Wonderful Adventures, Part 1 of 4 / Замечательные приключения, Часть 1 из 4

Hello everyone! I have so much to catch you up on, I’m doing this in four parts over the next couple of days.

Part 1 is about my trip to Moscow from January 18 – 22. This will be relatively brief, because most of it was Fulbright ETA training, but I’ll tell you about that and some of the other stuff I did.

The training mostly consisted of people presenting on aspects of their lives in Russia, teaching, or their research project if they were a full grant recipient. There were some really interesting projects, such as the research being done on rural development and the use of public green space in Moscow. There was also a presentation on the recent elections and the upcoming presidential elections (the political scientist in me rejoiced). That was one of the most interesting ones for me. The presenter was a Fulbright scholar and a professor of political science and she investigated the electoral patterns by the voters and voting patterns of members of the Duma by political party.

The last day was concentrated on ETA training, which gave some really helpful tips now that we know what we’re dealing with. We learned about some games that we could play even with university students, such as the Coffee Pot game. (One person chooses a verb and doesn’t tell the rest of the group. The others then have to guess what the verb is by asking yes or no questions replacing the unknown verb with the phrase coffee pot: “Are you coffee potting right now?” “How often do you coffee pot?” etc.)

Outside of presentations and training, we did do some sightseeing. I managed to meet a friend I have been communicating with online for four or five years but had never met in person. She’s a university student there in Moscow. We went out for dinner with some of the other ETAs and saw Red Square (including the Kremlin and St. Basil’s).

We went to two huge bookstores. I was looking for Pride and Prejudice (my favorite novel) in Russian. I bought that and several other books in Russian. Bookstores in Russia (well, in Moscow at least) are not like other bookstores. They’re HUGE, first of all, consisting of several stories and they often have more than just books. Many sold souvenirs and school supplies and even food. None of it was very cheap. (Welcome to Moscow, one of the most expensive cities in the world!)

I was quite happy to see my fellow ETAs again. I was glad I got to spend more time with some of them. We had a great time, I think.

While I was in Moscow, I was told that the day I left, Krasnoyarsk temperatures hit -40 (F). It was warmer when I returned. But since then, temperatures have been generally hovering between -30 and -35 (F). That will be covered more in Part 4, when I talk about my day yesterday.

I must go, but please be well and take care, moyi druz’ya!

Love,

Danya

Me in front of the iconic St. Basil's

 

Divnogorsk / Дивногорск

Happy Old New Year! Today is the New Year by the old Gregorian calendar. The Russians still celebrate it!

Today I went with Katya and a few of our other friends to a small town called Divnogorsk (“the town of wonderful mountains”). Indeed, it is a beautiful little city situated in a valley, surrounded by breathtaking mountainous scenery.

The reason we were going was for a Christmas concert, with traditional songs sung by various children’s choirs. It was a delightful concert. Songs were sung in old Russian, Czech, Latvian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, and modern Russian. The children were dressed in traditional Russian clothing, very beautifully decorated. They passed a basket around for us to put in coins and sweets to give to the children. I put in a few American coins, thinking they might enjoy that. After the concert, the children put on several plays, which were cute and funny.

The plays were followed by dancing. I learned some traditional Russian dances and songs. It was so much fun. Often the dances require that you change partners. They’re also done in circles, with men on the inside and girls on the outside. The reason for this is so that the parents of the boys could survey the girls easier and choose a bride for their sons.

Later, we had our fortunes told by a babushka. She took pieces of jewelry and put them all in a bowl of water. She covered it with a cloth, intoned something in old Russian, pulled out a piece of jewelry, and made a prediction. Apparently I’m going to come into money this year—hallelujah! Another woman was carrying a tray with figures made of dough. We picked one without looking and she told us what they meant. Apparently, I’m going to be making a lot of new friends this year.

Soon we left the concert hall and went outside. Right outside there were amazing ice sculptures. There was also a part of the hill that was pure ice and people were sliding down it. I received a large piece of cardboard and was instructed to slide down. And so I did, squee-ing the whole time! I felt like a little kid.

