It’s an old story right? Our hero’s superpower turns out to be his fatal flaw- because of his powers, he can’t be with the woman he loves without placing her in chaos and danger. Or how about the man with super strength who has a heart of gold and a love for kittens and alas (!) every kitten within an 80 mile radius is terrified of the hulking green giant.
I have recently discovered my superpower. My friends, I have learned to read the minds of locals.
You might be asking yourself how it’s possible to refine such a nifty skill. Well, I can only recommend that you promptly join the Peace Corps, go through about a year of culture-spell-bound-wonder, and then extend a third year. I promise, your eyes will suddenly become crusty and jaundiced.
Yes, when I see that woman glance askance at me in the bazaar, my finely tuned skills pick up exactly what she’s thinking.
What is wrong with that girl? She’s not wearing makeup. Are those pants?! Isn’t she a teacher??! For shame!
Even more impressively than my mind reading is my ability to have whole conversations subconsciously with local people.
Oh my God! A dog lives in her house! It’s disgusting!
Well, I find the fact that you are powerless to control your expressions pathetic, and those shoes are awful.
She’s not wearing slippers!
I will bet you my income versus yours for the next twenty-five years that I’ll still be able to bear children.
The window’s open!
Isn’t it amazing I’m not sick?!
I know, right? I’m pretty much super-human. Mind reading and telepathy. Beat that.
Of course, there’s a decided problem with my super skills.
A few weeks ago, I went into Turkistan to meet some volunteers. I took a taxi from Zhanatas, and the ride was astounding, seriously the most beautiful drive I’ve ever been on in Kazakhstan. We whipped around sharp curves and descended into this amazingly beautiful canyon, riddled with lakes and rivers.
When we arrived I had time to kill, so I hopped over the nearest bazaar and decided to find something to eat. As usual, a place with lagman- a hand rolled, amazingly delicious noodle- was in order and easy to find but not without the typical shoulder-to-shoulder push and shove of the busy, low-priced Skymkent bazaars.
Tucked into a dark little nook, the place was just opening. Unobtrusive, I could sit there quietly and eat in a peace. Sit a minute maybe. Ooo, and drink some cold tea – the air was already warming up, I’d dressed to warmly for Turkistan’s heat.
I settled in and ordered in Kazakh to a startled looking waitress.
“One bowl of lagman please, no bread. One bottle of cold tea.”
I could read her mind, easily.
What? What is this Russian woman speaking Kazakh for?
“I understand Russian,” she replied primly in Russian, clearly offended that I thought she was too uneducated to speak it.
“I don’t,” I responded firmly in Kazakh. Her eyebrows rose up into her bangs, and she flounced off to find my lagman and probably spit in it.
I sat awhile, relaxing. On Kazakh-time the food comes when it comes. Sometimes it’s instantly, sometimes it’s an hour later. I watched a fly buzz lazily around the incandescent light bulb, and then turned my attention to the Saran-Wrapped pictures on the wall (presumably to keep them safe from the inordinate amount of oil used in the kitchen, drunks and other nemeses to public health).
A few other groups of people straggled in. There was group of four obnoxious young Uzbek boys, bouncing about in the little space of the cafe and laughing like hyenas. (In this culture, I do honestly wonder if he who laughs the most annoyingly is somehow having the most fun, or winning something – they seem to make a sport out of it.) Then a small gaggle of women wedged themselves together through the doorway, whispering gossip in Kazakh while looking down their noses as much as possible.
I of course stared happily down into my freshly arrived bowl of hand-rolled noodles and delicious mutton-veggie broth. At least, until that super power of mine started nagging at me.
First I felt the woman’s gaze, then I could hear her thoughts.
What is that woman doing here alone? And she’s wearing pants and a backpack. Shameless.
I continued to eat my noodles, but she kept looking over at me, her thoughts as clear as day.
Cold tea? On a day like this? It’s insane! Didn’t her mother teacher her better?
I ate faster, becoming more and more irritated at the Kazakh woman who kept looking over and then turning back to her friends, murmuring beneath her hands. I just wanted out of there and out from under the woman’s gaze. Can’t a person get some privacy? Can’t they leave me alone for a just a little while?
I called over the waitress, in Kazakh of course, and began to ask how much my bill was, when I was suddenly cut off by the gossiping woman.
“I know you! I knew I knew you!” She declared in a bright and boisterous voice. “You were on TV! You’re thinner now, you’re more beautiful! Let me pay for your meal!”
I was shocked. Utterly flabbergasted.
I fumbled with my money as the rest of the patrons turned around in their seats to get a better look at the apparent TV star.
“When you spoke, I knew it was you! Your voice suits Kazakh so well- it’s so beautiful!”
The more she talked, the more like a jack ass I felt.
“Thank you, thank you for speaking our language in our country! Some Kazakh people can’t even speak Kazakh!”
I waved slightly, mumbling a few embarrassed words of thanks and goodbye, and stumbled out into the bright light and heat of a main pathway through the bazaar.
Like I said, fatal flaw.
I think it’s time to retire my super hero cape.