucky day. I know that one day I’ll get home and find there’s no electricity; I’ll take out my phone and will be guy climbing those nine stories who I heard huffing and puffing through two walls a few weeks ago. There’s a what-if scenario here that I’m choosing not to think about.
The other joy of the lift that takes a bit of getting used to is that the lift is built to a design that must’ve once existed in the West, but has now been outmoded. This lift has the memory of a goldfish. Once you press that button, that’s where the lift’s going; and if you’re going to the fourth floor and some foreigner presses 8 first, then you’re going a long way in the wrong direction. The only way to stop and go back is to press another disabled lift function. Yes, the stop button, a neat trick I’d only ever seen in films until now.
And once I’d realised all of this, it was child’s play that the lift only goes to the eighth floor and I have to walk the last flight of stairs to the floor with my apartment and the lift pulleys.
The lift panel. The red button means Stop, and the button for 9 is a red herring. I don't know why there's a cigarette burn where 5 should be