Monday, January 28, 2008

The Cold Part 2

So at the request of my mother, and because I've been meaning to do it for a while, here's a second installment about the cold here. So here you go. All teperatures are Celcius unless otherwise noted.

First off, from what I've heard, some of the other siberian cities such as Irkutsk, are experiencing record breaking cold with temperatures hitting -55. I would just like to say that here up north in Yakutsk, we're still experiencing a warm winter. From what I've heard, the coldest the temperature's been so far this winter is -48 which for Yakutsk is pretty warm.

There is a major temperature difference between the -30s and -40s. It's like somewhere between -35 and -45 it goes from being "Just really really cold" to being "oh my word it's so cold I can't stand it." When the temperature is in the latter you don't want to be outside. If you have to walk even short distances you can feel your nose going numb and your skin stings. And if there's any wind at all, you'd better pray.

I remeber there were times in Ohio where I'd be standing outside, waiting for the bus, or walking to russian class and I'd be freezing my butt off and be thinking "Oh man, it would be so much warmer if we didn't have this wind!" Thankfully, we don't get a lot of wind here in Yakutsk. But if you think the wind chill gets bad in Ohio, imagine how bad it is when it's -40 and there's wind. NOT FUN!

We have another interesting phenomenon here that I've probably mentioned before. You see when the temperature hits a certain point of coldness, snow can't fall. It's just too darn cold. But you still have moisture in the air. So what happens? Well you get this thing called туман the english word for it is fog. This ain't your momma's fog either. This is like really uber thick fog that hangs in the air you know that saying about "fog so thick you cut it with a knife?" Well this fog is thicker. And it doesn't really burn off when the sun comes up. Hence the reason why even when it's light out, it sometimes doesn't feel very light because it's foggy and the sun is hidden.

Speaking of which, As soon as the polar nights were over (Jan 20th if you remember) it started getting lighter, and I mean lighter. Over the winter, it wouldn't start getting light until after 9am. This morning I was walking from the bus stop to school, it was about 8am and already the sky was lightening. I was pretty excited because earlier when it was eight o'clock, it would still be pitch black.

I've had two people tell me that the worst of the cold is over, and I believe it. You see there's no difference in temperature, but there's a difference in the air, it's like the air isn't so sharply cold, I find myself being able to be outside with less layers on, though part of that might come from the fact that I've been living in a colder house and therefore it's easier to stand the cold outside. This morning there was a bit of a wind, but to my shock and amazment it wasn't freezing cold, in fact, it felt rather warm.

I'm not saying that we won't have a few more cold snaps, I'm just saying that I think spring is going to be showing up soon.

Monday, January 21, 2008


For anyone who is interested in going to Russia I thought you might want to be aware of the following.

1. Visa Restrictions
Russia has recently changed it's visa restrictions and the types of visas you need to stay in country. for example a cultural visa (which I have) is only good for three months. If you are interested in coming to Russia, please double check with your travel agent/advisors about what type of visa you need/would be best for your type of travel.

2. Packages
It has come to my attention that certain Russian cities are restricted and you cannot send international packages to them (Yaktusk is one of these cities) if you are looking to send a package to Russia from another country, you might want to double check the city restrictions.

The Baptists

So I've titled this post "the baptists" because that's probably the most exciting thing that's happened to me this week. Well, other than the fact that I'm still loving where I'm living now, and Raisa called and said she'd most probably be gone a full month, which made me really excitied.

Anyway,the baptists. For those of you from Church who read this blog, I'm not sure if this post will make you feel better or worse about my religous life, or lack of it, here in Russia. But it went something like this.

I was sitting in Obshest and paying attention because it's basically my favorite class. We've started a unit on culture and the various aspects of it. One of the things we were talking about is Freedom and how freedom in your life is a good things. One of the things the teacher, Anastasia Simonovna, mentioned was Religous freedom. She said something like "You have the freedom to chose what religion you want, we have a lot of churches here, the orthodox, catholic, baptists..." and I didn't hear anything more after that, or the rest of the lesson for that matter because I was like "Oh my gosh, there's a baptist church here? seriously? Baptists are kind of close to Church of Christ, at least in America. I wonder if she knows where they meet" and on and on and on the rest of the lesson. It took me about thirty seconds to decide to ask about it after the lesson.

