Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Russia Day 9 - Sick Leave

And hello again!

It's 15:43 right now, and I'm typing to you from an internet cafe across the street from our hotel. I'm starting to feel better (finally), but I'm still coughing, so Nadia told me to take another day off to get well. No contaminating the orphans, I suppose.

I was up and dressed this morning on time, just in case I could go out on the placements, so I decided to go for a walk around town instead. Besides, Rose and I both did laundry last night and together we had raised the humidity of the room quite a bit with our hanging, drying clothes everywhere.

I got on the tram outside the hotel (8 rubles a ride, or about 35 cents) and took it to the center of town. I walked over to a bookstore there and browsed for a while, eventually getting some postcards of Yaroslavl. From there I wandered through an outdoor market, over to the park near the Cathedral of Elijah the Prophet and found a bench to write postcards on. I walked to the monastery where I paid 15 rubles (35 cents) to enter the grounds. I had heard there was good souvenier shopping there, and they were right. I bought several items (300 rubles worth, actually), and managed to do it all in (highly limited) Russian. I used my Russian once again to mail the postcards at the central post office (I hope they get to America, at least), then stopped by a pharmacy to get some toilet paper. Yes, the hotel has toilet paper, but the maid will not give us a new roll until we have exhausted the old one. Between my cold and Rose's allergies, we have run out of tp mid evening twice now, so I figured I would stock up.

After getting slightly turned around, I walked back to the tram stop, caught the #3 going back, and returned to the hotel just in time for lunch. Today we had cole slaw, borsch (soup made with beef, onions, cabbage, and beets, topped with sour cream), half a roasted chicken breast, mashed potatoes, a sweet roll, and an orange. The lunches here, like Europe, are the main meal of the day. We always get four course lunches like that, while dinner is much lighter. And, of course, there are always the potatoes.

And now I'm here. Rose and Yen are typing away near me, as is Mary, another member from our original group. I think I'll go to the grocery store next, then back to the hotel for a nap. I'm worn out, actually, so maybe it's a good thing I stayed behind again today. Tomorrow is a field trip to Rostov to visit a monastary and an enamel factory, so I hope this cold moves on it's way quickly.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Russia - Days 5-8

Dobrey Vecher!

I am writing to you as one sick tourist. Alas! Those of your who have known me for a while, though, are probably not at all surprised. A rather nasty cold hit me just in time for our trip to Moscow. I actually missed my placement this morning in order to sleep, and despite that I’m not getting better. I think I may need to miss tomorrow’s placements as well in order to get rid of this thing. Drat. Then again, they probably don’t want me around the kids if I’m hacking and sniffing, right?

Complaining aside, let me tell you about the past few days.

Last Thursday a large group of us (15) went out on the town. The veterans took us to a restaurant above a movie theater in Yaroslavl that serves sushi, and it wasn’t bad, either. I got a cucumber roll and a tempura something roll. I have no idea what the fish was, since the menu was all in Russian, although I have found that navigating restaurants isn’t too bad if 1) you can sound out the words to look for similarities (sushi, tempura, tuna, and miso, for example, are the same words) and 2) you’re willing to take a chance and get something weird or unexpected. Service is very slow, though, so dinner took us about 2 hours.

Afterwards, we went to a bowling alley a few buildings down. It was quite funky - black lighting, disco balls, and lots of animation between rounds (if you got a spare, the screen showed a dinosaur tromping across the pins, for example). You pay by the hour there, so we rented two lanes for an hour at 600 rubles per lane. We also had some fun ordering shoe sizes, which required knowing your European shoe size as well as how to say the number in Russian. I did terribly, as usual, but it was fun. Oh, and we also went to the Baskin Robbins after dinner for ice cream cones (yes, Baskin Robbins.) It was one of those evenings where you do rather American things, but you’re in Russia so it’s all a very cultural experience.

