Monthly Archives: October 2011

Alone / Одна

This post is not as sad as it may sound by the title, I promise you. I will start with the things that are bothering me and work my way up.

There is so much going on in my life, I don’t know what to do with it all. I feel like everything is changing at once.

Oh, I know. I’m counting my blessings. But the stress is getting to me. There’s so much to be done.

I just feel very alone right now. With Mac leaving for India in the morning, the feeling is only exacerbated. I don’t know too many foreigners here, even if there are quite a few of them here. We Fulbrighters were told to reach out to other foreigners because they understand what we’re going through, being immersed in another culture.

And I worry so much. I worry about being able to do my job well. I worry about spending my budget wisely (Fulbright is generous, but Krasnoyarsk is not a cheap city and my rent isn’t either). I worry about my loved ones at home. I worry about my graduate school applications.

And it doesn’t help that as I’m writing this, I’m really hungry. Ugh.

There are good things coming up. I’m planning a Halloween party for my host family and some of their friends on Sunday and another one on Monday for my students. I’m excited about that. I look forward to recording music sometime soon.

Last night I had a long conversation with Brian, who is Alex’s cousin. I know I’ve mentioned Alex before in previous posts. We were talking about Alex and how much we miss her. We swapped stories and just relieved the burden of losing her so suddenly. It was such a relief. I didn’t realize how much her loss was still bothering me.

As odd as it sounds, it almost makes me feel better that the loneliness I’m feeling now is nothing compared to the loneliness I felt after her passing. Even though that loneliness still remains, it is not as sharp as it once was. The wounds are healing. But they will still leave a scar, no question.

I guess she comes up a lot for me because she always wanted to come to Russia. She really did.

Maybe that was part of the reason I came to Russia. It was not just my dream to go, but hers as well. I swore, after she died, that I would do the things we had always said we’d do, travel the world in particular: Russia, Egypt, Ireland, Iceland, the U.K., and so many other places.

It was in that moment that I made that promise that I truly understood what it means to keep a dream alive.

That helps to keep me going. I have never been one to crack under pressure, but that also means letting out the frustration, anger, and sadness in any way that I can. Here in Russia, it is making an effort to rediscover my past talents.

I spent the better part of the afternoon on Thursday in the English School cafe. I had brought paper and pencils and for hours I drew. I drew a picture of a memory very special to me, one of Mac and me at the Yenisey River. I didn’t even realize that’s what I was drawing until about halfway through, when I began to draw my own face. I haven’t zoned out like that in years. By the time I was done, more than three hours had passed.

Lately I have also been dancing in front of the mirror with my iPod, particularly to K-pop [Korean pop] songs. (SHINee, anyone?) I’m not ashamed to admit this. I had forgotten that, at one time, I was a good dancer. I also lip sync songs at my reflection, since I can’t actually practice singing out loud and bother everyone around me. I can’t wait to start recording music and to be able to sing out loud.

Well, moyi druz’ya, it is late and I need to sleep. Until next time, take care and be well.




The honeymoon is over / Медовый месяц закончился

Well, moyi druz’ya, the medoviy mesyats [honeymoon] stage of culture shock is pretty much over. I’ve hit stage 2. This is the part where everything is incredibly frustrating. It is often characterized as the “hate stage”, but I don’t hate it here at all. Hate is a word that’s overkill. I’m just…frustrated. And annoyed. By absolutely everything.

I just hope it doesn’t get worse than this. I’ve heard it can get very, very bad. Some people never leave stage 2. The idea scares me.

I’ve got good ways to deal with it, though. I’m trying to keep myself busy and taking the time to do things I like. I try not to let my mind dwell on the frustration I feel.

The only thing I can’t shake is how tired I feel. Fatigue is supposed to be a symptom of stage 2. I believe it. I slept most of today, which is not like me.

I am happy to be here in Russia, but culture shock happens to everyone in one way or another. This is normal. The only thing I can do is to take control of it in a positive and healthy way. I believe I can do this. I just have to try. Despite the fatigue I feel.

And I remind myself that I have been through much, much worse in my life. Much worse. I can get through this if I can get through some of the things I’ve been through. For those of you who know me personally, you know the kind of things I’m referring to.

