Saturday, November 25, 2006

Expat Thankgiving

*Note: It looks as if it is nearly impossible to upload more photos from my camera to the internet. Though I sent a CD back to the States so that I could have someone else upload the photos for me. The woman at the Post Office indicated that it will take 20-40 days for my CD to reach American shores. So, as soon as the photos get get to America (and then online), I will make a posting.

This is the first Thanksgiving that I have not been at home. So it was nice to atleast enjoy it with other Americans. Our Residential Director, Tom, invited everyone over to his place. It was a pot-luck like effort. Do to my tremendous lack of cooking ability, I was assigned to bring plastic forks and plates.
We all congregate at Tom's apartment at about 1pm. The turkey was served about an hour later. There were a lot of variations on typical American foods. One interesting point that I had never considered was that turkey is not indigenous to Russia. It took Tom a lot of energy to find a place where he could buy the bird.
In all, the gathering lasted into the evening where we sat around Tom's laptop computer and watched that horrid show South Park.
I hope that you all had a great Thankgiving too!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Russian Cuisine

First, I would like to say that I hope to get more pics up within a couple of weeks... So stay tuned!
A few nights ago I sat down for dinner at around 5:30pm, as usual. For some reason my hozaika (host mother) seemed unusually jubilant. As usual, there was a fresh tomato cut-up and salted (with mayonaise) sitting on one plate. On another plate was the main course. It was "cutlette" and vegetables.
I began eating my dinner. My hozaika kept asking whether it was good. Really, it had the same Russian (unprocessed/natural) taste that most local foods have. I responded (in Russian) that, "Yeah, its great!" Every couple of minutes she would pipe-up with, "So, do you like it?" I became curious to why she had developed such an interest in whether I enjoyed her cooking.
My dear hozaika said, "Here, eat another cutlette! It is 'tistes"!
I smiled and thought, "Thats funny! It sounds like she said 'testes'"
My thoughts were quickly interupted by her clarifying that it was "'yaitsi' (or testicles)" that I was eating for dinner.
My initial thought was, "My God... I must have misunderstood." But there was no misunderstanding.
My second thought was, "I am going to puke all over the kitchen table." That was averted, but not by much.
Hozaika had a tremendous look of satisfaction on her face. I am rather confident that there was no smile to be found on my face.
My dismay was further compounded when I learned that 'tistes' was the 'meat', in the 'meatball soup', that I have been eating for the past two months.
So, what did I learn from this experience? Testicles are best served salted. What else did I learn? Really, they don't taste that bad... As I said, I've been eating it for months. It only tasted bad once I knew what I was eating.
My perception of what is "acceptable" or "unacceptable" to eat has greatly changed since I got here. Just the week before I heard a cat meowing in the kitchen. I thought, "How odd, we don't own a cat..." When I went into the kitchen I found my hozaika holding a hammer over the cat. My first and immediate thought was, simply, "It looks as if we shall have cat for dinner."
Fortunantly (as far as I know), we didn't have cat. The cat was a neighbors'. And the hammer was for some other purpose. Though I cannot say that I would be too suprised if I found out that my hozaika does have a special recipe for kitten.
Hope all is well! Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 17, 2006


These are only a fraction of the photos that I have... Hopefully I will be able to upload more in the future!


After spending several hours in the internet cafe... and arguing with the silly babushki that work in it: I have been able to upload pictures!!! These photos can be found here:
Click "Life in Russia"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

