Navigating the office environment is fairly easy at home. Understanding and respecting the cultural taboos and norms comes naturally.
Here, however, I likely do something to offend someone in the office on a daily basis. People are generally just too polite to say anything.
My office has two cleaning ladies – one on the main floor and one on the second floor. They don’t speak English but we say hello and even joke around – as well as you can with sign language and expressive facial expressions.
Yesterday, I noticed that the cleaning lady on my floor was giving me the cold shoulder.
I tend to interact with her a fair bit since there is usually no water in the office and I drink mad amounts of coffee and usually need to use the bathroom at least twice a day. No water = no toilets. I’ll do the – I really gotta go dance – and she’ll magically appear with a huge bucket of water.
Those of you who’ve traveled a lot or lived in the developing world (where water shortrages are common-place) know that dumping a large quantity of water into the bowl from a high enough distance makes the toilet flush.
Anyway, yesterday she barely acknowledged me. And she’s usually quite friendly.
So it got me thinking – what did I do now ?
Roxy – my colleague – happened to mention to me the other day that Tajiks seperate their garbage. Apparently, a lot of people around here own animals – cows, goats etc., – which I was actually pretty surprised to learn considering that we live in a town and not a village. I’ve lived here for two months and never so much as heard a mooh.
Where would you even keep a cow? We live in houses and apartments…
But last week, I was walking down Lenin Street – on my way to the park- minding my own business and a brown cow strolled right past me. No joke. Down the middle of the street – and straight into oncoming traffic - without a care in the world.
Anyway, the point of the two garbage system is to seperate the food for animals from regular waste. But no one tells you these things – you’re just supposed to know them. Persia and I have been dumping all of our garbage together for the past two months- we leave it outside and the landlady’s kids take it to the dump. A couple nights ago we discovered that the kids had been secretly seperating our garbage! Roxy confirmed that in fact it’s a great insult to waste food here – especially when animals could eat it.
Putting all of this together, my cleaning lady’s cold shoulder finally made sense. Last week, I had thrown some mouldy raising and nuts in the garbage – along with regular paper. I wasn’t even thinking – just tossed it in the pail.
She was quite offended. But I’ve since apologized and we are back on good terms.
And Persia and I, now have a two garbage pail sytem (sorry still no recycling - non-existent here).
I can only imagine what I’ll do to offend tomorrow.