Saturday, January 27, 2007

Getting Robbed

So, I got robbed last night...
Last night I celebrated my 22nd birthday with a few people in my apartment. As the night got late, everyone started to head home.
One of my friends asked if I would walk her to the center to get a taxi. Having walked to the center, I got her a cab, and she left.
Alone, I went to one of the few stores open at 0330. Inside there were 3 young Russian who were all very excited to have met an American. Discovering that it was my birthday, we all had a couple of drinks together.
Soon after, I decided to take a taxi home. I figured, "Well, it is a about -14 degrees (Celsius) today, I might as well take a taxi. The ride will cost less than $2."
Well, on the way home the driver decided to rob me.
My memories of the whole night are few and far between... It is what a blow to the head will do to you.
I distinctly remember refusing to give him my money... And lots of yelling... Then everything got black.
My host lady found me laying in the hallway. I don't remember how I got home, or locking/bolting the door, but I did.
I assume that it was a bit of a primitive instinct to get home, no matter what. Had I been laying unconscious on the street for the night, I would have certainly gotten frostbite.
I have a concussion. And I am pretty bruised all-over. I had a ton of cash stolen, my credit cards, a bank card, and my cell phone.
When I woke-up the next morning, I had slept for about 11 hours (I normally sleep 7-8) and I still felt exhausted... It felt like I had not slept in a week.
I went to the police station, with a friend, to file a report. After two hours at the station, they concluded that nothing could be done (as I don't remember the make of car, the driver's name, etc).
My host told my neighbor what had happened to me. The neighbor is an elderly woman who kept saying, "the Russians are good people... He was just a bad apple."
Initially I agreed with her. On the whole I like Russians. Though I personally like the minorities in Russia more than the majority (in Russia, all but one of my friends, is either Catholic, Jewish, Polish, Uzbekhs, European or African).
Of course, I would still strongly encourage people to study in Russia. Granted, I am the third person (in my group of 12 Americans) to be robbed in less than 4 months, but their are robberies and muggings in DC, too. I remember that someone got robbed at knife-point on GMU's campus just last year.
I will say that the ACTR (the organizer of my study abroad program) has expressed quite a bit of concern for my well-being. This morning my director was trying to force me to the hospital (I won't go). He seems legitimately concerned and took (what sounded like) copious notes as we talked over the phone.
I hope that you avoid such enlightening cultural experiences...
*** This is a rewrite of the article which I wrote yesterday. Yesterdays, like today's, may suffer from some incoherence... But that's what concussions are like!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