Dima, one of the translators at CCS came with us for the evening, and I think it was more educational for him than for us. He’s this 19 year old boy who’s lived in Yaroslavl his whole life. Very shy, but quite kind and dignified. He had sushi for the first time that night, as well as his first experience bowling. He took third place overall in the group. When I had gotten my third gutter-ball in a row, he told me (in his nervous English), “You don’t have to try so hard. It seems to me that no matter what the ball will go down there, so just send it on it’s way.”

Dima also rescued us by volunteering to help Rose and I get the train tickets we needed. Rose and I were in the CCS office looking up the words we thought we would need to get tickets to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and Dima came in. I guess our Russian sounded terrible enough that he figured we couldn’t do it without him. Which is fairly accurate. So, he accompanied Paul, Rose, and me to the train station to buy the tickets.

Others had warned us about how awful it was, but I must say that I didn’t believe them until I had experienced it myself. It took us over an hour to get through the line of about 6 people. It was a vigorous hour, too, since Russians have no qualms about cutting in front of you, or trying to steal your place. The line is a loose term, to, since it’s more of a mob of people, pushing their way to the front. Dasha, another translator, said today that she thinks Russians do this “because we had to wait in line for everything when we were Soviet”. I think part of the reason it takes so long to help each person is because there is no published schedule anywhere. You just go to the window and tell them where you’d like to go and roughly when, and the cashier looks it up on her computer and you have to negotiate the options. Paul got quite frustrated, and has added electronic train ticket kiosks to the growing list of improvements he will make when he’s elected mayor of Yaroslavl (it also include updating the tram system and repaving the sidewalks).

Once we got to the window, Dima took over. 40 minutes later, we had 3rd class tickets to Moscow. The cashier refused to help us with the other tickets, so we had to come back the next day and go through another 2 hour process to get the tickets to St. Petersburg. But we have them, by golly!

On Friday Nadia took our group to a nearby town called Nostarovoe. There, amid the rain, we toured a small museum about the history of the town (known for the salt they draw from the river), and visited two churches. At one of them, we were met by the priest of the church, who told us the history of the cathedral. He was very kind and said that he hoped we would all be able to “find comfort from the church’s icon, no matter what religion you are.”

Saturday morning Paul, Rose, Allison, Tanya, Lindsey, Yen, and I met in the lobby of our hotel at 6:25 and headed off to the train station. We met Dima there, who was coming with us for the weekend, and boarded our 7:15 train to Moscow. The ride there was pleasant – we had cushioned, individual seats, plenty of leg room, and a decent toilet in the back. Not bad for 230 rubles!

We got to Moscow just before noon and made our way to the hotel. Getting a place to stay was the struggle of Friday night – after two hours of trying to book and/or get through to hostels in vain, I had finally given up and called Marriott. With the approval of the rest of the group, I booked us three rooms for $108 each. The hotel turned out to be rather luxurious – right on Tverskaya Ulitsa, the main shopping road of the town, near a metro, with really nice rooms. Plus, the staff all spoke English really well. A part of me feels guilty for enjoying that last quality so much, as if I’m cheating somehow, but boy was it nice not to struggle for a while.

We dropped our bags off at the hotel and walked down Tverskaya Ulitsa to Red Square, passing Pushkin Square and Tchaikovsky’s statue. It was very exciting to walk around a corner and suddenly there it is – the red brick walls, the brightly colored domes of St. Basil’s. It’s like the excitement of seeing the Eiffel tower for the first time. We were snapping pictures like crazy, but by no means were we the only ones. There were throngs of tourists there – Japanese, Chinese, American, British, even loads of Russian tourists. And tons of bridal parties! It seems to be fashionable to do wedding photos on Red Square – we saw perhaps 20 different brides in the course of the afternoon, all posing for various shots around the square.

We paid to go inside St. Basil’s after taking tons of photos outside of it (I can check off another one of my 63 life’s goals!), and afterwards Dima took us to a cathedral he said would be much prettier than St. Basil’s. So we walked along the road between the Kremlin and the Mosckva River to the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer. It’s much newer, and the interior was absolutely gorgeous. Then, after a desperate search for a bathroom for Tanya and me, we walked up to Old Arbat, did some souvenir shopping, and then took the metro back to the hotel.