So I did. I said "Anastasia Simonovna, you mentioned the Baptists in your lessons, do you know where they meet?"
And she said "No, but I can find out, the move around, but I know who to ask and I'll try to let you know tomorrow."
That was friday.

Saturday at school, She told me that there is a girl here at school who's father is the pastor of the Baptist church. Anastasia Simonovna introduced me to Anya and we sat and talked and I explained that no, I wasn't baptist but my church sort of resembles a baptist church and Anya drew me a map and gave me information and so I basically had decided to attend the baptist church on Sunday.

Church started at 10am. I left the house at 9:30 and though I had a map and a vague idea of where I was going, I was afraid I was going to be late, mostly because when I got off the bus it was 10 til 10 and I still had a ways to walk. So I ran part of the way. Anyway, the good news is that when I walked in they hadn't started yet, in fact the pastor and his wife, Anya's parents had gotten there just before me. As soon as I walked in this guy goes "You must be our guest" and I was like "yeah, that's me." He introduced himself as Valintin, Anya's dad and pastor of the church. I was also introduced to his wife, but don't know her name. They were really welcoming and Anya's mom was like "you can sit with our family" which was really nice of her.

The church is located in a little wooden building across the pond (literally) from the university. The only thing that designates it as a church is a metal cross on the top of the building. The service itself was and wasn't like home. They used a piano, but it wasn't really that bad. Some of the songs they sang where the same, but in Russian such as Amazing grace and What a Friend We Have in Jesus. They also sang some really cool songs in like this minor key. it was awesome. The pastor gave a mini lesson where he talked about Jesus' baptism and a little bit later there was a longer lessons, which I had some difficulty following as I don't have good church vocabulary. What else? at one point, some lady got up and read something from the pulpit. she wasn't preaching, she was reading, but I didn't understand so I have no idea what. The song books have just words, no music notes.

We started a little after ten and finished around noon, and then I walked with Anya and another Anna and Anya invited me over on Saturday after school and then to the weekly youth group meeting they have where all the kids from the different Baptist churches here (yes, there's more than one. there's even a couple that preach exclusively in Yakutian) get together, so I'll most likely go to that.

I guess that what I have to say is that even though it wasn't like home, in some ways it was and I thouroughly enjoyed myself and felt like I was walking around surrounded by a ray of sunshine the rest of the day. After attending church, the day didn't seem so grey and cold.

When I got home, I ate lunch and then dozed on and off for about four hours. Thus discovering that concentrating on church makes me really tired.

What else can I tell you? Well, I lost my key to the apartment and felt really really bad about it, but Elena Ivanovna was awesome about it and told me it was no big deal, she'd get another one made.

I made some little girls' day by talking to them and answering their questions. They thought it was really cool. Today they were in the Garderobe at the same time I was and are like "Do you remember us?" and I go "Of course" and they were like "who are we" and I go "you're the girls who were asking me questions." They then asked me to translate a bit of a song for them, which thankfully wasn't too difficult. That made them happy.

Time has seemed to be going pretty fast lately. I don't know if it's because I'm living in a different place, or what. I think that's part of it. I find myself being more social and wanting to be more social when people aren't telling me I have to be. I love sitting and talking to Elena Ivanovna while she's making dinner and she's really good about tolerating my horrible russian grammar, and helping me speak. She also makes me feel like part of the family which makes me feel good.

So I guess that's what you need to know. I'm really really enjoying myself right now, and my time here. This place is absolutely awesome, and even though sometimes I forget how cool it is here because I get down, things always look up again, and each time I come through a bad patch, the good things look better, and I feel happier longer. Hurrah for adjustment!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sigh of Happiness

I feel so good, and it's not just because my computer teacher just told me that i didn't have to learn Pascal which basically leaves me two periods to use the internet at my leisure. I feel better than i have in a long time. I think a good part of it is the change in atmosphere.

I'm already settling in well to living with Sasha and Elena Ivanovna. In fact I have to be careful because I really am enjoying where I'm at now, and I might not want to leave.

The apartment is smaller, and so is my bed. The dog is a lot bigger, but still a crazy russian dog. and I think the change of atmosphere was really good for me, because once I got over my nervousness at having to adapt to a new family I settled right in and I'm loving it.

