I neglected to mention that I moved. I’m now across the street from my first host family, and everyone is happy. While in America, I realized that I had a really good deal with them and that I would miss them. Upon returning to Kazakhstan, I told Dilda Apa this and asked if there were still room in her house for me. Nope. A sister is moving in from the city, a cousin is coming for college, Konis (papa) is on a different work schedule which will allow him to be home for 15 days at a time, and Damira, a 17-year-old, seems to really need space these days. What to do, what to do. I had already looked into all known babushkas who live alone, and they were all crazy (REALLY crazy, like the one with Bozo hair who reacted to me like people do to large insects, and doesn’t have a door), or had dirty houses, or lacked a nearby phone or bed, etc. I was a bit discouraged. Then, on my way back from missing the first train (yes, I missed two trains and almost missed a flight, but those are other stories), I met Katya/Kanipa Babulya.
I was carrying a couple giant bags (all my PC library books and clothes for a month) and was happy to be in the pathway between the cute picket fences, almost home. “Girl!” she shouted in Russian, “I hear you’re looking for a room!” So she showed me around her house. Tap taza. Very clean, with enough room, perfect location, phone and friends across the street.
She is the kind of old lady who wears four violently flowered clothing items together. She has sparkly black eyes, has the biggest, thickest square-frame glasses I’ve ever seen, and cackles at her own jokes and at my unwitting ones. And, in the way babushkas are, she’s tough. I’d bet she’s as strong as I am, but at about 4’10 and 110 lbs. She walks home alone at 11 every night. She moved the 16-inch TV and several trunks by herself. I told her a couple days ago the moon was beautiful - huge, full, and yellow – and she told me it’s just the moon. Kanipa Apa imitates the bearded lady who comes to get milk every morning: “Kaaaatyaaaa. Can I come in?” she says in the bearded lady’s witchy voice. I am slightly afraid of the bearded lady, not least because she assumes a raptured expression whenever she sees me.
Kanipa Apa decorates the way I do: improvised closet systems, involving old wallpaper, staples, unused wooden boards, and flea-market-style old furniture. She also drops the eggs she buys and burns the milk. She came back from the bazaar yesterday, all happy. I was cooking beans, and she pulled me over to look at her purchases and to gasp at hardware prices these days. She bought a cabinet that badly needs repair. It has one and a half drawers and triple-jointed hinges that make the doors stick out at wanton angles. “Look how I’m dressed!” she said, and pulled up her sweater so I could see she was wearing only a corduroy vest and the sweater. She cackled. We fixed the cabinet as best we could, although we need a few more hardware items, and we brought it inside together. And we watched an old Russian film together when she came home. She narrated events to me as if I were blind, and, thrilled to death that the good man was going to get the pretty woman, slapped me on the leg repeatedly.