By this time, my cold was getting much worse. Dima took me to a pharmacy and got me some Theraflu drink mix and some kind of lozenge, but I was done for the night. Rose and Tanya were rather tired, too, so we crashed at the hotel. Paul, Yen, Allison, and Lindsey went out to a bar, I ordered some soup and a milkshake from room service, and the others ate some bread and cheese from a market around the corner.

The next day we were slow getting out. Allison and Lindsey had stayed out all night, and stayed in their hotel room until check-out time at 3:00. Yen and Tanya got up early and ran out to the airport to retrieve one of Tanya’s suitcases, which the airline had lost last weekend (they refused to deliver it). I was slow getting up because of my cold. When I got out of the room, finally, I found Dima, Paul, Rose, Tanya, and Yen in the lobby. It turns out the hotel had a computer with free internet access, so there was much excitement all around (except for Dima – he seemed a little baffled by our delay).

We finally headed out, taking the metro back to Red Square to visit the Kremlin. After another stressful round of ticket-buying, we made it in. It’s really rather lovely inside, and I think we were early enough (and it was Sunday) that we avoided a lot of the tourist crowds. We looked inside the three cathedrals, listened to an a capella quintet, sat for a while in the “secret gardens”, and, of course, took a lot of pictures.

Afterwards, we ran into Allison and Lindsey, and went to lunch at a coffee house chain. I had a good-tasting chicken sandwich and some fresh-squeezed apple juice, which cost me about $15. People weren’t kidding when they said Moscow was one of the most expensive cities in the world. There was also some excitement when Rose accidentally locked herself in the bathroom of the restaurant. We didn’t know it until Paul went upstairs to use the restroom and heard Rose through trying to tell two Russian ladies to find her friend Dima to help her. The Russian ladies just kept yelling instructions louder and louder until Paul brought Dima back and he was able to translate the instructions to Rose and get her out. It was rather entertaining for everyone except Rose, actually.

After lunch, the group split up – Yen, Rose, Dima, and I headed back towards the hotel, stopping off at two bookstores on the way while the others went to the GUM department store. We met back up at the hotel, retrieved our bags, got back on the metro, and hopped on the train back to Yaroslavl.

The train back was much worse than the train there. This time, the seats were just benches, with three people to a bench, and three benches to each section. It was quite crowded, and the claustrophobia kicked in when people started lowering the berths above the benches to sleep on them. I was rather miserable by this time, but luckily I was in good company. Once we finished complaining about the seats, we all pulled out our various mp3 players, and listened to our music in silence. Eventually, we started sharing music and soon even the Russian fellow who was laying down above Paul, Yen, and me was passing his headphones across to Tanya to share music with us. We told stories, swapped book suggestions, and laughed in that loopy exhausted way the rest of the way to Yaroslavl, arriving just after 11:00pm.

It was a full and tiring weekend, but fun. I’m glad I got to Moscow, and I’m proud that I finished another one of my goals, but I don’t think I’ll be eager to return to Moscow again soon. There are some museums I missed, and I would love to go to the Bolshoi theater, but I can wait for those. In the meantime, I’m going to try to get over this cold so I can get to my placements again and so I can keep up with the others in St. Petersburg next weekend.

This was a very long textual post, and I’m sorry about that. I’ll balance it by posting some pictures below. Click on them to see them in full resolution if they're too small to see here. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Russian Photos!

A shot of the screen at the bowling alley showing our scores:

A house in Nostarovoe. The houses almost all had beautiful woodworking around the windows like this one.

Our group with the priest in Nostarovoe

A few of the icons in the cathedral in Nostarovoe

A diorama showing the salt-making process in Nostarovoe

The merry travelers outside the Kremlin (Dima, me, Tanya, Rose, and Yen. Paul's taking the picture)

Rose and I in front of St. Basil's

Tanya and Paul showing off the Tsar's Canon inside the Kremlin

Rose, Yen, and I posing with Lenin and Tsar Nicholas outside Red Square(who knew they were friends?!)

The Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Russia Day 4

I'm back in the hotel lobby today with a fully charged battery and quite the experience this morning. Paul, Yan, and I were just browsing potential hostels for Moscow and St. Petersburg. In a few minutes, Rose and I are going to brave the train station to try to get tickets to those cities. From what we've heard, it's quite the ordeal, so fingers crossed! There's 7 of us going to Moscow, and 6 going to St. P, so I hope it all comes together well. Paul's been saying that it's no big deal if we can't get tickets to St. P because he can "just pop right over again another time". The rest of us point out then that it's slightly easier with his living in the UK than for those of us from the states. We'll see what happens.

So. This morning I was assigned to go to the Hospital for Women, a psychiatric institution. It was a good thing that those who had been there before briefed me on it, because it was startling even with descriptions of what it would be like.

The van dropped Nina, Allison, Tanya, Julia (the translator), and I off in front of a three-story cement building painted an orangey-red. The windows all have bars across them, but the bars are arranged in kind of sun-ray-shaped patterns, so it's not as awful-looking as you might expect.

We climbed up a staircase to the second floor, and were shown into a small room by one of the nurses. There, we changed to the indoor shoes we brought with us, then donned knee-length white cotton shirts, kind of like doctor's jackets. I imagine we wear these to stand out among the patients?

Once ready, they unlocked a wooden door and Julia was immediately hugged by two of the patients who were excited to see her again. We stepped inside and were lead into the common room by some of the women. There were maybe 30 women in there, all gathered at the door. They lined up on either side of it in clumps, making a sort of human passage-way for us to pass through to get to the tables at the back of the room. We got to the table at the back, and one of the nurses locked the entrance after us.

The women were all wearing flower-printed nightgowns and dressing gowns, hospital-issued, I guess. Most of them had their hair cut short and messily, and they all had brown, jagged, or missing teeth. More startling than their appearance was the smell - the stink really hit you when you walked in. Nina immediately opened up some windows, but the compressed stench stayed on my clothes even after we left the placement.

I was surprised, I suppose, that in this situation the Hollywood movies I've seen of mental hospitals were not exaggerating.

Allison plugged in a CD player, and put on one of the two CDs in our bag - Dance Hits of the 90s, I'm guessing it was. I was surprised at how much the music helped. I immediately felt more at ease, and the room seemed easier to handle once there was that background filler, even if it was Gloria Estafan. One woman came up to me and asked me, in English, what my name was. I told her and asked her the same in Russian. Her name was Vera. She seemed very nice, actually. She was also not at all shy. Later, I was coloring a picture with a woman who kept telling me a very long something in Russian. Julia couldn't help me translate since the woman was mumbling so much that even Julia, a local, could not understand her. When Vera came over to us, the mumbling woman greeted her like a friend and told me something that was apparently quite funny to her and Vera. Vera then seemed to agree, and to prove whatever the story was, she lifted up her nightgown and showed me... I don't know what the point was. Her underwear? Her breasts? Her scars? I have no idea. Nor did I have the slightest idea how I was supposed to respond to that.

So there was coloring, and a stack of magazines that several women immediately took to another table to look through, and the main craft of the day, dreamcatchers. It turns out that although I had nothing to do with the planning of the activity, I was the only one in the group who actually knew how to make a dreamcatcher. We used pipecleaners to make the hoop, yarn to string the net across it, and beads and feathers for the decoration. We assisted the women in making them, sometimes just making the majority of one ourselves, then passing it on to them to finish and show off. The ones who participated seemed quite please with themselves and with the project. One women, who Julia said has never participated before, spent a lot of the second half of the time with me, and she made two of them rather well. She insisted that we finish the second one before we left, actually.

Another woman sat there watching me work with that lady, but she kept saying she didn't want to join us. As the first woman learned enough to work on her own, I started fiddling with the extra pipe cleaners. I made a face out of a few of them, and offered it to the second woman. She held it up to her face, trying to see out of the eyes, then complained that it didn't fit. She started to yell for Julia, and told Julia "Malenka! Malenka!" - too small, too small. So, I made a pair of glasses for her out of pipe cleaners. She was thrilled! She put them on immediately and spent the rest of the morning going around to people, beaming at them through these black and white pipecleaner frames.

