5 Jun

In cased you missed it, I’m leaving Russia on Tuesday. Right now, everything feels too surreal for me to do a convincing retrospective on the Fulbright experience. Expect something like that later.

The cleaning is done, and almost all of my things are packed. Tomorrow I take a train to Moscow and on Tuesday I’m flying home. I’m a little nervous about the whole thing, so to distract myself, I’ve been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (no shame). Sadly, I’m getting really close to rewatching the dreaded sixth season, so I need a different melodramatic distraction (too bad I don’t have those Sookie Stackhouse books). Some how, I’ve ended up watching movies based on Jane Austen novels because: 1. British people and 2. Alan Rickman

Marry me!


That’s about all I’ve got for now. Think positive thoughts for my trip!

A Moscow Interlude

4 Jun

Now that the ETAs are finished with their classes, we all have a lot of free time on our hands. Most of us decided to use that time to travel, which explains why I spent the better part of this week in Moscow with three of my fellow Fulbrighters.

Surprisingly, we spent most of our time outside of Moscow. On Tuesday we took a bus to Sergiev Posad, the largest Orthodox monastery in Russia:

View of the monastery

On Wednesday we decided to visit Lenin’s old estate, which is located right outside of the city. The plan was to take a bus to the estate and walk around for a little bit. Of course, our plan did not work out as well as we’d hoped. First, we almost didn’t find the right bus to get to the estate (if someone in Russia says that the bus stop is right next to the metro, what they really mean is that the bus stop is all the way on the other side of the street). When we finally found the bus stop, we accidentally took the wrong bus (a easy mistake to make, since both buses had the same numbers) and were dropped off in the middle of a small Russian neighborhood, with no Lenin museum in sight. We did finally find the estate, after walking through really sketchy forest paths for over an hour.

The estate itself was pretty interesting. It has ton of museums dedicated to Lenin’s life, but because of our forest detour we only got to see two of the museums. I learned a lot more about Lenin than I would have ever wanted, like the fact that he had bad allergies, so the only plants that he kept around were palm trees. Still, it was not a bad way to spend the majority of the day.

Peasants carrying Lenin's body

Lenin's old house

Creepy Lenin museum

Even though I had a lot of fun going to these places, doing the tourist-thing wasn’t my main point in going to Moscow. I was more excited about seeing a few ETAs before we all scatter to parts unknown. I’m going to miss the Fulbright camaraderie when I go home. At least we’ll always have Moscow.

Celebrating--ETA style

Now I’m back in Kaluga, tired, sunburned, and covered in mosquito bites. For the rest of the week I’m going to be cleaning and packing, because I fly home on Tuesday! It’s insane how this whole year-long experience is basically over for me. I almost can’t believe it.

Friday Music: “Let’s Blow this Popsicle Stand”

3 Jun

Now that I’m close to leaving, all of my emotions are coming to the surface. Sentimentality is rearing it’s nasty head, and despite my best efforts to ignore it, I am starting to feel a little bit sad. Let’s investigate my mood…with music!

I kept singing this song while I was Moscow earlier this week. Good description about my strange two-sided relationship with Russia right now.

This too.


A Visit to the Tsiolkovsky Museum

28 May

Happy Memorial Day Weekend America! In celebration, let’s talk about something that has absolutely nothing to do with America and also is about space!

A week ago I visited the Tsiolkovsky Museum here in Kaluga. The museum is located in the original house of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a famous Russian scientist who, according to wikipedia, was a pioneer of astronautic theory. He is directly responsible for the Russian space flight program and spent a major portion of his life in Kaluga. Clearly, a BFD.

One of the teachers at the institute arranged for a personal tour of the museum with a few of her students and myself. The man who led the tour was actually a former student of hers and gave the entire tour in English, which I think is the first time I’ve ever had an English tour in Russia (no surprise there).

Now, I’ve been to my fair share of Russian museums. I half-jokingly, half-seriously told one of the students that I’ve been to more museums in Russia than in America (this is true). After awhile, you kind of know what to expect in these places: the silent older women who watch your every move, the ropes that are (laughably) meant to keep you away from the more delicate exhibits, and the complete lack of air-conditioning. It’s all old-hat. As jaded as I am though, the Tsiolkovsky Museum was still pretty cool. They’ve managed to preserve most of the original set up in the house:

Tsiolkovsky's air-horn (he was partially deaf)

Work bench

Tsiolkovsky's bike (with the laughable rope and bonus air-horn!)

The man himself

Interesting! Tsiolkovsky was also a science-fiction writer, and his books are still read here in Russia. After finding out that one of his novels describes a future utopia where the elites of society live in orbiting-spheres and laugh at the rest of us schmucks that are stuck on Earth, I also kind of want to read his writing.

The whole trip was a nice little send-off from my students, and they ended it by giving me a few very considerate gifts. I actually managed to get a little teary-eyed, which really drove home the notion that I’ll miss at least a few things about Kaluga.

