Monday, 7 June 2010

Jolly thief man

I don't know if you do Facebook and any of its time-passing games? Some of my friends are more than addicted to Farmville, a virtual farm where you can plant, harvest and profit from your efforts on a small holding. In my garden, I have real life farmville (minus the lonely lambs, pigs and horses that are prone to wandering into Farmville smallholdings) - gardening here is like gardening in the Garden of Eden. Everything grows! You merely have to look at a seed and mutter the word "soil" under your breath and the seeds will germinate almost over night and then grow into large, healthy plants in a few days.

I recently decided that the time had come to start growing something in our swimming pool (the previous tenants had the pool, which is the central feature of our garden, filled with soil to remove a water hazard for their small child - quite why the landlady let them do that rather than install a fence is beyond me). Since the "pool" is what you see when you look out of the window, it has to be looked after. Last year, we had plentiful crops of numerous vegetables. This year, I considered turfing it and installing a pagoda or tent with a swing in it, but since seedlings and hard labour are cheaper, we have gone for the vegetable option again. And actually, we don't need a swing, but having fresh produce for tea for several weeks of the year is fantastic.

Here is a picture of it from upstairs, with my seedlings safely planted.

So toddler and I headed off the Zelony bazaar once the back breaking work of clearing the weeds had been completed. I must admit that this year the weeds have been much easier to keep under control, partly because so many roots were removed last year, but also because our super nanny did an amazing job of tidying up the garden while we were all busy in the UK being sick and having babies etc.

At the green market you can buy seedlings ten for 100 tenge (= 70 US cents approx). We chatted to the charming seedling sellers and came home with aubergine, tomato, red pepper and cucumber seedlings to plant.

Then, since we were still at the market, I decided to go and stock up on a few items we needed including fruit. Toddler and I walked around eyeing the produce. I was having a pretty good Russian day, the words were flowing, the chats were good, I was learning new phrases and coming up with some half decent chat (I thought!). We identified the nicest looking pineapples on a stall and I started to buy the things we needed. Four kilos of oranges, two pineapples, eight bananas. All the while, I am keeping an eye on the the toddler who is playing around at my feet.

Half way through the transaction, a Tajik beggar lady came up with her babe in arms, asking for money which often happens at the market. I bought her and her kids 4 bananas and she wandered off. And all the while, I was bantering with the stall holder. "Don't you go giving me black bananas," I joked at him. "Oh perish the thought," he said in jocular fashion. "Can I just see the pineapple there?" I asked him and he let me inspect it.

Quickly everything was together in a bag and he totted it up. The total was much higher than I expected, so I said, "No, that can't be right, let's add it up again,". He got his calculator out and lo and behold, he had cleverly charged me exactly 2000 tenge more than he should have.
"Yes, 3800 tenge, that's what I said," he said, quick as a flash.
"No, you clearly told me 5800 tenge," I said, through narrowed eyes.

I weighed up the situation. The guy was clearly trying to rob me, but it was bloody hot and I was quite ready to go back to the car with my heavy bag of stuff and the toddler. I could just tell him to stuff his sale, walk away and go and buy it from somewhere else, but really I couldn't be arsed, and I had already made it perfectly clear that I knew his game and had more or less made sure my produce was decent. So in the end, I gave him a long stare, I paid him and we headed off.

Getting home, I found that the tosser had sent me off with practically liquid bananas, two rotten pineapples and some half decent oranges which we were able to use for juice.

My nanny asked me in despair, "Why do you buy your stuff at the Green Market? You know that they sell you all the crap and over-charge you. It is like throwing your money in the bin,".
"I know," I sighed. "But, you know, I do live here, and I think I should be able to buy things at the market and for them to be alright. It is not as if I am some stupid tourist, and I can speak a bit of Russian now. I told him not to give me black bananas!"
She shook her head.
"And," I continued, "What a stupid man he was. I told him I didn't want rubbish fruit and he has sold me a load of crap. So I won't be going there again. If he had sold me good stuff I would have bought from him again. How dum is that? I have four children and our grocery purchases add up to probably tons of produce each month!"

She looked at me, also thinking 'How dum are you?' and said, slowly, to make sure that I fully understood what she was saying, "But Big Beluga, if the man was smart, he would not be selling pineapples in Zelony Bazaar, now would he?"

Here is a picture of the jolly thief man on the fruit stall. May his pineapples go bad, and may his apricots give him diarrhoea!

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