My trip, and why I love Ukrainians

I finally got back to Vladimir last night. I had been on the road for just less than a month... I was ready to come "home".
From the time of my last post, I also traveled to Lvov (Lviv) and back to Kiev (Kyiv). It was a really neat trip and I met a lot of very interesting people.
Being an American in the Ukraine is still a pretty cool experience. Most people have never seen an American, and so they are very excited to meet one (i.e. my mother got asked by a group of Ukrainian girls if they could have their picture taken with her).
In my last blog I stated that I would further discuss my overnight train trip from Moscow-Dnipropetrovsk... This story exemplifies the extreme of Ukrainian hospitality.
My overnight train trip from St Petersburg-Moscow was sleepless. The stupid drunk in the bunk next to mine decided he wished to sing through-out the night. (The only justice for his obnoxious behavior was his wining about his headache in the morning).
As I said, I spent all day in Moscow, killing time in the train station. The Ukrainian I met there was delighted to meet an American. She kept giving me things. She wanted to give me her entire lunch. Even when I said that I was full, she said I could take food with me. I am sure that one day she will turn out to be like my hozaika (host lady).
As I sat around all day in Moscow, I realized that I only had 100 roubles ($3.90) left. I reasoned that going to the ATM was silly, as I would soon be in the Ukraine, where I would then need Grivny and not Roubles. Well, I spent all but 48 roubles in the train station. I knew that I had to save 45 roubles for sheets for the Russian train.
Once I got on the train I found that I was in a coupe with 3 other Ukrainians. A (approx.) 40 y.o. mother and her 10 y.o. son and a 25 y.o. Ukrainian construction worker, who works in Moscow.
Well, a short while after we all became acquainted, the conductor came around the train collecting the 50 Roubles for sheets. I had thought that I needed 45 roubles. I was $ .08 short.
I, very sheepishly, asked the kind 25 year old if I could borrow 2 roubles.
He smiled and gave the conductor 50 roubles. I told him that I had 48, but I only needed 2 roubles. He said not to worry about it. He refused (really refused) to take the money I offered him.
I was, of course, very thankful, and so I gave him some souvenir things from DC... Which he took... Though only after I pleaded with him.
I was exhausted, and ready to go to bed (though it was only 4 pm), but my coupe-mates wanted to ask questions... Which they did until 11:30 pm. They were fascinated by all things American. They asked me about ever imaginable aspect of American life (i.e. US policy, schools, cars, cameras, planes, beliefs, culture, jobs, "Why are Americans so fat", and (as always), "So, do you think that American girls or Ukrainian girls are better looking?")
They also asked if I wanted to eat. I really wasn't hungry (as I had been nearly force fed by the Ukrainian in the train station), but they wanted to feast.
From their suitcases came more food than I can describe. There were buterbrodi, cheeses, salamis, hams, grapes, eggs, apples, tangerines, breads, crackers, tea, chocolate, cookies, etc.
It was really remarkable how much food these guys had brought with them. I had nothing to contribute, though they wanted to feed me. They kept asking if I didn't like X or Y, and if that is why I wasn't eating it. Guilt can make one eat more.
In the end, having been well fed, I went to bed. I got awoken an hour later by Russian immigration. My coupe-mates defended me from the questions of the immigration services.
After going back to bed, I was awoken an hour later by Ukrainian immigration services. The agent asked the purpose of my trip. When I said, "tourism", he seemed rather suprised, though very excited that an American was coming as a tourist to eastern Ukraine.
In the morning, when we were all preparing to deboard the train, the 25 y.o. construction worker (his name was Yuri), gave me a wad of roubles. I told him that, despite my lack of 2 roubles on the train, I was not poor. I just needed to change some money. I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, and I then left the train.
Later that night, having arrived in Marganets, Ukraine, I began to undress. When I reached into my coat (which had hung next to Yuri's bunk), I discovered 430 roubles ($16... Or about a day's salary).
Yuri had stuck it into my pocket at some point.
I can only say that I have had many wonderful experiences with the Ukrainians. They are similair to Russians. But Ukrainians have maintained some of the Slavic hospitality and culture that has become somewhat lost in the westernizing, materialistic Russia of today.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Russian Travels

I am sorry that I have not updated my blog in nearly 20 days! I have been on the road and it has been hard to get much computer time.
As I stated in my last blog, I spent December 22-28 in St Petersburg. I stayed with friends in a Franciscan Community there. It was a really neat trip. The guys were all really cool, and very fluent in Russian. While I was in St Pete I visited a bunch of great museums, such as: The Russian Museum, The Ethnographic Museum, Kazanskii Sobor, etc. I also visited with Liya, an elderly woman that I had met during my previous trip to St Petersburg.
Liya is the quintessential Russian hostess. Despite the fact that I was nearly 40 minutes late to meet her (I am still confused by the marshutka system in Petersburg) she waited and greeted me very warmly. She had a tray full of Russian foods. She had prepared buterbrodi, kalbasi, and chocolate. We conversed for a couple of hours before I needed to head back to where I was staying.
When I finally left St Petersburg, two of my friends, Jim (an American) and Fr David (a Polish German), took me to the train station.
I arrived in Moscow at around 0545 and killed all day waiting for a 1140 train to Dnepropetrovsk. I met a girl who was about 17 at the station. I was, apparently, the first American she had ever met. She was so excited to meet me. She gave me buterbrodi, chocolates and a New Years card. She asked (for my permission) to write me in the future.
When I arrived in Dnepropetrovsk the next day (I will do a post later about the trip), I was picked up by my friends uncle. In extreme Slavic hospitality, he had taken off work to drive me the hour-and-a-half to Marganets, Ukraine.
In Marganets I celebrated New Years and hung out for about a week. When I finally left, there was a small farewell party for me with about 10 people. We went to a local disco and didn't get home to late.
To give a comparative on how cheap the Ukraine is: To buy a bottle of vodka, in a disco/bar, is about $5-6.
I met with my mother and sister in Kyiv, Ukraine on January 6. We hung out there with one of my Ukrainian friends until January 8.
My mother, sister and I left for Lviv, Ukraine and have been there since. Lviv is a really beautiful town.
Wherever I have been on my trip I am almost suprised how much use I can get out of my Russian. Whether it is finding a hotel, booking a train ticket, buying dinner or meeting new people. I feel as if I have gained a good amount this past semester in Vladimir, and I hope that there is more to come!
I will post more later! Poka!