St Petersburg and the Handicapped

All is well in my quaint town of Vladimir. Though it seems as if the ACTR students in St Petersburg are having a bit more of an adventure. Last week four students (two guys and two gals) were in a bar having a good time. A drunk Russian man approached them and bought them drinks (to celebrate the birth of his son). After a while the Russian kept hitting on one of the American girls. This lead to a fight. One American boy broke his nose and the other one hurt his wrist. The bartender then ejected the Russian from the bar. A short while later the Russian returned and shot the bartender. This lead to the Americans fleeing. Nobody seems to know if the bartender died.
This sort of thing happens in the US too, so it is not really a Russian cultural note. Maybe this is just American culture rubbing-off on the Russians...
Speaking of American culture rubbing-off: My host lady told me that she was going to a party on Saturday afternoon. When she returned, she was able to proudly show me the free piece of Tupperware that she was given. It was accompanied by a catalogue. She was nearly shocked when I told her that I was already familiar with the concept of a Tupperware party.
Aside from that, life is coming along. I am continuously surprised by how the Russian adapt to the cold weather. I haven't seen a baby stroller in a couple of weeks. Instead, you see babies bundled in sleds sliding around town, being dragged by their mothers.
This past weekend I was invited to go cross-country skiing with some friends. They said that it is about 40 roubles ($1.85) to rent skis and boots and to go skiing in the forest for a couple of hours. I will probably go next weekend.
A down side of all of the snow is how tremendously slick the roads, sidewalks and steps are. I have taken a spill more than a few times. I cannot imagine how many injuries most occur as a result of the ice every year.
On Sunday, after church, a friend asked if I would be willing to help an elderly lady back to her apartment. She has very little mobility with her feet. So I rode with him as we drove her to her apartment. We then led her inside the entrance of the apartment building. As is typical in Russia, there are no elevators. My friend (who is about my age) went and got a wood chair from her apartment. When he brought it back we sat her on the chair as we carried her the seven flights of stairs to her apartment. This is how she gets too and from church on Sundays.
After all of the laws for the handicapped that we have enacted in the US (ie Americans with Disabilities Act, etc) it is amazing that Russia lacks any accommodations. Additionally, the sidewalks and steps don't seem to be shoveled very often (though the statue of Lenin is cleared of snow after every snowfall).
I am also excitedly working on a theory. I have also noticed that whenever it is cold I see a lot more of two things: Drunk people and black eyes. I am willing to assert that there is a direct corollary between the weather getting cold and so people drink more. The effect of people drinking more is that there are more fights. I haven't begun the literature review for this study, but I will keep you posted.
Hope all is well! Poka!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Russian Medicine II

In my last blog post, I mentioned that all of my colleagues and I got to take a trip to the local Russian infectious disease testing area, for our HIV/AIDs test. Well, it turns out that one of our students (the same one that got picked up by the police last month for resembling a Chechen) got an infection from the test.
I saw him within an hour of my blog post, and he showed me that his finger was very swollen and was an odd reddish/purple color. He brought this to the attention of our Residential Director. It resulted in a trip to the hospital where they took care of his finger.
Last night I had the quintessential Russian night-on-the-town. I went with three Russians and another American to a Russian folk concert/show. It was worth the 60 Roubles ($2.25)! It was a very good show with a ton of people.
We began the evening by having the group over to my apartment. My host lady stated that if there were going to be other men over, this meant that we had to drink. So she cut up some bread, an orange and pickles to go with the vodka. She seems sincerely concerned that my health will decline if I do not drink like a Russian.
After this little drinking session, the concert was really quite enjoyable! After the concert we (as is typical) went walking around the city for more than an hour. The night ended before 2300, but was really a good time.
On a completely different subject, I have gotten a question on how diverse Russia is. Well, there are maybe six-eight blacks in Vladimir (population 366,000). The blacks are primarily from Chad or from the northwest (French speaking) portions of Africa. At least three of them are Catholics, as I see them every Sunday at church.
There are some people that are clearly of Asian decent, though I think that they are primarily from Mongolia.
There are no Arabs or Persians that I have seen. As I said earlier, the one American in our group with even a slight middle eastern appearance, was arrested as a suspected Chechen (though he is Jewish).
How racist are the Russians? Very. They are a very homogeneous society and they don't seem to excited about change. I don't think that a day passes that I don't see swastikas spray-painted/drawn on the sides of buildings. Though other neo-nazi logos and slogans are also frequently seen around town.
To be fair, I think that most of the Russians don't per se hate minorities, they simply don't particularly like them. Their hostility towards a minority is more likely to be passive than active.
There doesn't seem to be too much religious intolerance. There are many Orthodox churches in our town, and at least two protestant meeting places (one fundamentalist and one mainline). I have been given literature by the Jehovah's Witnesses before. And I think that there may be a Mormon presence. As the ACTR said at our orientation in DC, Russians (as a people) don't usually come-out-against Jews, because such a large segment of the population is at least part Jewish.
As an illustration of the ecumenical Russian Orthodox Church, we took a tour of one in Yaroslavl. It was beautifully painted (as they always are). And on the wall was a scene of the Judgement Day. And there was Jesus in the center. And to his right were all of the good Russians ascending to heaven. And to his left, were all of the Arabs, Catholics and Germans making a rapid descent into the flames of hell.
Either way, I have not encountered any overt racism in Vladimir (other than the graffiti).
I will write more later! Poka!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Russian Medicine

