Tuesday, February 26, 2008

February 23rd

February 23rd was a holiday. I can't remember the name in Russian but it's celebrating men. Here's how we celebrated at school.

we didn't have school on Saturday (the actual holiday) so we celebrated friday during last period. We moved desks to the front of the classroom and had our eight boys come in and sit. Then we had a series of games.

In the first, the boys had to sew a button on a piece of cloth. The best part was watching them thread the needle. In the second, the boys took turns peeling and chopping an onion. The object was to see who could do it the fastest. The last game, was the one all the girls were looking forward to as it involved the boys being blindfolded and feeding each other yogurt. Yeah, it was pretty funny.

After the contests, we ate cake and drank pop, and gave the boys their gifts (They each got a flash drive. Or as we say here in the motherland flashka) and cards. Then we cleaned up and went home.

Saturday being a holiday, we didn't have school and I basically didn't do anything all day, although i did get a call from Raisa and went and got basically all of my stuff which made me really happy. I also learned a new word. Посылка. It's the word for "package". Yeah, that's right. the package my parents sent me in December decided to finally show up. Hooray for pop-tarts, peanut butter, and good snickers bars!

Saturday night I tagged along with Elena Ivanovna and her class to the movie theater. The movie theaters here every weekend (Basically) show something called a "non-stop." you basically pay one price and then go watch three or four movies all night long at the theater. It's actually a really good deal. Payed two hundred roubles and saw four films. Two of the films were pretty good. The eye, and P.S. I love you. The others weren't so good. They were Meet the Spartans and Jumper. Actually the best part about watching Meet the Spartans was me sitting there being the only one laughing at the way certain american figures were being made fun of. Somethings you just can't translate.

The last couple of days have been pretty usual. Nothing too horribly exciting happening. I just keep plucking along. I do understand though now, why so many exchangers stop updating their blogs after a while. Because things that were strange and new become ordinary and it's hard sometimes to find things to write about. But have no fear faithful readers, I'm not planning on stopping this blog anytime soon. I like writing too much, and sharing what I'm learning with you all.

I should probably go now, as I'm skipping my second physics lesson in order to type up a scholarship essay. So, until next time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What is Russia?

So I've been thinking about it for a while. What is exchange and Russia and Yakutsk in particular? Because I know that back when I was getting ready to go on exchange I thought exchange was going to be completely different than when I actually got here and started living. For those of you who don't know, exchange is not a ten month long vacation. Exchange is not about the trips, and the excursions, and the festivals. Russia is not about New Year, the trip to the west, or trips around the city. Yakutsk is not about Ysakh. Though these things do all come together as part of the exchange experience. So for those of you who'd like to know here's what exchange, Russia, and Yakutsk are.

It's eating ice cream in weather cold enough that the ice cream doesn't melt while you're eating it. It's flagging down your bus and pushing your way on. It's pushing your way off the bus at your stop. It's sitting through lectures you don't understand. It's getting up in the pictch dark to go to a school you're not getting grades in. It's watching the light come back day by day. It's feeling a part of your class while at the same time feeling alienated. It's reading a book in a language that's not your first. It's watching the kids bundled up from head to foot sliding and playing on ice.

It's wearing black and white to school everyday, eating fresh hot pierozhka, ducking under the drying laundry hanging across the apartment to get to the bathroom. It's crazy dogs, and walking to the bus stop after school with friends. It's singing childrens songs in English because you can and no one understands, it's cafe hopping, and bad english. It's walking down the street on sunny days and not so sunny days. It's laughing as your classmates cheat and think they do so subtly. It's juice and conversation with your host mom while she makes dinner. It's watching "nash geroi" Gena Bukin week-nights at 8. It's five flights of stairs and figuring out how keys work. It's sweet popcorn and assigned seats at the movies. It's walking in the cold, and rejoicing in unusually warm weather. It's sitting in front of a blank canvas six hours a week and a peppy blonde laughing everytime you open your mouth. It's still thinking of home fondly even after five months.

