Living in a foreign country sometimes comes with special challenges. As my wife was headed out the door to pay our power bill the other day, our lights went out. No big deal in Kyrgyzstan, this happens frequently. In fact, in the winter many regions have power schedules, and unless you live near someone who knows someone else (as these things often work) you can expect to have your power shut off regularly. It turns out our power was actually shut off by the power company. Why? Well, the story is a nice little window into life in Kyrgyzstan.
We received the bill on Friday of the previous week. The bill has a clear due date on it, just over two weeks from when we received it. If you have lived here, you know that this is actually pretty impressive: in Bishkek we were accustomed to getting our bills and them being due within a couple days of delivery (sometimes “a couple days” was whittled down to “tomorrow,” and once it was “two days ago”). Our power was shut off on Wednesday as Sarah headed out to pay the bill, just under two weeks before the bill was due.
But down at the bottom of the bill a date was hand-scrawled, with some illegible Cyrillic letters (not a word as far as I could tell). The date perfectly coincided with when the power was shut off: so apparently we were supposed to pay not by that date, but before that date. My wife went to pay the bill, called me after she paid it, and a few minutes later we had a knock at our door (actually, someone opened our door, since Sarah had not locked it when she left).
“Who will be paying the power bill here?” The Kyrgyz lady asked me.
“My wife just paid it today,” I responded. “The bill said it was due on the 11th, not today.”
“Yes, but we write on there a new date so we can schedule it,” she answered. (I’m not sure why they couldn’t correct the real date printed on there for their schedules, but…)
“Did you shut off our power?”
“No,” she said. “It is just off in the region.” This is normal, so I’m not really surprised. (Meanwhile, the people at the office were telling my wife that they had shut off our power; sometimes news doesn’t travel fast…)
So there you have it. Sometimes things in Kyrgyzstan are hard to understand. When we get power bills, we rush to pay them, because the due date isn’t accurate, nor is the hand-written due date. One lives in fear that the lights will go out for some imagined offense. (As it turns out, there was a debt that needed to be paid as well, which maybe is why we were immediately cut. In Bishkek, at least, one was able to miss a bill occasionally; once our bill blew away in a wind storm before we were home to grab it from the gate, but they didn’t see fit to shut off our heat in February.)