Right now I’m listening to soothing music and writing this out. It’s helping me feel better to reach out to you. I am fine and I will continue to be fine. To my friends and loved ones back in the U.S., know that I am thinking of you. I miss you terribly, but thinking of you helps more than than saddens me. I know that you will be there waiting for me when I return. To my friends in Russia, you are helping me with this without knowing it, just by your kindness.

Last night I was trying to allay my frustrations by expanding and improving the lyrics for one of the songs I will be recording. I think I succeeded. The words are to my satisfaction, even if they do need a little work as the melody gets further developed,  and I’m proud that I wrote them.

Just one little thing I can do to make myself feel better.

I am going to try to get some sleep soon. Take care and be well, moyi druz’ya.



Creating music / Создать музыку

Once again, moyi druz’ya, I must beg your forgiveness. I have not forgotten you. It has simply been quite busy.

While I am trying to figure out ways to reach further into the community outside of my teaching duties, I have been trying to have a little fun on the side: sozdat’ muziku [creating music]!

See, Mac is the singer in two bands. One of the members of Ratio, one of the bands, heard me sing a few weeks ago at the English School Cafe at one of the usual Sunday night gatherings. Max, the band member in question, offered to record a song with me. I joyfully accepted and asked him for some samples of songs Ratio has done. After hearing the songs he helped compose for them, I was REALLY impressed!

Recently Max came out with a melody for me to sing to. It’s hardcore metal, but I’m pretty sure I can pull it off. He wrote amazing lyrics to it, with very few errors. He writes as well as a native English-speaker, if not better. He’s been studying English for a looooooooong time, so it’s not surprising he’s so good. There are rap parts in the song for Mac to do, which we are hoping to be able to record before he leaves for India on Saturday. (I don’t think I mentioned that—he’s leaving for India for a while. He will be returning to Krasnoyarsk…eventually. Probably in a month or so. So in the meanwhile, I’m trying to spend as much time with him as possible.)

The other night I gave Max a set lyrics that I had written a few years ago. I had mentioned that I like to write lyrics and he was interested to see some. (It was Dr. Milton’s fault…he was the one who suggested I start writing lyrics! Dr. Milton, if you’re reading this, know that your suggestion had repercussions long after it was voiced.)

Well, he liked them a lot, so he’s creating ANOTHER song for me to put those lyrics to! He already has the intro ironed out and it sounds fantastic.



I’ve ALWAYS wanted to record original songs. It would be something I helped bring to life, even if the words and music weren’t personally created by me. It is amazing to me to be able to do this.

It seems that Russia has had many interesting surprises and opportunities in store for me—this not the least among them!

Man, am I glad I ended up in Krasnoyarsk as I did! It was the right city for me for so many reasons. It was a fantastic fit.

So this is what I am doing while I wait to be able to do other things in the community. I have put forth a request with Sovmen detskii dom to volunteer with them once a week, but I have yet to hear back. Once Mac leaves, I will probably be called upon to help out in his absence.

Well, I must go to sleep soon. Take care, moyi druz’ya, and be well.



Ordinary Days / Обыкновенныe дни

There isn’t much to report lately. It seems pretty ordinary since I’ve left Moscow. I guess it’s because I’m used to my routine here. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t seen Mac in over a week. I miss him.

I should say, though, that there were snow flurries today! It wasn’t cold enough for the snow to stick to the ground and not melt, but it was neat to see these little white flakes coming down. The weather forecast says that it is supposed to snow on Friday. We’ll have to see…

I’ve been trying to find a new pair of shoes. This is out of necessity, not out of desire–I need to replace not one, but two pairs of shoes, since one pair is four years old and is destroyed on the inside (making them uncomfortable) and the other pair the rubber soles on the heels came off. However…it is IMPOSSIBLE to find my size. I’m a size 43 in Russian sizes, as far as I can figure out, but most stores carry up to size 41 at best. I had to Google magazini obuvi [shoe stores] in Krasnoyarsk that specializes in large shoe sizes. I found one and I hope to go to the store tomorrow.

