Thursday, May 31, 2012

God's Little Reminders

For those who don't know, my parents came to visit me last week. 

It was an interesting experience.

It was really fun to get to take a bit of a break and see things I've gotten used to through new eyes. It was also really nice to pretend that I wasn't in Russia and be a tourist for a while. I mean, obviously I'm still in Russia, but while they were here, I could kind of let go of the constant underlying stress that goes along with living here. 

I even got to stay at the hotel for a few nights, sleeping on the most comfortable rollaway bed I've ever experienced.(And trust me, I've experienced quite a few rollaway beds in my time.) But unfortunately, like all good things, it came to an end. 

Then I had culture shock. 

I know, right? It's really strange to think about. When my parents came it was strange because they were doing things that would've been fine in American culture, but were out of context in Russia. When they left it was like a slap in the face. *SMACK!* HEY! YOU LIVE IN RUSSIA DUMMY!

The hardest thing was going back to my room. Because now matter how you look at it, I'm living in someone else's house. What's even more difficult is that my landlady has had one of her daughters and two grandchildren staying there for the past week or so. This kind of changes the atmosphere of the apartment and strange people always cause me stress. 

So I'm at this point where I'm like "How am I going to be able to go back to living here for the next four months?" I don't *want* to live here for the next four months. I was really cranky about it the last two days too. *Grumblegrumble*yeahit'sherapartmentbutIwanteveryonetojustgoawayandleavemealone.

Yesterday I'm hanging up laundry in the hall and the little boy is playing with the silverware and his mom is alternately cooking dinner and screaming at him. You think I'm exaggerating. It's like the woman has two volumes. Screaming and super quiet. I mean, I can understand her being frustrated with the kid, but first he's just little and second your screaming is really unnecessary. 

I had an appointment this morning and when I came back my landlady and the guests were up. The little grandson stared at me as I came in and took off my jacket. My landlady reassured him and was like "Say hello to Auntie", but it was clear he was rather terrified of me. In Russia, any unknown man or woman are automatically called "Aunt" or "Uncle" by children. Older men and women are "Grandmother" and "Grandfather." I really enjoy getting to be an aunt of sorts.

In preparation to go to English group I pulled down half my laundry and put it away and was coming back for the second half when the little boy kicked a ball at me. I spent the next few minutes kicking it around with him while he just giggled and giggled. Apparently he got over his terror. (I'm also beginning to think God gave me a weird spiritual gift for children which is funny 'cause I'm not a huge kid person) So there we are playing a bit until his toddler attention span kicks off and away he goes. 

I finished getting ready and I leave my room to get my jacket and shoes on. While I'm standing there my new little friend shows up again, babbling incomprehensibly. The next thing I know, he pulls his jacket off the shelf and holds it up for me to help him into it. Little guy wanted to go with him. I explained that he needed to stay home and he disappeared into my landlady's room. I finished getting my stuff and just as I was closing the door behind me I hear a little voice go "AUNTIE!"

Today was a reminder. Even though I've been frustrated with the people in the apartment and living there, as I was pulling my laundry off the line there was something very comforting about my landlady's daughter greeting me as she came out of the bathroom, the sound of cartoons from the TV and people just getting ready for the day. There was joy in just taking a few minutes to play ball with a little boy. I don't know the details of his family or home, know he's probably too young to even remember me when I leave, but I do know that maybe, in a tiny way today I made an impression on his life. A young woman who took a moment to play with him. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Victory Day

I can't exactly explain why, but Victory Day (День Победы) is my favorite Russian holiday. Perhaps it's the events or the atmosphere that hangs over the city and the people. I don't know, but I know it's a thrilling experience.

Victory Day takes place every year on May 9th and is a celebration of the end of WWII. Perhaps I like the holiday because people seem to really appreciate it. Not that we don't appreciate and honor our veterans in the States, but Russia lost so many people during World War II and I feel like people here still really strongly think about and remember it.

In any case, I was blessed to get to experience the parade honoring veterans that ran along Nevsky Prospekt with Luka, Natasha and Ira. Below is a four minute video of clips I took that day.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Youth Exchange Club

Because of various connections, I've gotten the chance to interact and share my knowledge with several students who are planning trips to Russia. It's something I very much enjoy. It's kind of funny though because I was thinking about how, as a Rotary Youth Exchange student it's like you're part of this exclusive club.

Like being a Freemason or something.

I mean we have our secret greetings we use:
Person 1: "Yeah, I was a Rotary exchange student."
Person 2: "Really!? Me too! 6650 to 5010, Russia 07-08"

The District you came from, the district you went to, the country and years.

We even have our own little signs and symbols in the form of the pins we collect for our jackets.

I guess I never fully appreciated what Rotary has created with their exchange program. The goal is to make people more aware of the global community. This is accomplished when you spend ten months living with a new family, in a new country with a new language. Yet it's so much more than that.

I will never forget a trip I took to the chiropractor last summer. After getting my adjustment I found myself in a massage chair next to a woman slightly younger than my mother. Before us was a TV showing scenes from France. The woman and I struck up a conversation about travel and I mentioned that I was getting ready to move to Russia. She thought that was interesting and then mentioned she had been an exchange student with Rotary to Brazil in the 70s. Just like that we had a connection.

So how do I express it in words? It's about culture. Of course it is, but in creating this program Rotary has, in fact, created a global community. A global community of shared experiences. I can travel anywhere, do anything, meet people and as soon as the words "I was an exchange student with Rotary" cross their lips, no matter the language, an understanding passes between you. An understanding that says "I've been there too, I understand." An understanding that transcends not only cultures, but transcends generations, economic situation, profession, religion, race or family background. An understanding born of shared experiences.

And only now, four years after my exchange, have I fully come to appreciate and realize this. I am proud and honored to be a part of it. Thank you, Rotary!