And I could go on from there, but I think you maybe understand now, what exchange is really like.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Welcome To Russia and A Funny Phone Call

The welcome to Russia part of this entry is because once again I have had the pleasant experience of running into Russian Beauraucracy. Again. It's an epidemic here. Here's what happened. I had to pay for my art class as I hadn't paid for a couple of months and was therefore behind. I hadn't paid before, I'd given Raisa the money and she'd taken care of it. But it was no problem. I pulled out the money I needed and headed to the main office of the art institue. I figured I'd tell them that i needed to pay, give them the money and bam, it's all good and I'd be all paid up. There was just one problem. I forgot I'm now living in Russia. It would've been that simple if I'd been in America but I'm not, I'm here. The result it that i went in, said I need to pay, and the scary lady is like "Oh no, you don't pay here." I'm sorry...WHAT? "That's right, you have to go pay at a bank."

So I'm there, freaking out because I have no idea how to pay for this thing and I want to pay so the lady will stop telling me that I need to pay, and so on and so forth, and i was worried that i was going to have to get a hold of Raisa and figure out what i was doing. Thankfully there was a woman there who said she'd help me out, and sometimes, you just have to rely on good samaritans. She helped me fill out the form I needed, and then we headed to the bank.

two and a half hours and three banks later, we got my self paid and my little receipt stub to give to the scary lady today. you've gotta love Russia.

Probably the most interesting thing that happened this week (other than the amazingly warm weather we've been having) was that my parents called me. This in itself wouldn't normally be an event I would mention on here but it was what occured during said conversation that was interesting. First of all, came the answering of the phone. My parents are lucky because i almost didn't answer. but I did "Allo?" I asked in the traditional way we Russians answer the phone. A voice on the other end answered in broken russian "zdrastvii, abigail doma?" I knew at once it was my father and I was so excited that I automatically answered "Eto ya!" which means "it's me" as soon as the words left my mouth I thought "oops, they don't understand russian." So then I switched to english. except throughout the entire conversation I would have moments where I forgot english. I never thought messing up my native language would feel so good. At one point, Elena Ivanovna came home, and I paused in my conversation with mom to tell her that her tableclothes were back (long story) my mom remarked that my russian sounded more russian and that I was just blurting it out. heh. that made me feel good about myself.

It's true though. My Russian has gotten better the last month or so. It feels more natural now. I don't know if it's just being immersed for so long, or what. I think a part of it is the whole changing families thing. while I'm still not one to talk your ear off in Russian, I do talk more than I did at Raisa's. At least it feels like I do. I'm not saying I'm a native speaker, or nearly fluent, but I'm certainly more fluent than I was. And it feels pretty good.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Жизнь Прекрасно!

Oh man, This past week has been absolutely awesome! It started with Olonho on Wednesday. Olonho, for the majority of you who don't know are epic yakutian stories. Or rather it's the all-emcompassing name given to the stories. From what I can tell, it's not just the stories, but the art form in which they are told as well. Anyway, on wednesday evening we had an invitation to go to the cultural center and watch a dance that told part of a story from the middle world section of the stories. see, in Yakutian legend there are three worlds. upper, lower and middle. we live in the middle. Anyway, I had no idea what we were going to see and was afraid that i wasn't going to be able to understand it. Fortunately, it was a dance with minimal speaking. Let me say it was pretty awesome too. The story was about this hunchback who through a little bit of magic becomes a great warrior and saves a beautiful maiden. unfortunately, we only saw part one which ended just before said warrior was going to go save the beautiful maiden from the evil demon. I want to go back and see the second part.

I really enjoyed the performance and typical of me, i got caught up in the story and didn't take any pictures. will try to remember if/when we go back. The dancing was awesome. it was like a combination of ballet and traditional yakutian dance. i learned that there's a difference between the way you dance a horse and the way you dance a reindeer. very cool.

Another good thing that happened this week was on Friday night we had a night of Poetry reading at school. This was pretty cool, and Olga Yurievna who's like one of the kind of in charge people at school had asked me to come and read something in english. I didn't read. I recited. The poem I chose was my typical performance poem. Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. I chose this piece because I have it memorized, and even though it has nonsense words, it's still a coherent story, one that's discriptive enough that i can act out.