I hope to see Mac (finally!) tomorrow. We’re also going to try to see each other Friday. He’s really busy, though, preparing for his trip to India. He’ll be gone at least a month (which makes me sad, I will miss him terribly), but it’s good he’ll see his parents again. I don’t know what we’re going to do tomorrow, but I’m just glad I’ll get to see him, even if it’s only for a little while.

So at the moment, I am sitting in my room, writing this entry and listening to music. Right now it’s “Purify” by Lacuna Coil. I’m not sure what else to say.

Actually, that reminds me…I was looking over lyrics I had written four years ago as a senior in high school, although some of them are more recent, including one I wrote for Alex after she died. I never quite finished that one. I remember that I was too overcome with emotion when I was writing it and couldn’t work on it since. Maybe I’ll finish it soon.

I frequently wear the necklace she gave me, though I received it after she died. It says “Inspired” on it. I do indeed feel that I have been inspired by her to live my life, which is one of the reasons I strove to come to Russia. When I think of the word inspiration now, I think of Alex.

I’m supposed to help write and record a song with one of Mac’s bands soon. Maybe I will channel Alex while I’m at it. In this way, she still lives.

My life is far from ordinary now, I realize, but at the moment, I am enjoying the subdue of ordinary days here in Russia.

That’s all for now, moyi druz’ya. Until next time, be well and take care.



Moscow / Москва

I am writing this from my hotel room in Moscow.

Please forgive me once more for not writing for so long. It has been a long few days.

I am here until Sunday night for Fulbright ETA training. I’m really enjoying it…especially seeing the other ETAs again, whom I haven’t seen since PDO in Washington D.C. over the summer.

So let me catch you up!

I took off in the morning this past Thursday, the 13th. The plane ride was about four and a half hours from Krasnoyarsk. I didn’t realize how annoying it would be to navigate the Krasnoyarsk airport…they don’t have many signs showing where you should go for each flight. So you have to make sure you speak Russian and listen carefully to the announcements on the PA…well, it turned out fine. I got on the right plane and got here safely to Moscow.

Of course, it was arriving into the city proper that was a pain. Moscow is NOT friendly to those who do not know the city.

I managed to get on the Aeroexpress train from the airport and then from there to the metro station that I was supposed to arrive at, Paveletskaya.

Naturally, there’s also a vokzal (train station) by the same name. It was actually THAT station that my directions to the hotel were based on.

So with my luggage, I wondered up and down streets, trying to find the hotel. It was rainy and muddy and I was exhausted and just wanted to take a nap. Finally I went back to the metro station to try to figure out where I was going wrong. By a stroke of luck, I ran into a fellow Fulbrighter, who shall remain unnamed by his request. (Not that we did anything bad, he was just embarrassed by the events that happened next…) We went to go meet another Russian ETA, and from there we tried to find the hotel. Of course, even with the three of us, it took TWO HOURS to find the hotel. Like I said, Moscow is not friendly to those who are not familiar with it. On top of the rain and muddy streets, it was freezing.

We finally checked in and got our registration. I went up to my room and took a few minutes to relax. It’s a pretty nice hotel in the center of the city. The room is small but cozy…and I was amused by the fact that it has a bottle opener attached to the wall in the shower. No, for real, it does!

The next day, we went to the U.S. Embassy for security briefings and other important information. The posol’stvo [embassy] is pretty fancy—at least, what I saw of it—and it is enormous. Following that, we went to a restaurant nearby for some Uzbek food. (Although the restaurant was called Marrakesh…I thought Marrakesh was in Morocco?) This was proceeded by a lecture on Russian political conditions at the Carnegie Fund for International Peace. Very interesting lecture and very enlightening.

Today we spent 9:30 to 4:30 in training as English teachers. It was enjoyable, as the speaker was VERY good, very witty. Afterwards, we went to Izmaylovo marketplace, where I bought three fuzzy Russian hats for 600 rubles ($20). Yay negotiating skills! (Chii, Hadid, and Jen…these hats are for you!) A few other ETAs joined us and we went to a Azeri/Armenian restaurant. The food was cheap (for Moscow) and delicious.

Oh yes, on that note, let me emphasize the fact that MOSCOW IS EXPENSIVE. It’s the equivalent of $6 for a bottle of water. In restaurants in Russia, you must pay for water; it is not free like in the U.S.