It was a long day, but a wonderful one. I learned a lot and saw some more of the traditional side of Russian culture.

I must go, but I wish you all vsyevo dobrovo [everything good].

Take care and be well!

Love,

Danya

Passion / Страсть

Moyi druz’ya, I have one word for you: strast’ [passion]. I have rediscovered it.

Passion for what, you might ask?

Zhizn’. Life.

I am rediscovering my passion for life and all it has to offer.

On Tuesday this week, I joined Katya for capoeira training. I’ve been doing Tae Kwon Do for 12 years and I’ve missed it, so capoeira seemed like a good thing to try. And believe me, ladies and gents, it is. If you ever get the opportunity to try it out, it’s incredible. I haven’t felt so alive in a long time. Not since I last practiced Tae Kwon Do hardcore like I used to (five or six times a week, often twice a day). I intend to continue capoeira. Of course, it requires that I adjust a lot, because my Tae Kwon Do training has taught me to do techniques differently. But this is fine. I’m getting exercise and meeting new people. I love it.

By the way, if you don’t know what capoeira is, let me give you a brief explanation. It is basically a Brazilian martial art, although many call it a game with sparring matches referred to as “playing.” Games, known as rodas, are performed to live music. Everyone gathers in a circle around the combatants and sings and plays instruments. A capoeira fight (or game) is non-stop—you don’t stop moving the entire time. It’s full of acrobatic moves and kicks. It’s so beautiful. There are many, many videos of it on YouTube, so I suggest you look some up. Capoeira requires that you learn not only the martial art, but Brazilian Portuguese as well. (“Hallelujah!” cries my inner Language Nerd.) The classes are taught partly in Portuguese, no matter where in the world you study it.

The next day I tried acrobatics, also with Katya. That too was incredible. It made me push myself. I was able to do a one-handed cartwheel, which I’ve NEVER been able to do before. It was intense.

And something has been sparked. I want to do so many things. I want to learn how to play the guitar. I want to travel around Russia, beyond Krasnoyarsk. (Well, I will be going to London in two weeks! That’s another story for another day.) I want to pursue everything I can. I’ve only got one life. I’m going to do what I can with it.

Russia has done me so much good. I can’t even begin to convey just how much, moyi druz’ya. I can only hope that you find the same kind of passion someday.

I must go to sleep. Please take care and be well.

Love,

Danya

New Year’s, Christmas, and ice skating / Новый Год, Рождество и кататься на конках

First of all, s Rozhdyestvom i Novim Godom! Merry (very belated) Christmas and Happy (belated) New Year! I wish you all love, health, wealth, and happiness.

I should be grading papers right now, but I need a break. Besides, there is so much to tell.

I will start with New Year’s, since that comes first. Yes, New Year’s in Russia comes before Christmas! I’ll explain later. In any case, I went to my friend Katya’s apartment for a party. It was really nice (I got to wear my new, very brightly-colored dress!) and I met some interesting people. Anyway, earlier in the day I helped Katya decorate her apartment for the party as well as helped prepare the food. We baked chocolate chip cookies and Snickers cookies from scratch…they were a hit! One of the other things we prepared was a salad called oliv’e. It’s a very traditional Russian New Year’s salad, with peas, carrots, eggs, pickles, and various other items, usually some kind of meat, all thrown together with mayonnaise. It’s quite delicious. There were various other salads that I didn’t know the names of, but they were fantastic. Almost all were vegetable salads, some with fruit thrown in.

Before midnight, we sat around and did not do much but talk. This is the process of saying goodbye to the old year, where you sit around and not do anything festive in the hours just before midnight. Five minutes before midnight, we watched Medvedev give the annual presidential speech welcoming the new year. At midnight, we all cheered and immediately the games, the laughter, the singing began.

New Year’s is the gift-giving occasion in Russia, as opposed to Christmas. I received from Katya and her best friend Lena (who is a sweetheart) a pair of earrings in the shape of matryoshki. I’ve already worn them, they’re so beautiful. I gave a few gifts as well.

