March 2, 2010 at 5:16 pm (Uncategorized)

My first impression of Russia was that it has a lot of snow. It is very cold, but I’m not usually that cold (surprise!) because I have a totally awesome jacket and totally awesome boots. I love it.

When I first got off the bus in Vladimir, all of the host mothers were there to greet us, except for my host mother, who was wondering off in the distance, and had to be called over. We said hello, and then she physically shoved me into the car of a strange man who drove off like a bat out of hell. Welcome to Russia.

My host family is very welcoming, and very strange. My host mother, Iya, is in her sixties or seventies, and her husband, Vladimir, is the same. They have a daughter who lives in the same apartment complex with her own daughter, Tanya, who is eleven. I think Olya, the daughter, is about thirty, and I don’t know what her home situation is. Tanya sleeps in our apartment fairly often and I only sometimes see her with her mother. Sometimes when Olya comes into the apartment, she is screaming and then there is “hush hush” drama for about half an hour. Sometimes late at night I see a strange man in the apartment, and maybe he is the husband, but I don’t know because I never see him with Olya or Tanya, and I only see him in the middle of the night. But I know that my host family knows he is there because I have seen Iya talking to him once in the dead of the night. I can’t tell if he is the same strange man who drove like a maniac on my first day. I often wake up in the middle of the night because the phone is ringing, the doorbell is ringing, people are coming over, and they are sneaking around whispering…at three in the morning. I cannot imagine what they’re doing. But, it is Russia so it could be totally legit. Not to mention Vladimir sleeps in the living room, instead of the extra bed in Iya’s room, and drinks vodka all night. But I really like my host family. Plus I have a fun mystery to solve throughout the semester at home. Everyone in the family likes me a lot too, despite the fact that I don’t like lemons in my tea, and don’t eat tomatoes like apples. It is also hard for them to adjust to an American girl because they have been used to hosting American men, who are food vacuums.

So far the hardest thing for me to adjust to is breakfast. It is really weird because the apartment I live in is very small, and the building is incredibly run down (I live in center city). The showers are different because I don’t have a shower curtain and the shower-head isn’t attached to the wall. I take the stairs to the seventh floor everyday because the elevator seldom works, which is no surprise considering it looks as though it is about to swallow people into the depths of hell. You’d think I would have a hard time adjusting to these things, but oh no all that is fine. Breakfast is so unfortunate. I come into the kitchen at 7:30 am to find hunks of meat drowned in sour cream, which I would like for dinner, but not first thing in the morning. It makes me sick just looking at it. I also once got meat with chocolate for breakfast. It is quite the experience. My friend Jeff and I are having a contest to see who gets the weirdest food over the course of the semester. So far he is winning with New York Style popcorn YOGURT. My runner up is kasha (which is porridge) with a raw egg cracked on top. The food is bizarre. They have a pancake type thing called Bleenie, which is normally sweet, but not always. I once bit into bleenie thinking it would be sweet, only to have the taste of fish explode in my mouth because it had caviar in it. But not all of the food is bad. When bleenie IS sweet it is amazing, and lots of the potato and meat dishes are good. The bad food is just incredibly memorable.

I like the people in my group. Courtney is from Massachusetts, Drew is from Wisconsin, Jeff is from Maryland, Erin is from Vermont, Emily is from North Carolina, Suzanne is from Virginia, Sarah is from Iowa, Joely is from Ohio, and Kelly is our resident director from Arizona. All of us are pretty dedicated to learning Russian, which is apparently very different from last semester’s group (according to Sarah, Suzanne, and Joely who are the year students) who were more interested in drinking.

Classes are really hard, but it is a good thing because it forces me to work harder so that the Russian teachers don’t yell at me for getting things wrong, which, of course, my grammar teacher does anyway because she is under the impression that I don’t know anything. But otherwise the teachers are all these little old Russian ladies who love us to death. They’re great. I bought the third Harry Potter in Russian, so I am struggling through that. It is sometimes hilarious because of the way things are spelled. For example, Voldemort is spelled like “Volden-de-morten” which is delightful. The word they use for “muggle” also looks like a real Russian word, so I tried to look it up in my dictionary before realizing that it was “muggle.” No wonder it wasn’t in the dictionary. I also bought the animated movie Anastasia in Russian, which I really love because I understand a lot of it. I am working my way up from animated movies to something harder by the time I leave.

Speaking of which, Russian TV is hilarious. It is definitely the best part of Russia right now. There’s this one show about god knows what, and it is SO RANDOM. The first time I watched it, there was this soap-opera-y hospital scene where a nurse confesses her love for a patient, but she doesn’t know he is awake. It also turns out he is married (I think??) and his wife (I think??) got really angry and started hitting some doctor. Then the show cuts to a scene in the woods where there is a man photographing the trees when all of a sudden a Native American woman rides by on a horse. And he starts taking pictures of her. I kid you not. Then it goes BACK to the hospital and all hell is breaking loose, but then it turns into a scene with a log cabin in the forest where the Native American woman, in full Indian garb, lives with a white woman who wears like, turtlenecks. It is so weird. The show always switches between these two completely random plots, and I can’t understand what they’re saying. I kind of hope I never get good enough at Russian to understand them in case the plots DO make sense and it ruins all the fun. But I cannot imagine how on earth it could possibly make sense even if I understood everything.

However, my favorite show is this cop show that’s a rip off of CSI or something. This cop team tosses evidence procedures out the window because they go into crime scenes sometimes and kick everything around, picking things up with their bare hands, while saying things like “What could this be??” No wonder crimes never get solved in Russia. Anyway the cop team has this German Shepard, who is so cute, and he’s awesome because the show cuts to close ups of him at really random times. There was one time where the scene was taking place inside a building and the people would look down at the dog, so the camera would cut to a close up of the dog, except the close up was of the dog in the WOODS. Ummmm…hello? Editing? They can’t possibly be looking at the dog if they’re in a building and the dog is in the woods. It happened multiple times.

There was also once when I was flipping channels and came across a horse stuck in a big hole in the snow. I was so sad because I was like, oh no they’re going to go get a shotgun and finish the poor thing because it’s Russia, and let’s be real, they’re going to think the best way to help the horse is to kill it. But no. Instead they got a crane and pulled the horse out of the hole. Then they started beating it with branches. Then they put a blanket on it. I was SO confused. Why would they beat the horse??? Maybe it’s a Russian way of getting warm.

We play basketball with Russians from our school on Thursdays.  And by basketball, I mean really intense basketball with a referee, rules, and everything.  Although, hockey checking is apparently ok and long as the person getting slammed doesn’t get knocked to the ground.  It was by far the dirtiest game of any sport I have ever witnessed or been a part of.  We played Russian boys and two girls who are 15/16 and who can actually play basketball well.  On the other hand, none of the Americans here play any basketball, so we had to make up for our lack of skill with violence.  It also didn’t help that it was 8 Russians against 6 Americans.  One girl on our team almost got a concussion, and everyone has multiple bruises.  I had a red bruise on my chin and an invisible black eye.  I could feel the bruise on my eye, and it hurt like hell, but thankfully you could not actually see anything other than a tiny bit of swelling.  But I really enjoyed playing basketball with these other kids because it was a lot of fun.  So far we have only done it once, but we are looking forward to more in the months to come.


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