Both Sasha and her mother, Elena Ivanovna, like to talk, and I find myself opening up more, and starting conversations and joining conversations, not because I have too as an exchange student, but because I want too. I feel like they actully care what I have to say, or if not, they do a good job pretending.

Yeah, life is different here. I had to get used really quick to the fact that I went from basically having free reign of an apartment, to having people around me basically all of the time, but once I did, it's all good.

There's no internet there as it's broken, but the nice young male teacher who works at Sasha's school and occasionally shows up to eat dinner with us, is going to come with a new modem on Tuesday. I don't know how much, if at all, I'll use the internet there though. my school principal here told me i could use the internet a couple of times a week after school in this one classroom, so i might just do that.

Elena Ivanovna cooks. We have kasha for breakfast which is like cereal grains cooked. The last two days it's been oatmeal type stuff. Tasty. she also makes really good dinners. it's soo tasty! So much for loosing weight.

I've decided that the most important thing i've learned so far on exchange (minus the language and cultural stuff) is how to adapt. I've discovered that yeah, there might be things here that bother me, because my American cultural ingraining has told me that we do things a different way, but here, it might be different, and since I'm here, in this culture, it only makes sense to do things the way that is normal in this cultural context. So sometimes in order to not let things bother me, I have to mentally push what my brain is telling me to the back and ignore the voice in my head.

It's an interesting experience. there are a lot of differences between houses, but that's okay. for example, at raisa's I always woke myself up in the mornings, here, Elena Ivanovna does. E.I. also makes breakfast, at Raisa's i was responsible for it myself. Not just that, but other things as well. Raisa has a drying rack for the clothes, and here Elena Ivanovna hangs a clothesline across the main room. she told me the other night that she had a drying rack, but the dog kept taking the clothes off it. So she uses the clothes line.

I find that only four days after coming to my new home, temporary as it may be, I'm already used to life here. It seemed to take forever for me to get used to life at Raisa's, but maybe that's because I was also adapting to a new culture, and now I have a better handle on the culture, it's a lot easier to fit into the life. In some ways, i never felt completely comfortable at Raisa's. Don't know why. It's not horribly bad, it's just different.

I'm happier than i've felt in a while. That's a good thing.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


So it's definitely come faster than I thought it would. heh heh heh. Yesterday, Raisa came home from work (It was the first working day after the holidays) and she goes "I'm going to be going on a business trip the day after tomorrow." and I'm like okay. Because she's gone for the weekend before and it's no biggie. So I go "For how long?" The answer was "Two weeks." oh. Well, that's interesting. So I asked what I was going to do and she was like "Oh, we're just going to leave you by yourself." And I thought "Wow, cool!" Before I realized that she was joking. She told me that she'd called Maria the club president to see if someone else in the club could take me for two weeks on very very short notice.

They were having trouble finding someone as a lot of people had a lot of stuff going on with work and whatnot. Finally, they found a couple people who said they'd take me. One woman lives in "a really big house" (That's what I was told) but she lives outside the city and it would be really hard to get to my lessons and stuff. So for the next two weeks I'm going to be living with next year's outbound, Sasha, and her mom. I said I wanted to see what it would be like to live with a different family and I guess I'm going to get that chance sooner than I think. So it should be an interesting cultural experience. Though I am a bit terrified, because as with any new place you have to work out logistics and all, but it's only for two weeks, which in the grand scheme of things really isn't that long at all, but at the same time, it's a good chunk of time, because it'll take me through the end of the month of January. I think they have a computer there, but I don't know how much I'll be using it or anything so I don't know how much I'll be updating the next two weeks.

In other news, I must be feeling better because my cultural awareness and the continous anthropological commentery I have in my head has come back. This morning I was standing in the shower thinking about the things here I've gotten used to. Like the Russian thing about not telling you stuff until the last minute, or how you get used to the water being finicky and not always being hot enough, or have the temperature drastically change while you're in the shower, and how occasionally a tv channel you're watching will just randomly go off air for a bit, usually at the most exciting part of a movie too. It's all just part of living here, and you just get used to it after a while, and stop thinking of it as an inconvenience, just as part of life.

Anyway, if I get a chance, I'll do my best to let you know what life is like with my temporary family. Now however, I have to go and pack.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Huston, We Have a Problem

"You haven't been yourself."
"Eh, I've been feeling kind of down, but it's all good."
"No, you seriously haven't been yourself, we can tell from your blog."