The Moscow metro somehow gives a good and bad impression. The stations are nicer architecturally, but they are very dirty and frequently smell. I do find it a convenient way to get around, however, once you get to know where you’re going. (It helps if you’re following people who know where they’re going.)

At first, I was not fond of the city. But as I’ve explored more of it, my impressions are slowly starting to deviate from the initial ones.

Well, I will be back in January for more training. Maybe I’ll know whether or not I like the city the second time around. I would like to do some sightseeing.

I must go to sleep, moyi druz’ya, as I am tired and it has been a long day. Till next time, be well and take care.



That’s life / Это жизнь

Please forgive me once more for not writing a few days, moyi druz’ya.

The past few days have taken a vast toll on me in the emotional sense.

You know, I can’t even escape drama from halfway around the friggin’ world! Let’s just say that I have discovered that people are ignoring me because of some of the decisions I have made, most particularly the one to enter a new relationship. But I REFUSE to let that get in the way of my happiness. Period.

And then there are other things. The whole weight issue? Yeah, that came up again.

I was about to head out to the city center when Liza asked me where I was going.

“Mui s drugom vstrechimsya v tsentrye,” I responded. [“I am meeting a friend in the center.”]

Of course, my mistake was using the word “drug” [“male friend”].

“Ooh, paren’?” she giggled jokingly. [“A boyfriend?”]

Da.” [“Yes.”]

She looked at me for a moment with widened eyes. Then she said (in Russian), “How could anyone ever love you?” and smacked my stomach, referring to my weight.

I was absolutely stunned for a minute, absorbing what she said. My mouth hung open. Then I closed it, clenching my teeth to stave off a response I would surely regret, and walked out without saying a word. I’ve never been so furious at a child, but that struck me hard, considering the other stuff I was dealing with. This was the last thing I needed.

When I returned home later that evening, Liza was there, waiting.

Prosti,” she said, smiling. [“Forgive me.”]

I didn’t respond for a moment as I removed my shoes. This just felt like a forced apology. “A pochemu?” [“Why?”]

“Moyi slova,” she said. [“My words.”]

Gritting my teeth, I paused for a moment. “Ne vazhno.” [“It’s not important.”]

But I couldn’t help adding as I walked up the stairs, “Ti prava!” [“You’re right!”] and I disappeared into my room for the rest of the night.

Even now, I am trying not to cry in my anger. I feel so angry at the world right now. I have been given good things, yes. But at the same time, I am angry at some of the things that have happened in my life. I am angry at people’s ignorance. And I am angry at myself for taking it all.

Her words still echo in my head. “How could anyone ever love you?”

My shame knows no bounds at this moment.

Now I am afraid that I am not attractive enough for someone like Mac. Or for anyone, for that matter. I am trying so hard to not let it get to me, but my emotional tolerance is worn very, very thin right now. That seed has been planted and I am trying to destroy it.

People ask me if I’m trying to lose weight. Of course I am. Who the hell isn’t nowadays? But when they ask me this, I feel the agony of my lifelong struggle all over again. To the Russians who have met me, they just think, “Oh, she’s a typical overweight American.” Well, it’s much more than that. They have no idea what my story is.

I guess that’s life. Life isn’t fair.

Take care, moyi druz’ya. I hope you’re having a better day than I am.


Teacher’s Day and a concert / День Учителя и концерт

Prostitye minya, moyi druz’ya. Please forgive me for not writing so long. There is much to tell.

Yesterday (October 5th) was Den’ Uchitelya [Teacher’s Day]. It is a national holiday in Russia where students honor their teachers. I received pozdravleniya [congratulations] from many people, particularly my students.  Mac also invited me to a function at the detskii dom, Sovmen, where the students performed for the teachers. It was so adorable. The kids were fantastic. Then they invited Mac to sing. He performed “One Love” by Blue.

There are no words to describe how blown away I was. He was incredible. He commands the stage and the audience with his voice, his mere presence. I was moved, to say the least.

Then we sat around with some of the kids for tea and snacks. Mac is so good with the kids…they adore him. I can see why. I also spoke with some of the teachers at the dom, and they said they would be happy to have me help out. I look forward to setting it up.