Expect a few more sporadic posts as I countdown the days until I come home. Have a good three-day weekend!

Progression of My Daily Mood Through Music

26 May

In the morning, when I’m not fully awake yet.

Post-breakfast high.

Mid-afternoon, ‘isn’t everything great?’ mood


Late-night slump/depressive moment

The ‘I Miss Home’ moment

When I realize that I have less than a week and a half left here in Russia

Bonus round: Insomnia edition (so much slow head shaking!)

Mosquito 2: Electric…I HAVEN’T SLEPT IN TWO DAYS

12 May

It happened. I thought they wouldn’t find me. I thought I was safe. Foolish. There is no running, and there is no hiding from them. Who are they? Mosquitoes.

These aren’t just any normal mosquitoes though. Nothing like the fat-cat, capitalist, entrepreneurial mosquitoes that we’re used to back in America. No, these are mother f$%^#@ Russian mosquitoes and they have been plaguing me for the last two nights.

My history with the Russian mosquito is old. We fist did battle in the summer of 2009, when I lived in Kazan for two months. Kazan is in the southern part of Russia, and during the summer, it gets hot. Since AC is non-existent, the only way to combat the heat is by opening windows, but, that’s how they get in. They fly in during the day and wait to strike at night.

I faced my first attack in the middle of July. I had almost fallen asleep when I started to hear a loud buzzing read next to my ear. I shot up quickly and looked around the room. It was only then that I realized how itchy my feet were. Mosquito. I put on some socks and tried to ignore the pest in my room, but it refused to let me sleep. It kept attacking my head; it’s buzzing reaching through to my dreams, denying me sleep. To spare myself from this torture I began hunting the mosquito in my room, carefully scanning the walls and the cabinets for its tiny form. After a few near misses, I finally managed to defeat my prey. Head shot. Kill count: 1.

I slept fitfully for the rest of the night and the next morning over breakfast, I shared my story with the Russian woman whose apartment I was living in. She was a sweet, gentle woman, but when I mentioned the mosquito, her face immediately became hard and distant. She nodded solemnly after I finished my tale and silently walked to the window where she kept an array of potted plants. Reaching behind the plants, she pulled out what would become my first tool in the fight against the mosquitoes. A fly-swatter. Mosquitoes had invaded our home, and we weren’t going to take it lying down. Together, we were declaring war.

That night we waited until after dinner, when the sun had already set. We crept into the kitchen, immediately seeing our target relaxing on one of the room’s windows. My host wielded our only weapon, while I performed the duty of lookout. It was a surprise attack, an ambush. The mosquitoes didn’t stand a chance. When the massacre was over, she’d killed all of the intruders (five in total). Silently, she put the fly-swatter back in it’s resting place and began to leave kitchen. Before she exited the room she turned to me, and with a small grin said, “Sarah, we’re killers.” My only response was to return her smile and simply nod. She was right, after all.

After that first assault, I thought the war had ended. There were no more mosquitoes and my host had constructed a cloth mesh barrier to hang in the windows, which let the air in but would keep the mosquitoes out. Those days were peaceful, but our peace would not last long. They soon returned in even greater numbers, and proceeded to take their revenge on me.

At first I tried putting up a fight, spending hours with the trusty fly-swatter, but I couldn’t kill them all. They enacted psychological warfare on me, by preventing me from sleeping. Even when I buried my head under a pillow, they would crawl underneath to find me, never letting me sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. In an act of desperation, I tried sacrificing parts of my body to keep them away from my head. I purposefully exposed my legs, as if to say ‘have at it boys, just let me get some @#%#$%# sleep.’ Instead of placating them however, this act served only to embolden them further. They attacked my head with renewed vigor, as if they could sense my resolve fading.

For days I survived on little sleep, and then eventually I stopped sleeping at night altogether. This was quickly taking a toll on my body and my mind, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to last much longer. Desperate for any assistance, I sought out a Russian-made plug-in air spray that claimed to protect its owners from mosquitoes. I had asked my host about these devices, suggesting we try and use them in our nightly battles, but she immediately rejected the idea. She claimed the devices were useless and provided no protection. Despite her resistance, I caved and bought one.

The first night I used it, I was incredibly skeptical and almost positive that it wouldn’t work. At that point, I’d resigned myself to not getting a full-night’s sleep until I returned to America. Much to my surprise, however, the plug-in actually worked. The first night I used it was amazing. I managed to sleep through the entire night with no interruptions. When I told my host about this miracle, she remained skeptical, but eventually gave in and bought her own device for her room. We were finally free. I spent my last days in Kazan happily and eventually left the city, feeling triumphant.

Before coming to Kaluga, I briefly wondered if I would face a similar onslaught from mosquitoes as I did in Kazan. As the weather has grown warmer and I’ve been forced to open my windows, that wonder grew into full-fledged fear. I nervously waited for their first strike. It finally came two days ago.

