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.

Magical Discovery

21 Mar

Things are starting to feel a little stagnant here in Kaluga. I was hoping that St. Patrick’s Day would help bring some excitement back, but the best laid plans of etc.

For St. Patty’s I was planning on having an English Conversation club (maybe party?). In the past, I’ve had a lot of trouble attracting students to these meetings, but I can’t really blame them for not coming. The only way my professor’s convinced me to attend additional language conversation sessions was by making it a graded requirement. Now that I’m the teacher, I have no such luxury (bribery), and have to completely rely on my charms and the seductiveness of PowerPoint.

Still, I thought for St. Patrick’s Day that I’d get a decent turnout. I talked up the meeting in all my classes, but the day of, no one showed. No. One. I guess Irish religious holidays/American secular celebrations are not big crowd-pleasers in Russia.

Even though my English club meeting was a bust, I still celebrated like a true Irish-American, with Guinness.

I think the boredom I’m feeling right now is largely because I haven’t been cooking anything interesting to eat. Lately, I’ve been having an irrational craving for peanut butter, but my go-to grocery store doesn’t sell the stuff anymore. However, they did randomly start selling something even more rare than peanut butter in Russia. Hummus.

That’s right: Hummus. Those of you who know me well, probably are aware of how obsessed I am with hummus (at home I regularly make my own, with roasted red peppers). It’s one of my staple foods–especially when I stop eating meat–and something that I thought I’d have to temporarily abandon in Russia. Until now (which explains the “magical discovery” title of this post)

Interesting language fact: Russian doesn’t have an equivalent to the English letter “h”. When English words that start with “h” are transliterated into Russian, either the letters х (“kh” sound) or a г (really hard “g” sound) are used. Harry Potter becomes Гарри Потер, hot-dog is хот-дог, and hamburger is гамбургер (disappointingly, hip-hop is not гип-гоп).  And now I know that hummus is хумус.

Hopefully, the grocery store will keep hummus in stock for a while. If not, maybe they’ll bring back crunchy peanut butter.


hummus with roasted beets

Happy Friday!

18 Mar



In Russia I have my own beet-lady

14 Mar

The weather is warmer and the snow is melting, but the true sign of spring is the return of the old women! What do I mean by old women? Well, the street across from my apartment is where a group of old Russian women usually sit around and sell their vegetables and homemade jams. I’d pass them every day on my way to work in the morning and say hello.  They disappeared during the winter, because it was way too cold for them to sit on the street all day, but now they’re back. Spring is here!

some people buying/selling food on the street

Finally I can go back to buying my vegetables from these women, who always have better quality produce at cheaper prices than what you’d normally get in the grocery store. My beet-lady has even returned, which means I’ll be cooking a lot more root vegetable-based meals! (Beet-lady means exactly what it sounds like, a lady who I buy my beets from. She’s super friendly.)

me and my beets (this photo looks a lot stranger than I thought it would)

How to fly internationally

10 Mar

Tatar Air plane

Over the past four years, I’ve ridden on a decent number of international flights (including two 11-hour flights to and from Moscow).  Now I’m by no means the most experienced international traveler in the world, (not even in my family–my jet-setting dad wins that award) but my relative inexperience isn’t going to stop me from telling the rest of you how you should live your lives; people on cable news get to do it all the time!

1. Don’t fly with me:

Members of my immediate family and others who have flown with me (hi Mike) can confirm how horrible I am on planes.  I get way to nervous and have a habit of madly clinging to the person next to me at the slightest sign of turbulence.  If you’re looking for a relaxing flight, don’t take me, or at least don’t sit next to me.

2. Bring sleeping pills

I used to be a big sleeping pill nay-sayer, but I’ve since changed my ways.  If you buy powerful drugs (and not the weak Tylenol/Advil stuff), you can knock yourself out for the majority of a trans-Atlantic flight.  This really helps cut down on the tedium of being trapped in a small space for eight or more hours.  The best situation is if you’re leaving from a foreign country, and can buy sleeping pills there, where pesky FDA regulations don’t apply.  My favorite apocryphal flying story involves a friend who bought some Georgian (the country not the state) brand of sleeping pills for his flight from Moscow to Chicago.  He took the pills right after take-off and only woke up 15-hours later, when the plane had already landed.

3. Upgrade to Economy Class Plus or whatever the airline calls it

Don’t get too excited, economy class is still coach, but with six more inches of leg room.  That might not seem like much now, but after you’ve been stuck sitting behind a person who insists on reclining their chair alllll the way back (without fail this happens to me on every single flight I take), you’ll be longing for those extra inches (insert ‘that’s what she said joke here’).  Depending on what airline you’re flying, this upgrade will cost anywhere from $50-100, which is a lot less than upgrading to business class, so just suck it up and fork over the extra cash.  Your legs will thank you later, trust me.

4. Don’t listen to the fools who tell you to stay up the night before a long flight

I hear this piece of advice get passed around a lot: don’t sleep the night before a flight so that you’ll pass out once you get on the plane.  Anyone who tells you to do this hates you, and you should stop taking advice from them because they’re probably secretly trying to kill you.  Staying up the night before never helps you fall asleep on the plane; it just makes you more miserable than you should be after hours of flying.

5. Don’t travel alone

If at all possible you should never travel alone.  It really helps to have at least one buddy (although a trio is the ideal situation) who can watch your bags while you go pee or while you nap on the airport floor.  If you travel alone you not only have to carry all your stuff with you everywhere, but you also have to stay alert the entire time (which is why not sleeping the night before is especially dangerous for the solo-traveler).  Plus it’s just boring to travel alone; there’s no one around to help you irrationally judge the other airport patrons–one of the only good parts of flying.