Christmas in Russia falls on January 7th in accordance with the Orthodox calendar. Yesterday I went to Katya’s house to surprise her, not knowing she was going to Lena’s Christmas party later. (I had intended to make burritos for her and Max, who has been hanging at Katya’s apartment a lot lately. They’ve never had any!) We ended up going to Lena’s house for drinks and games. Lena, ever the thoughtful girl, made some non-alcoholic drinks for me since she knows I don’t drink. She made a sort of kompot, which was delicious.

Later that night (try 2 AM), Lena, Katya, Max, and I decided to go ice skating. There’s a skating area by Katya’s apartment that’s never closed. I didn’t have any skates, but since Max and I have similar shoe sizes, he agreed to lend me his for a bit. Unfortunately, they ended up being too big anyway and I couldn’t skate properly. I managed to make one big circle around the rink with Katya and Lena’s help.

So that’s what’s been going on…well, that’s not completely all. I’ve been applying to graduate schools (and I am dearly crossing my fingers) and grading papers, since it is the end of the semester. I have a TON of papers to grade. Ooh boy…

Anyway, I need to get back to that. Please take care and be well, moyi druz’ya.

Love,

Danya

Siberian sunset / Закат солнца в Сибири

First of all, Merry Christmas to all of my readers who celebrate the holiday!

The past few weeks have been very busy and smeared with streaks of bad luck, most of which are personal. But today I went out for a walk in the city center for a while and then came home. On the way back, I was looking out the bus window and I saw the most beautiful zakat solntsa [sunset] I had ever seen in my life. The contours of the gorod [city] and the gori [mountains] around it were backlit by a nyebo [sky] set on fire. The colors were so incredibly brilliant. My regret was that I didn’t have a camera with me. Once I got back to my apartment, I ran to get my camera and went quickly back downstairs to take a photo. This was the result:

Siberian sunset

The foto doesn’t really do it much justice, but I’m glad I was able to capture even a moment of this.

Besides my bad luck, I am highly conscious of the fact that it is the holidays and I am not with my family. Admittedly, it makes me feel lonely. I do have friends here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my loved ones back at home, either.

Tonight will be about taking care of myself. I’m going to make dinner, drink tea, and watch Pride & Prejudice (yes, the 2005 version with Keira Knightley). Pride & Prejudice is my favorite novel of all time. Even at the times in my life where I’m bitter towards romance (the present time included), I’m somehow always able to read the book or watch the film and feel all right again.

Also, that reminds me…I am hereby announcing to the world that I am, in fact, a brony. When things started to get bad recently, I started to watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to see what all the fuss was about. I used to watch the show as a kid, so I was skeptical that it would be as good as I remembered it to be. Turns out it’s BETTER.

Besides, how can adorable little talking magical ponies learning about the magic of friendship NOT make you feel better?

So in any case, this zakat solntsa came at a time when I needed it. It has given me nadyezhda [hope] that vsyo budyet khorosho [everything will be all right].

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, moyi druz’ya.

Take care and be well.

Love,

Danya

Vacation / Каникнулы

Before I begin, I want to wish a Happy Hannukah to all of my Jewish readers!

It’s been crazy since I last wrote. A lot of things have happened. Things with Mac were not working out, so we have broken up. I knew long distance would be hard, but I didn’t know how hard. I guess it was harder since we didn’t really know each other that well. I’m working on graduate school applications (one down, four to go). And I have many, many papers and tests to grade because the end of the semester approaches quickly.

I am looking forward to seeing what the holidays are like here in Russia. Christmas is not as popular here in Russia. It pales in comparison to how they celebrate the New Year. I don’t have many details on that yet, but I’ll be sure to let you know soon.

The snow falls thickly on the ground as I write this. It’s not terribly cold right now, at -11 degrees C (+12 degrees F). It’s kind of nice. It’s beautiful, watching snow fall.