And I don't want anyone to get the impression that I have a horrible host mom. Because she's actually really cool, and I've done my best to try to express that through this blog. IT's just sometimes when you get down, it seems like there's nothing good around you.

My parents called me last night because they were worried about me. I really must not be sounding like myself. Mom told me that she thinks it's more than just regular homesickness. Perhaps it's the lack of light, and you know what, maybe it is. After I wrote that blog entry yesterday, and after I wrote and e-mail to my parents, and had myself yet another good cry. It was like I suddenly started to feel better. I went outside and I took a walk and it was like I felt alive. More alive than I have in a long time. Maybe days, maybe weeks, maybe a month or two. I walked on the River because I could and I ran for the pure joy of running in the siberian cold.

I had SMSed my friend Vika and she got back with me and I invited her over for chai, which made for a good evening. And I think we're going to hit the ice rink today and try some skating. So by the time my parents called me, I was in a pretty good mood. I explained that it was the weirdest thing because I suddenly felt really really good and really really happy. The call from my parents was cool. I felt bad for making them worry, but it's nice to know that they care.

My problem was that I'd started on a slide and couldn't stop. Usually when I get down, I talk myself out of it by thinking that "Don't worry, it's not permanent." and self pep-talks and such. I also throw myself into stuff to stay busy and that helps too. But my problem this time is that I feel like I'm having trouble pulling myself out of it. Like I was doing better yesterday evening, but when I woke up this morning it was like I was back to where I was yesterday morning.

Maybe part of it is because it's holiday. We don't have school again yet, so it's hard to throw myself into that. Maybe part of it is that I've hit the mid-year slump, maybe a lot of it is that the lack of light has given me a bout of something akin to Seasonal Affective Disorder

I don't really know. What I do know is that I have to try to keep busy until school starts back up again. My mom told me to exercise more, eat less sugar, eat more fruit, maybe get out in nature if I can. So I'm doing my best to fill up the rest of vacation doing stuff with people. Perhaps ice skating tonight. I'm planning on going bowling tomorrow, that sort of thing. I've got to just keep on moving.

Even though it's not the end of the polar nights until January 20th, it is definitely starting to get lighter out. Like the light is longer. Not much, but it is. Hopefully, I can get myself feeling better and then maybe my objectivity and my joie de vivre will come back.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

January 20th

Do you know why this post is titled January 20th? Do you know why I'm really really looking forward to that date? Because I found out that starting January 20th the light starts to come back and I'm really really excited about that. Mostly because it means spring will be coming along, and spring means good things. Spring has become a kind of symbol for me, like maybe it's going to be the best part of exchange, though right now, it doesn't really feel that way.

I've been feeling really down lately. Just kind of blah. Apparently, I'm not being social enough which is what people keep telling me. My host mom, my host sister. In fact yesterday I had a conversation over dinner that went something like this:

Me:"What do you want me to talk about?"
Raisa: "Oh anything"
Guest: "Life here...are you bored?"
Me:(Forgetting that the words for "boring" and "To miss" are similiar)"Very bored"
Raisa: "You say it's boring here, but you never call your friends and go do anything. you sit at home and do nothing"
Me:"Oh, no! I'm not bored, I meant to say that I miss my family."

And then somehow Raisa made arrangements for me to go ice skating with my host cousin this afternoon which I'm really hoping falls through. Not because I don't want to go ice skating, but I just don't want to go with him. I'd rather go with one of the girls I know and have actually hung out with and had a conversation with. Please don't make me go with my host cousin and his friends. Please! And I couldn't say "no I don't want to go" because that would've just reinforced the fact that I'm anti-social.

I think I'm failing as an exchange student. Recently I really have been trying to make an effort to call people and hang out with them. But apparently, it's not enough. I've really been missing my family lately. Actually it wasn't the holidays that set it off, it was Aita being here.

