Today, Pamela and I were on our way to dinner with our friend Elisa. We were driving down Zhondosova and were coming up on Manas when something absolutely terrifying happened.
A white Escalade pulled out in front of us, but the driver misjudged and was unable to pull into the correct lane; instead, he managed to block both lanes. Pamela and the driver of the car next to us slowed to a stop, and simultaneously, both drivers began to honk.
In America, we do not honk. We find it rude, and the horn is only used under the most dire of circumstances.
In Kazakhstan, the horn is used more often than the breaks.
There is a fluidity to driving in Kazakhstan, as Pamela once told me. You need to be quick and flexible and able to weave in and out of traffic. You need to have no fear.
All driving in Kazakhstan is aggressive.
Pamela later said that she was giving the Escalade “a courtesy honk.” In this case, Pamela’s courtesy honk was meant to communicate to the Escalade that he may go – but he must go quickly.
The honking of the car beside us was a bit more impatient but not entirely rude.
It’s common in Kazakhstan for drivers of fancy cars to assume that they may do as they like, and in fact they may because they are usually either a diplomat or connected to the mafia. I’m used to Escalades and Mercedes and BMWs breaking the law.
I am not used to what happened tonight.
The driver of the Escalade turned. As he straightened out the car, a man in the passenger seat suddenly appeared, pushing his entire upper body out of the window of the car. With what looked like a well-rehearsed move, he whipped out and pointed a gun straight at us.
And then he pulled the trigger.
I flinched away, Pamela gasped, and nothing happened. The mock-shooter slipped back inside the car; it turned right on Manas and disappeared.
We were in shock.
In America, if such a thing were to happen, we would have taken down the license plate and called the cops. In Kazakhstan, we realized there was really nothing we could do. In fact, the only reason Pamela felt comfortable stopping as soon as she did was because Manas is a one way street and it seemed unlikely that they would come back for us. However, if they’re willing to pull a gun on us, I doubt they’d care about following the traffic laws.
This, as Pamela said as we continued on our way to dinner, is our life.
In fact, our first reaction to what happened was not fear but annoyance. Pamela even said as the Escalade drove away, “This is why rich parents shouldn’t buy their children fancy cars. They’re all idiots.”
The fear over what almost happened to us came later as the shock wore off.
We could have been killed.
And yet our reaction was as if the young man had merely given us the finger.
I happen to be very disappointed that my life did not flash before my eyes.
I also never want to see a gun again.