Lately I’ve been talking with some of my friends here about where to go for vacation. We’re looking at a few places, mostly in Africa! Madagascar is the one we’re looking at closest. Interestingly, the veterinarian we go to back in Florida started a not-for-profit called Friends of Madagascar. He goes there frequently to build schools and help with other social and physical infrastructure. I’d like to go there and offer my help, if I can. When you get the chance, check out the organization’s website: http://www.friendsofmadagascar.org/

I’m also quite interested in possibly going to Namibia to visit Katie, another Fulbrighter I know who hails from my college. She’s doing an amazing project…studying giraffe conservation! My friend Max is interested in seeing many of the animals in Africa, so this would also be an ideal place.

But in any case…the holidays are here and it’s very cheerful. The city is beautifully decorated with lights. It really is like a winter wonderland. I need to update my photo gallery on here…heh heh…

So vacations aren’t here yet, but I have most of January off. We shall see what happens.

I must go. Take care, moyi druz’ya, and be well.

Love,

Danya

To give and take / Давать и брать

I apologize, moyi druz’ya, I have been so incredibly busy these past few days. Graduate school applications are due soon…between that and the upcoming end of the semester, I have had very little time. I have not forgotten you, faithful readers.

I have noticed yet another aspect of Russian culture that is not easy for me to reconcile with on a personal level, because of who I am.

I see that there is a system of giving [davat’] and taking [brat’]. Well, more of taking. But I notice that many seem to rely on those who are, well, reliable, particularly when it comes to money. They tend to borrow…and often not return or pay back.

I’m not saying the Russians are bad people for this. This is how it is in a lot of places, I know. It’s just a pattern I’ve noticed that seems to be more prominent here than in the U.S. In the States, it’s usually expected that if you borrow money, you pay it back in some way. Here…it seems somewhat different.

This is not to say that I’ve lent money. It’s in the little things, such as paying for a dinner being split two or three ways or using cell phones. (In Russia, you pay for cell phone minutes at ATM-like machines, 1 ruble per minute. So you can receive calls if you have no money on your phone, but you can’t make calls.) I seem to always be the only one who has money on my phone, so my friends are constantly borrowing my phone. Not that they talk for long—usually no more than a minute or two at a time—but it still adds up.

Unfortunately, I am a giver in a world of takers. I really do try to limit the amount I lend monetarily. I try to make up for what I don’t give monetarily in other ways, with my time and energy.

Sometimes I can’t decide when I’m giving enough and when I’m giving too much.

I knew that when I came here, people would be consistently demanding my time and expertise. I knew, accepted, even embraced this. But when is it too much?

I always keep in mind that my priority is anything having to do with my teaching at the university. There is no question of this. I make sure nothing detracts from that. But beyond that…I don’t know when I’m doing too much.

The amount of stress I have been under lately is, quite frankly, a lot. I know this from the fact that little things have been bothering me.

Tonight, for example, was Elya’s birthday, so I went to her party. We were singing songs, often taking turns singing solos. Often, though, Elya would try to sing along (which is normally fine) but sometimes I just want to have my own voice heard. I sometimes get the feeling she tries to dominate the song, which would fit with her loud personality. But towards the end of the evening, she began to sing a song I really love, but she hushed me and indicated she wanted to sing alone. I felt angry. Why is it she can sing along with the songs I’m doing but I can’t sing with hers? Like I said, it was a little thing, but a really telling thing. It made me realize how high my stress level is and also how much I don’t speak up…I just give in and give up. Give give give.

I’m not saying takers are bad and givers are good. There needs to be a balance, though. I need to find that balance.

I must go, my friends, ya ochen’ ustala [I am quite tired].

Till next time, vsyevo dobrovo [be well].

Love,

Danya

The cold / Холод

Please forgive me, yet again. I have been extremely busy. I’m working on graduate school applications on top of teaching and grading papers.

So to catch you up…

I have mentioned that I am very possibly going to India in January…and that likelihood has increased! Ilene has confirmed that she is going and Mac will most likely be returning to Krasnoyarsk at the earliest in mid-January, so it looks like I’ll be going in the beginning of January. Time to look into getting a passport!

The sun has started to rise late and set early. It usually rises at around 10 AM and sets at about 4:30 PM. It is somewhat disconcerting to get up at 9 AM every morning and realize that it’s still dark out!