Today was quite good as well. I taught today and enjoyed it immensely, as usual. Then I met with my tutoring charge at the English School cafe (which I now consider my central hangout). It was quite good.

For the piece de resistance, I went to see Mac and his band Chronicles of Avid perform at a nightclub called Club Era tonight. There were other bands there. They were mostly playing heavy metal and screamo…it was hard to tell they were singing Russian, honestly. I enjoy heavy metal and the occasional screamo, so I was having a good time.

Then Mac and his band came on.

And practically burned the place down.

Once again, Mac demonstrated his ability to captivate the audience. He was dynamic and he was clearly having an amazing time. I mean, the whole band is talented, but I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

Yes, I have photos, which shall be posted. I don’t have as many as I would like, because I am an idiot and forgot to charge my camera battery. (Yes, Mom, I know, I’m hopeless!)

The piece de resistance of the piece de resistance nearly knocked me over.

He wrote a song for me and performed it. I literally cried because I was so happy. No one has ever done that for me before. No one. And he sings with such passion, I nearly melted.

I feel a sense of vindication now, in the sense that I have come to believe, since I arrived here in Russia, that I am meant to do some good in the world. If I can touch one person’s heart and change their life for the better, then I will have done my job.

I think maybe I’ve already succeeded, but not in the way I had intended. This is fine with me, however.

Well, I am tired, moyi druz’ya. I am going to go to sleep now. Until next time, take care and be well.

All my love,


Stolby / Столбы

Man, did I have a great day today! Even though I am sore from all that walking…

I went with a few of the first year students from Tanya’s English class to Stolby National Reserve. It’s a national park and reputed to  be one of the most beautiful places in Siberia.

I had no idea what to expect when I first entered the park. First of all, it took TWO HOURS to get to the main park itself from the bus stop. The whole time it goes uphill, so I had to stop a few times to rest because as a Floridian, I am not used to climbing heights. It was slightly embarrassing for me, because it shows just how out of shape I am. Le sigh.

Once we got to the main park, we bought snacks and drinks from a nearby vendor and rested for a bit before continuing. We filled our water bottles at a spring, which had the freshest, cleanest water I’ve ever tasted.

There were so many people today, probably because it’s Sunday. There were people of all age groups and types, from young children to babushki [a general name for older women, it means “grandmother”].  In a minute, it will become clear why this is significant.

I didn’t know what “stolby” meant. From the way it’s spelled, it’s not a Russian adjective like I would have expected, but rather a noun. There is no translation into English, so allow me to explain. A stolb (stolby is the plural) is a rock formation. It is unique in that these are HUGE rock formations that are part of the mountains but at the same time are their own entities. It is difficult to explain well exactly what a stolb is, so only pictures will do. I shall post a few in the photo gallery soon.

When I say they are huge, I mean it. They are HUNDREDS of feet tall. And people climb them. As I did today. (No, Mom, I didn’t actually go rock climbing, please don’t worry; the stolby are rock formations that are gradual enough that you can climb up them.

Moyi druz’ya, let me tell you that today is a day I will never forget.

The scenery is incredible. From the heights that I was standing, my breath was taken away by the beauty. There is nothing like it.

Masha, one of the students who was with us, explained to me that they call such Russian scenery “grusnaya priroda” [“sad nature”]. I asked her why. She said that it is not cheerful nature, so they call it sad.

I responded, “It seems more solemn, peaceful nature than sad.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe it is because of our past.”

It took me until just now to realize what she meant. Siberia was a place for exile. People were isolated out here. Perhaps the natural surroundings reflected their own inner sadness, maybe even despair.


I also learned that there is a Russian subculture belonging to a group called stolbisti [“Stolbyists”]. These are people who go to Stolby very frequently to climb the rocks. I only climbed three of them today in a span of six hours, but these people dedicate their lives to climbing them all. And believe me when I tell you that there are A LOT of stolby. As Masha remarked, “I think it takes a lifetime to know this park.” She’s probably right. It is a BIG park and there’s so much to see.

I am exhausted, so I will go to sleep soon. In the meanwhile, take care and be well, moyi druz’ya.