top of page

Coal Shed Windows

Nothing is quite as conducive to daydreaming as walking through the chastny sektor [частный сектор], Almaty's neighborhood of private homes [частники; chastniki]. There's little traffic, no busy intersections, just barking dogs and the hum of the nearby city. With fewer distractions, you can develop a peculiarly-heightened beam of attention and shine it at things that would normally evade your notice. The patterns start to emerge in the landscape around. Every house is different, of course, but there are so many iterations: the doorbells, the wooden gates, and the shed windows, so frequent but so easy to pass over. 


Sheds themselves are everywhere, and at least the presence of these structures is easy to understand. Many private home owners heat their homes or their banyas [баня; "saunas"] with coal or saxaul wood. Fuel needs dry storage, and these folks certainly aren't hoarding things in their garages like so many Americans; in fact, they usually don't have garages, but little hangars that old-fashioned fellows might call "carports." So fuel, along with tools and assorted junk, is kept in low-roofed sheds, called sarais [сарай]. Now the real question is, why does a sarai need a window? So the stacks of coal can peek out at their coal buddies in the sheds across the road? No, in fact there won't be any peeking, as these "windows" are always boarded up. My only hypothesis is that these portals are for easy coal refills, conveniently shoveled in from the street, perhaps by a delivery guy who goes around to every home with a shed window. 

bottom of page