Acel (my Kyrgyz interpreter) behaves like a Russian. What that means is that words have only one meaning, statements I make I am supposed to adhere to at a later date and she is never, ever at fault.

Late back from Naryn on Tuesday night I told Acel we would start work at the office late on Wednesday — I also offered to collect her in the Lada — she reluctantly agreed, perhaps because being 20-something, travelling in a Lada with a silver beard is uncool. At 12.45 the next day the office calls to advise that the Lada has broken down, and could I get a taxi.

“No worries,” I said.

Knowing Acel would be waiting, I called her mobile and said: “Catch a cab over to my place and we will travel to the office together.”

Her Russian reply was: “No — you said you would collect me.”

I winced, but agreed, knowing cabbing is hard without any language skills. I walked up the road, hailed a cab, jumped in, called Acel on my mobile, and give the handset to the driver. Rapid Russian ensues and we head off to the east. Now I know roughly where Acel’s house is, because we dropped her off the previous evening, and I am astounded as we head off in the wrong direction.

I take control with “turn left here, right here” stuff which the driver obeys. This creates a bigger problem, since the streets we used last evening are suddenly one way the wrong way, or dead ends or no right turns. I frantically ring Acel, more Russian instructions ensue with the driver, I relax a little, then off he goes again in completely the wrong direction. More dead ends ensue. We stop and I ask the passing pedestrians — more yell at the cab next to us — until finally I explode. I had found the one completely stupid taxi driver in the whole of Bishkek. He didn’t even know where the football stadium was, which had been one of my solutions to the rotating drive, since Acel’s house was close to there.

I screamed at the driver to halt, asked for the fee, pay, and jumped out. Now this was not a completely stupid move, since we had passed the National Museum at least three times, and there it was straight in front of us again. I should explain that the building looks like a million marble Lego Blocks clicked together and standing in a town square the size of Sydney Harbour. I ring Acel again, with my phone bleating that its credit was about to end. Get a cab and come to me I order.

“Where are you?” she asks.

“Near the museum,” I reply.

“Which museum? We have many museums, and anyway you are supposed to collect me.”

As I sit sobbing on the marble plinth she relents slightly, and orders me to walk to the main city intersection. I reply by instructing her to walk there and meet me, and she responds: “I will not walk, you are required to provide my transport.”

At this point I give up, and begin the 20-minute trudge. On approaching the intersection I see the cab, with her in it, and climb meekly in the back seat. She orders the car to drive south towards the office, and then something really goes bang in my head. I yell at the driver: “turn left at the next corner.”

He glances at Acel, concerned, but does so. I repeat the order at the next corner, with growing confusion in the front seat, since this is exactly the wrong direction to go for the office.

But young Harry is now in his home street, and down the end of it is a certain Lego Building. As we cruise past I stab my finger and say “THAT IS THE NATIONAL MUSEUM ACEL.”

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Peter Fray

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