They are all medicated, I guess, so there was a lot of them just sort of drifting about. They were quiet, on the whole, but I guess sometimes they can be quite loud. One woman I was warned about before, because she once got a bit of glue on her hand, and after she washed it off, she began screaming, believing that the glue was there and spreading up her arms, across her body.

A few of them liked dancing, and they pulled Tanya and Allison out to the middle to dance to the music. When one CD ended, they immediately insisted that we fix it.

Some of the women were quite skilled. One used a needle and thread we brought her to sew together a cup she had made out of folded candy wrappers, cutting the bottom for it out of a juice box she had been saving until we came. Another woman brought us a doll she had made to show us. The doll was made out of yarn, with a scrap of fabric tied to make a dress over it. There were two beads for eyes, and a bit of felt for a mouth. The doll was actually quite well made, but the most remarkable part of it was the little booties she had crocheted for it. She told us, through Julia, that she had crocheted the booties using a pipecleaner as a crochet hook, since the real kind are not allowed. It was amazing.

After about 2 hours, we packed up our supplies, said many, many goodbyes, and went back to the little room. There we changed shoes again, packed up the smocks and supplies, counted the scissors (we have to make sure that we don't leave any scissors, needles, or long pieces of string there), and headed back.

Most of you know that I signed up for this trip in the first place as a risk-taking exercise. Well, I think my morning spent in a mental institution was by far one of the biggest risks I've ever taken in my life. I'm happy to say that I did it, I learned from it, and I think that if I am scheduled for there again, I will look forward to it. And next time I'm going to bring my pictures from home to show them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Russia - Days 2 and 3

Zdrasvyetye, my friends!

I am typing this from the lobby of the second floor of my hotel. After two other failed attempts, I finally got my laptop connected to the promised wi-fi of the hotel. Apparently, I need to be in the lobbies of the first or second floor in order to use it here. I bought an internet card worth 300 rubles (about $12) to use here, so I'm glad it does indeed work. That will make things nice when, like tonight, I want to communicate but I also want to stay in. I am tired! And, I smell like bug spray. And, I am covered in dust, despite numerous handwashings. It is those last two sensations that are my primary objections to camping. But, boy, am I having a good time.

I've had 4 placement sessions so far, at three different locations. They've been keeping us busy here. I started today at 8:00am with Russian lesson #2, and had a full schedule until after dinner at 8:00 tonight. It's good - I've been sleeping very soundly, even with the noises outside and the full daylight coming through the window at 5:00am (it wakes me up only long enough for me to panic that I'm late for school, then realize that I'm in Russia, then panic that I'm late for a placement, then realize that I don't have to be up for another two hours).

The kids are fun to work with, although there are some adjustments. The first placement, the Summer Camp, was the hardest so far - there were a lot of kids, with a wide range of ages and many of them were aggressive. From the teenagers skulking about in tank tops, smoking, to the 10-14 year olds who kept throwing pine cones at the other kids, to the little ones who kept pulling things out of the crafts bag without asking, then running off with them, there were a lot of discipline issues. It didn't help that the three of us volunteers who were sent to that cabin were all totally new and our translator, Dasha, went with the other volunteers to a different part of the camp. Paul, Janna, and I just did our best and it went okay. The kids seemed to have fun, which was the point of it all.

The second placement, the deaf kindergarten, was fun. I did that one both yesterday afternoon and today. There were 5 little boys there yesterday and 6 today. The camp has been dwindling in size since the city decided that they are going to close it next week and convert the building into a camp for kids with tuberculosis. The little boys are very cute, and it's more relaxing for us volunteers because there's not the same stress of non communication. I learned their signs for "No", "That's mine", "That's yours", "less/smaller", and "more/bigger" very quickly. The kids aren't shy about grabbing you to get you to get your attention either. One kids today got some glue on his finger and he just wiped it on my shirt and kept on working. My clothes have gotten very dirty, actually, so I think I'll be doing some sink washing tomorrow during my afternoon off.