So when my turn came, I threw myself into it. And the kids enjoyed it. I had a few people afterwards come up and tell me i did a really good job, and that they could follow the story well. Good, that was my point. What I admired were my classmates who got up and read poems they'd written themselves. That takes a lot of guts.

Continuing on in my week, the next good thing happened on Saturday. Saturday i skipped school completely. Instead, i went and visited Elena Ivanovna's class. Elena Ivanovna is a teacher and a lot of times teachers are kind of in charge of a group of students. I had met some of her students before but this was the first time I met them all together. It was an interesting experience as her class is mostly made up of boys. I gave my presentation about America, my first time giving it in russian. they class asked lots of questions and there was some general bantering and what not which was really fun. I enjoyed myself. Afterwards, I went to my khomus lesson, which was just awesome because i love playing the khomus.

Finally, the coolest thing ever happened on sunday. I took the phone call that I'd been dreading for over a week. The call that Raisa was home. Blin! I don't want to go back there! But fortunately She had some news that was good for me though not for her. First of all, she told me that our Orientation in Vladivostock is going to be on the 22-23 of March and that our trip to Moscow and Piter is going to be right after. That was pretty exciting. Then she told me that we should talk to elena Ivanovna about me staying with her. and I thought Oh yeah! unfortunately, Elena Ivanovna wasn't home when raisa called, so I had to wait. when Elena Ivanovna did get home I told her raisa called. She called back, and talked for a couple of minutes. When they got off the phone, Elena Ivanovna looked at me and goes 'so you're going to stay here?" and I asked "Can I?" And she said "Do you want to?"
'oh yes! very much so!" and she was like "Okay and gave me a big hug. SO i get to stay!

And that's basically my awesome week!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Sick and Almost half-way

So I got sick this last week, nothing major, just a cold. I'm doing better now. I didn't go to school on Friday or Saturday and I didn't go to church on Sunday. Like I said, I wasn't that sick, but they take even light sickness here very seriously. You know, it's nice to be able to stay home from school for two days and not have it matter. I was also given permission to show up late/go home early the next couple of days if I want. i'm thinking about taking advantage of that too. especially since I didn't sleep real well last night.

Anyway, in other news. Just general information but for those of you who contact me through facebook, sorry but I won't be able to get on there until furthur notice as the school computers have decided to block the site.

Okay and now on to the real stuff. For those of you who don't know I completed my fifth month here on february first. February 10th is my official halfway point. i.e. Half-way through my exchange. wow. back in september I never thought I would make it and here I am already.

Since my fifth month is here, I decided to set some goals for myself while starting this sixth(!) month. Goals for the rest of my exchange. 10 goals and they are as follows:

1. Read More in Russian

2. Speak More (To random people)

3. Be More Outgoing

4. Not Care What People Think of Me

5. Visit/Explore More Places in the City

6. Not Think About Home So Much

7. Enjoy the Freedom I Have Here.

8. Not Worry About the Future

9. Write More in Russian

10. Work Harder on Better Grammar

I'm becoming Russian. Okay so I'm like not a citizen of Russia or anything, but you spend so much time around a group of people and their attitudes, the way the talk and act start to rub off on you. This is most evident in the conversations I have with myself.

Yes. I talk to myself and I'm not bothered to admit it. It's just what I do. The other day I went to the store to pick up some things because I knew that Elena Ivanovna wouldn't be letting me out of the house for three days. In Russia, when you go to the grocery store, they don't automatically bag your stuff for you. You either bring your own bag or you ask for one, and pay for it. After I came back from the store I was having a glass of juice and thinking about the fact that here you have to buy the bags and wondering if it was going to freak me out when I got back to America that they automatically bag your stuff and then the two sides of my brain had the following conversation;

Side 1: Why do the bag our stuff for us in America anyway?
Side 2: So we can carry it home. Duh!
Side 1: Why don't we just use our own bag?
Side 2: ...

Later, I was thinking about this conversation and all of a sudden it hit me. The attitude I have about the shopping bags is Russian. And it just makes more sense to me to use my own bag in a store. Just like it makes perfect sense to have a Garderob where you hang your coat in a lot of places you go and just like the little cubbies you put your stuff in while you shop make perfect sense. Why don't we have this stuff in America?