Having here here was both a good and bad thing. Like there were times I really enjoyed it, and times that I didn't. sometimes, I'd be sitting there with Raisa and Aita and I'd feel like part of a family, which was a good feeling, because I miss that feeling. Yet at other times I'd feel completely isolated, like I was just this random extra person in the house, just kind of there. Like Raisa and Aita would be having a mother-daughter moment and I'd feel awkward, like I was intruding. The other thing that was really hard for me, was the fact that they'd like go do things together, even mundane things and not even ask if I wanted to go. Like the other day the dog did something to her leg, and they were taking her to the vet and it was like, "we're taking the dog to get her leg checked, we'll be back later" and leave, not even thinking that maybe I would've liked to go and seen if and how taking the dog to get her leg checked was different than in America. Or maybe I would've liked to go, just to go.

Maybe that's my problem. Maybe that's why I sit around the house so much. I was trying to think of what I do in america. I mean, yeah, I hang out with my friends, but I do that in America less than you'd think. I realized part of the reason that I spend so much time in the house here is because I don't do any family function type things. Like in America I might go shopping with mom, or go do something with my parents, or grandparents. Here, I don't. It's kind of like Raisa and I are just two people who happen to be living in the same apartment, but we have our separete lives. Which is cool in some ways. It gives me a lot of freedom. Yet, I miss that feeling of family, because back home, my family is huge and obnoxious and they're a big part of my life, and I love them.

But then, maybe I am just anti-social and a bad exchange student. How would I know? It always makes me feel better when I hear that other exchange students are having the same social problems I am. It makes me feel less like a failure.

I talked to Raisa last night and I think I'm going to see about getting a new family. Not because Raisa's a bad host mom, but because I want to see how other families function and what's cultural, besides, I think that the change might do me some good. I'm hoping that the club can find me a family with some kids at home. I think I'd like that.

So once again, I'm playing the waiting game. I'm waiting for school to start back up, for my friend Nina to come back from her trip to Moscow, for my feelings of "blah" and cruddyness to go away, like I know they will eventually, waiting for spring, because I feel like everything will get better in the spring.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

C новым годом

Well, We successfully rang in the New Year on the night of December 31st. The pictures are up on my flickr account. The link to which is at the top of the page. The family came over. There were nine of us, which made the apartment feel tiny. It was fun though. I hung out with my host sister, Aita, and our host cousins. This basically involved sitting at the computer exploring the collection of old school video games that my host cousin had on his Flashka. i.e. Flashdrive. The two funniest games were Michal Jackson's Moonwalker, and a really bad Japanese version of a Harry Potter game where Dudley looked like a Sumo wrestler.

At five minutes to midnight, we gathered around the TV for President Putin's annual speech which I heard none of as we were taking pictures. We toasted the new year with Champagne, and several people wrote down a wish on a piece of paper and swallowed it with some champagne so that it will come true in the New Year.

Right after the new year rang, the fireworks started. People from all over the neighborhood were shooting off fireworks. It made for a really awesome display. We watched from the windows of our apartment. I loved it! seeing the fireworks, seeing the people. It was just really cool.

A little while later, we did the presents. There weren't a ton, but it was nice. I gave apple butter and postcards to Babushka and Dedushka, and my aunt and Uncle. I gave the "kids" comic books/magazines in English, and I gave Raisa a blanket with sights from my city on it. It was pretty cool. I got a jewelry box from Aita, an assortment of Yakutian souveniers from my aunt and uncle, and Raisa gave me a really pretty bracelet.

We ate a lot of course. I had Yakutian ice cream, fish, potatos, russian salads. I tried holodets which is really really nasty. It's kind of like peppery chicken flavored jello. Icky! There was also an assortment of cold and frozen fish in the Yakutian tradition. I don't mind the frozen fish, but I hate dealing with the bones. I like frozen meat better.

The family all left around two or after, and we did some minor clean-up and hit our beds around three.

And I guess that's my Russian new year. I enjoyed myself, was glad that I got to experience it.

It's weird to think about it, I've suddenly already started my fifth month. I'm on the downhill part of my exchange. AHHHH! I'm terrified! Before I know it I'll be getting off a plane and hugging my parents (Which I'm looking forward too) yet it scares me because as I've mentioned before, I've kind of got this thing for Russia. What am I going to do when I can't speak Russian anymore? When my friends tell me that I need to speak english because I'm not in Russia anymore. What will I do without amazing ice cream, and the drama here, and the russian bureaucracy? I know, it's seems early as I still have five and a half months, but I've learned how fast time goes, and these five months are going to fly. Especially when spring rolls around and trips and stuff start happening. AHHHH! I don't know what to do with myself!