Life in Vladimir is keeping its regular hum-drum pace. There is already a solid layer of compressed snow/ice on the streets that, I have been told, will not melt until spring. This morning I awoke to another two-three inches of snow. The temperatures are maintaining a relatively warm 28-34 degrees F.
Last week my classmates and I got to have another "cultural experience" with the Russian federal government. In order to renew our visas for next semester, we all got to take a trip to the local contagious disease clinic. At this location, we all got HIV/AIDs tests. To enter the Russian Federation, I had the same test three months ago. But these tests are not considered valid for more than several months. This is because they are from an American institution.
The testing facility looked as if it was atleast forty years old... As did the needles and the sanitary devices. The nurse who took my blood sample did not bother to change her latex gloves between patients. Fortunantly, I was number two in the line to get my blood drawn.
Even better, was that the place where we got to wait to have our blood taken, was full of posters describing the symptoms of hepatitis, AIDs, TB, etc. And conveniently, there were hordes of very sick looking people coughing and sitting-around all over the room. The fact that they have folks waiting for TB tests sitting (and coughing) with everyone else, seemed just so Russian.
In the two weeks my school has been without power and water only two times. One day there was no power, so all of the regulars students got to go home early. Yesterday there was no water, which just meant that there was no bathrooms. Power is not that vital. We have a lot of windows in our rooms. Though no-power also means no lunch in the cafeteria. This translates into the Residential Director ordering pizza for lunch.
That is another interesting topic. I don't think that I had ever had pizza where the tomato sauce is substituted by ketchup. And the cheese is applied sparingly so that the mayonaise can be the primary topping.
All-and-all I am having a great time. This past weekend I traveled to Moscow. It is a significantly different pace than Vladimir. My host mother said that she had a student before who transfered mid-year from the Vladimir program to Moscow. The girl ended up regretting it.
I will write more later. Poka!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I am Back!

These last couple of weeks have been tremendously busy.
First, our group took a week long trip to St Petersburg. St Pete, is probably the most beautiful city that I have seen in Europe. The buildings are all magnificent, the people are cultured and the sites are great! I would have trouble blaming any student for chosing St Petersburg over Vladimir.
My group took the overnight train to Vladimir. We arrived at the train station at about 1000. A tour guide met us at the station and we toured the city. St Petersburg is so pretty with all of the trees in bloom.
We also went to see the famous Hermitage gallery/museum. It is the home of many Rembrandts, Da Vinchis, etc. It was almost surreal to finally see the museum that I have been reading about for the last five years.
The next day the group all went to see a ballet. As far as ballet goes, it was great! All of the student to dressed up and had a great time.
On Tuesday I met with a friend of Dr Levine. She is 82, and is a survivor of the blockade of Leningrad and was a tremendously gracious and kind hostess. We spent the first hour looking at pictures of Dr Levine from over the past third of a century. Then we discussed how Russia has changed in her lifetime. She has remarkable stories to tell. Meeting her was actually probably the highlight of my trip to St Pete.
I was also able to tour the Political History Museum of Russia! It was the best museum that I have seen yet in Russia! It had artifacts from Stalin, Kosygin, Lenin, the tsars, Putin, etc. it was really a neat place. I am sure that I will be back to visit it again.
I also had the opportunity to walk the grounds of the Summer Garden. It is a beautiful garden, with dozens of sculptures. It is situated along the Neva river.
Best of all, it was warmer in St Petersburg than in Vladimir.
Here in Vladimir we have already had snow twice. Only the second time was it heavy.
Yesterday I had my "konsultat" (consultation) with my teachers here. Already, the semester is half over. They discussed where they felt I needed to better concentrate my efforts, and equally, where I had shown the most improvement. They then gave me two hand written pages of suggestions.
This weekend I may be going to Moscow with a friend. But I will post another blog when I am infront of a computer again!
Tomorrow is my test on prefixed verbs of motion... So off I am to study!