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Leaving

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!

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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.

In Which I Celebrate Me, A Lady

8 Mar

Today is the official end of my four-day weekend (sad), oh and also International We Love the Ladies Day or something.  In honor of this important day, let’s explore gender issues and feminism in the modern world.  Not controversial topics at all!

For all you Americans who apparently hate women (hi Republican controlled House that voted to defund Planned Parenthood!) International Women’s Day is when the rest of the world celebrates their ladies with gifts of flowers, candies, and other treats.  And what about the rest of the year?  Ha.  What are you some kind of lady-loving feminist?  Women only need/get one day!

So how did I celebrate my Women’s Day?  Pretty much like every other day: I hung around the apartment, did a few chores, and went for a walk around the city (but I listened to some Bikini Kill on my iPod while I was walking, so I guess that counts for something).  Also, I got a surprise flower.

This actually happened yesterday, when I was on a different impromptu walk.  On my way home, I randomly ran into one of my students who was carrying a huge bouquet of flowers.  He had 10 flowers in total (a big no-no in Russia, even-numbered flowers are considered bad luck) so he decided to give me his extra flower.  It was completely unexpected and kind of sweet–even though I was really just doing him a favor by helping him not violate Russian cultural superstitions.

my unexpected flower

While it’s nice to see all these women walking around with flowers (and to get a flower of my own!), the cynical side of me can’t help but see the hypocrisy.  Russia doesn’t have the best relationship with women–not like America is much better–and one day isn’t going to erase years of inequality and sexism.  Still there are encouraging signs of progress.

The vast majority of my students are women, and most of their future goals focus around building a successful career.  Sure a lot of them want to get married, but not until they can support themselves.  Women are also starting to play a larger role in Russian society; many of the leaders of popular activists groups are women. I think all this says something positive about the future of gender relations in this country.  Despite all my Irish cynicism, I’ll allow myself just a little optimism.

To end my Lady Day celebration, I think I’ll head over to the local grocery store and buy some 50 ruble (that’s 2 dollars!!!) boxed-wine and watch Sex and the City: The Movie on Russian TV.  Oh, and I’ll be wearing sweatpants.  If I’m going to be a stereotype, I’m not going to half-ass it.

The Russian Wedding

26 Feb

One of the ways in which I consistently embarrass myself when speaking Russian, is messing up time and dates.  Time is especially hard for me, what with all the minus 20 to twos that get thrown around (my fellow learners-of-Russian will understand what I’m talking about).  I often double or even triple-check times, just to make sure that I don’t show up an hour early or worse, an hour late.

When I started the new semester, one of the other teachers in the Foreign Language department told me I wouldn’t see the 4th year English students until March.  She even pointed at the first day on the calendar when I’d have class with them.  March 3rd.  There was no way to misinterpret that.  So of course, it was wrong.  I was actually supposed to start teaching the 4th years this past Thursday, a fact I did not realize until I was already 20 minutes late for our first class.  And I was unprepared.  No lesson plans, no funny videos to watch, nothing.  After we shared our vacation stories, there was still 40 minutes left in the class period and I had no idea what to do.  I asked the students–three quiet, nice girls–what they wanted to talk about.  There was a pause as they all looked at each other, and then the bravest of the three said: “American weddings.” Continue reading

On Reading Cosmo in Russia

20 Feb

The other day I impulsively bought a copy of Russian Cosmo.  It was right next to the checkout line and I needed to break a 500 ruble note, so I decided, what the hell.  Normally, I don’t even bother with American Cosmo, but since this was Russian I thought it’d be different, more interesting some how.  It wasn’t.  In fact, I’m almost certain that the majority of the articles were just translated versions of what you’d find in the American issue (I’m much too lazy to actually confirm this suspicion).

Still, even if Russian Cosmo didn’t provide me with the amusement I was hoping for, it did inspire me to write a Cosmo-ish how-to list of my own.  Here’s a list on how to read Cosmo in Russian.

1. Learn Russian. If Russian is not available, substitute with Ukrainian.  Both languages are similar enough that this should work.

2.  Start by flipping through the magazine, looking at the pictures.  Comment on how many of the celebrities are American (our culture is everywhere) and how amusing American names look when transliterated into the Cyrillic alphabet. (John = Джон)

4.  Read the interview with whoever the cover girl is, the language will be relatively simple (insert lazy “all actresses are dumb” joke here).  For instance, the March issue has an interview with Mila Kunis, where in between discussing her eating habits (DIPE) she mentions how her family fled Ukraine while she was seven. (um, what?)

5. Try reading some of the advice articles.  Cringe at how bland they are, and be thankful that you can only understand 70 percent of the text, because then you only feel 70 percent bored with what you’re reading.

6.  Maybe write down a few new vocabulary words, so you can seem productive. You never know when you’ll need the word for a particular type of makeup brush.

7. Read the typical Cosmo sex articles, and be even more confused by the language.  Make up your own stories for the parts that you don’t understand.  This often helps make the magazine and its stories more interesting.

8. When you’ve exhausted the reading material, put the magazine to good use.  Mine is currently resting underneath one of my table’s legs, to help balance the whole thing and keep it from wobbling.

Fake Vegetarian

15 Feb

The ongoing food movement-led by such people as Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan-has always seemed sensible to me.  Meat production causes environmental damage, so we should eat less meat.  Throughout college, I took this message very seriously and stereotypically experimented with vegetarianism and even veganism.  The feeling of supposed ethical and environmental superiority to my meat-eating peers, however, would eventually lose to the delicious, delicious taste of load cheese fries at my college’s local bar.  Whenever my forays into a veggie-only lifestyle failed, I shrugged it off and went out to find a decent burger.

Now that I am in Russia, I’ve somewhat reluctantly resumed my old vegetarian ways. This relapse is not due to any lack of animal by-product.  Rest assured, Russia has many meat-heavy dishes.  However, a (somewhat paranoid) fear of potential food-borne illnesses and a strong case of laziness, have effectively turned me off meat.  Freezing temperatures and the previously mentioned laziness, have forced me into becoming a vegetable soup cooking master, a dish that I can easily and inexpensively make in one night and then eat for the rest of the week.  Since coming to Russia six months ago, I’ve only sampled red meat once, have eaten chicken roughly a handful of times, and have gone through pounds and pounds of beets.

This accidental vegetarianism might not have the same faux-nobleness as my previous veggie attempts, but it’s been working for me and I see no reason to stop now.  Of course when I make it back to the States, chances are good that my vegetarianism will fly out the window at the first chance to eat a decent burrito.