I was completely unprepared for the attack, and my mosquito-killing skills were decidedly rusty since my time in Kazan. That first night I managed to get three hours of sleep, but no kills. During the day, I kept my window shut and prayed that my attacker had disappeared. I was wrong. Last night it struck again, not letting me rest and finally driving me from my bed at 4 AM. I sought sanctuary in the kitchen and eventually fell asleep in one of my armchairs. That night, I managed one full hour of sleep.

At these point, I’m running on four hours sleep total for the last few days. But tonight things will be different. I bought another plug-in spray and now I’m ready. They may have won the past two nights, but that ends now.

Listicle Without Commentary: movies that I’ve watched with my Russian students in order of their awesomeness

11 May

1. The Thing

2. Independence Day

3. Anastasia

4. Super Size Me

5. Home Alone

6. Home Alone 2

7. Fifth Element

8. Transformers 2

Just. Watch. This. Video.

7 May

One of my students sent it to me:

What is Sarah Doing Now?

11 Apr

It’s been a strange few days here in Kaluga. The weather is warm (hurray!) but it’s raining all the time (boo!). Plus, it’s that annoying kind of rain, where it’s not really rain not all. Just mild drizzle or mist. The weather has mostly kept me inside, but during the brief windows of sunshine we’ve had, I’ve managed to go running outside.

Let me talk about this for a little bit. At home in the US, I love to run outside. For one, it doesn’t cost anything, and two, I like looking at actual scenery when I run, instead of staring at the same treadmill for 40 minutes. What I don’t like about running is all the blatant staring and catcalls that I get from people (mostly dudes) who think it’s HILARIOUS to yell or make obscene gestures at you. When I run it’s such a common occurrence that I almost don’t notice the sexual harassment–unless it’s particularly egregious.

In Russia, I assumed I’d have the same experience. Actually, I expected it to be worse, since the ‘jogger-culture’ isn’t as prevalent in this part of the world as it is in America (the streets here really are not made for running). Much to my surprise, however, I haven’t noticed any untoward remarks. Sure people stare, but this is Russia and staring is an accepted action. What most people do when the see me running is give me a brief look and continue on their way. It’s amazingly liberating to not be harassed when I’m just trying to get some exercise. In the ongoing battle of gender relations and equality, I’d say Russia definitely beats out America as far as random street harassment is concerned.

I was planning on taking a trip to Smolensk this past weekend to visit fellow Fulbrighter Jon (hi Jon!), but those plans fell through once I realized that the bus ride would be at least 11 hours. Which is a bummer because: 1. Jon is pretty cool and has great taste in 90s music and 2. he has my Nook (Barnes and Noble e-reader). He’s had it since January (long story) so I’ve been book-less for almost four months now, which for me is akin to mild torture. Fortunately, I figured out a way to read my ebooks on my computer and even how to buy new ebooks. Over the past few days I’ve already blown through one book and will probably finish another by Friday. I’m even tempted to buy the more recent installments in the Sookie Stackhouse Vampire Series (I know they’re trash, but it’s entertaining trash! I’ll just balance it out by reading A Visit from the Goon Squad).

Reading and running is really all that I’ve been doing. Oh, I’ve also been looking for potential jobs. I sure know how to have a good time!

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight, so I’m sure I’ll have something to say about that. (Strangely, tomorrow is also the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Coincidence?) In celebration I’m planning on watching Independence Day with a few of my students. Maybe as an assignment/punishment I’ll make them learn the entirety of Bill Pullman’s Independence Day speech, which in my opinion is right up there with the St. Crispin’s Day speech and Churchill’s “never have so few done so much for so many.”

I know what a Russian flash mob looks like

4 Apr

It’s April now, the snow is melting and the weather is (finally) getting warmer.  This increase in temperature is doing great things for my mood.

Nothing really exciting has happened since my last post. I was pretty busy this last week, because I had to help teach one of the other English teacher’s classes while she was out for personal reasons. The extra classes really weren’t that difficult to take on, and they were with a group of students that I really like. We ended up watching the 90s cult-classic The Fifth Element, which is weirdly popular here in Russia. Now I’m getting requests to watch other popular American movies, like the Step Up trilogy (those awful dance movies with Channing Tatum). Pity me.

So what about that Russian flash mob? Well I’ll tell you.

In a few days–April 12–Russia will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight. To celebrate this anniversary–and also as a kind of propaganda for their upcoming student Open House–the institute where I teach decided to organize a ‘flash mob’ this past Sunday in the main part of Kaluga. Now, I say ‘flash mob,’ because I’m not really sure if what I saw counts as a flash mob. Basically what happened was a group of students walked along the main street in Kaluga, carrying balloons and a homemade aluminum rocket. Here’s some video:

What do you think, does that count as a flash mob? Even if it technically doesn’t, it was still kind of a cool/random thing to watch. On the actual anniversary next week–called the ‘Day of the Cosmonauts’–I’m sure there will be more wackiness for me to film on my tiny point and shoot camera.