The weather has gotten much, much colder all of a sudden. This weekend the temperature ranged from +21 degrees Fahrenheit to…-20!!! This morning it was -11 when I woke up.

Moyi druz’ya, I have only gotten a taste of what it will be like. The temperatures here will plunge to -40! (Celsius or Fahrenheit, does not matter…that’s the point where the two measures converge!)

Here’s my description of the cold so far:

The cold has no flavor. It just leaves you numb where you are exposed. Literally. You can’t feel, except for the burning it causes in your throat when you’re breathing it in—even if you have a scarf wrapped around your neck. My tongue often goes dry with thirst—more so than with extreme heat, which I have also endured.

And everyone tells me I’m not dressed warmly enough, even though I generally feel fine. I wear boots, I wear warm gloves, I wear a scarf, and, of course, I wear my long down coat. And layers. Oh yes, layers.

It occurs to me that people might say I’m not dressed warmly enough because they are used to Russian girls being so thin. But I am not. For once, I am grateful that I am not so thin…

But do not get me wrong. Despite the bite of the cold, it brings beauty with it. The snow all over…it is a winter paradise here. It is breathtaking. And I’m in a city—I can’t imagine what the wilderness is like covered in white.

This reminds me of the song “Frozen” by Within Temptation, one of my favorite bands. I’ve posted the video below:

I hope you enjoy.

Take care and be well.

Love,

Danya

Um, surprise? / A, cюpприз?

Well that sucks. I was going to surprise you with a video blog today, but it turns out I can’t put videos on here without paying $50+…which I don’t really have the money to do right now. Sorry!

Here’s a photo instead:

Danya

Sorry I couldn't include a video. Was trying to keep things interesting...

So, here’s the lowdown:

1) My internet has improved since I switched to cable internet. I was using a modem before, which runs through wireless internet. Wi-fi is sketchy in this part of town because of all the forests.

2) More karaoke went on yesterday. I went with my friends Elya and Polina. We had a good time, as always.

3) I’ve been a little frustrated. My students’ attendance to class has been rather…varied. This is not unusual for Russia, I am told.

4) Cleaned the apartment today. I feel so much better, somehow. Elya was with me and she helped out a lot. (Spasibo bol’shoe!)

5) We went out to go to an Indian festival today, but we got out there really late and then ended up on the wrong bus. Go figure. We’re going to try again tomorrow.

6) Interesting assignment for my students. I have given them the original English version of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” along with a Russian version. I have told them to read the English, then the Russian. Then they are to tell me the differences they see in the poem and to explain whether they think the Russian translation is good or not and WHY. I hope this is not too much for them, but they are studying to become translators, so I figured this was an interesting and engaging assignment.

7) Last but not least, I am possibly going to India in January. The trip to Thailand is a no-go—too expensive and I have no one to go with. I would like to go to India to see Mac and meet with my friend Ilene, who will likely be there all of January. It depends on a few things, but we shall see!

That is all for now, moyi druz’ya. I hope all is well.

Take care and be well.

Love,

Danya

Friends / Друзья

I must apologize once more for my delay in writing. The internet has not been working well at all. It loads some sites (such as Facebook), but it does not load others (such as my e-mail and WordPress). I am able to write here today on a fluke. Ugh. This will be a short entry, I’m afraid.

I have also been quite occupied the past few days. I have been getting together with friends here at the apartment. We’ve been doing a lot of baking…making cake from scratch for example. Tonight a few of us are going to bake cookies from scratch. Chocolate chip is the best.

It is nice to finally have friends over. I enjoy being around people, especially on cold nights. We stay up late, we laugh, we listen to music, we sing, we take silly pictures, we bake, we have a great time. It eases the pain of missing my loved ones in other parts of the world.

Of course, the staying up late part is the reason I haven’t gotten much sleep the past few days. Oh well…I can sleep when I’m dead!

Like I said, this was going to be short. I must go now.

Until next time, be well and take care, moyi druz’ya!

Love,

Danya