With the kindergarteners, we did a quick craft activity (decorating butterflies yesterday and making paper crowns today), then just played with them - toy cars are very popular, as are a set of magnetic tiles that they use to build garages and houses for the cars. They're very cute and very friendly.

This morning I worked at the hospital for kids. The kids were probably between 6 and 13 years old, and were placed at the hospital either for treatment for a psychological issue (schizophrenia is a popular diagnosis here), because they were too aggressive for an orphanage, or because they kept running away from their orphanages. I actually thought they acted like a normal group of kids. I'm not sure if that means that their psychological issues are minor, or if the kids I work on a usual basis are just as disabled. In any case, these kids blazed through the craft we brought in order to get to the sports. I played soccer, basketball, football, frisbee, and volleyball this morning, all in a fenced in area with no grass. It was very dusty, but a lot of fun. The kids were very friendly and more patient with our lack of the language. Some of them even asked Olga, the translator, how to say things in English so they could talk to us in our language.

And I'd love to say more about it, but my battery's about to die and I don't have an outlet nearby, so I'm going to post this before I lose it.

Love you all and more later!

Arriving in Russia

Here, my friends, is my blog entry on arriving in Russia from a few days ago:

Hello from Yaroslavl! I have arrived.

After my kind parents drive me to Salt Lake Friday night (otherwise it would have been a $600 plane ticket – ouch!), I caught a 10:00am flight to JFK. I tend to pick minor things to stress over when I’m facing a big challenge, and this time it was the new Harry Potter book. I could wait if needed to read it when I returned to the USA, but my fear is that I would overhear people talking about it. Luckily, the Salt Lake airport was well-stocked, and I boarded my plane with Book #7 in tow.

I also had a paperback edition of book #6, which I wanted to reread before starting the last one. So, I read book # 6 on the flight to JFK, and actually began reading book #7 on the same flight.

I had a two hour layover in NYC, which turned out to be a good thing. When I deplaned, I asked an agent which gate I needed to find next. He directed me to gate #4. During the 15-minute (no exaggeration) brisk walk from gate 28 to gate 4, I decided that I really don’t like the layout of the JFK airport. It’s thoroughly inefficient.

Anyway, when I got there, I waited at the desk for an agent to show up to get a boarding pass. When a woman finally came, I told her I needed a boarding pass for the Moscow flight.

“It’s already gone,” she curtly said without looking up from her computer screen.
“Not that one, the 6:50 flight,” I said.
“No such thing.”

I eventually persuaded her to offer me some actual customer assistance, at which point she explained that Aeroflot flies out a different terminal. Because the terminals are not connected physically (again, brilliant design plan) I actually had to exit the building, walk alongside the road about a block, then take the train over one stop to Terminal 1. Fun!

Three desk agents later, I had my boarding pass and joined the line for security. There were people there with flights sooner than mine, so I channeled my pity towards them. In any case, I made it to my gate in time and we took off with no problems.

Once settled in my seat, I was startled to find that everything around me was in Russian. There were occasional translations, but the labels, the announcements, the passengers’ conversations – all Russian. I wasn’t expecting that until we landed. So I kicked my Cyrillic alphabet into gear and started practicing sounding out the words.

As we pulled away from the gate, I cracked open Harry Potter and continued to read. Four hours later, with most of the other passengers sleeping around me, I finished the book. I liked it. And that’s all I’m going to say about it here.

I tried to sleep after that, but to no avail. Airplanes are just hard for me to sleep on.

We landed at 12:20pm, Moscow time. The passport checkpoint was quick – the airport seemed to only have our flight going on. As I waited in line, I met Tanya, a student from Iowa who is also a CCS volunteer. Thanks, t-shirts! We chatted as we waited for luggage to come. I was lucky – both of my bags arrived, but Tanya only got one of her two bags. I helped her a little in figuring out who to talk to (she hasn’t traveled much, it seems), then we went through customs.

That one was even easier, since as we approached the entrance, the guard disappeared. On a break? We don’t know. But everyone just kept moving through without him, so we followed suit.

Once through, we found the other CCS volunteers without a problem and started the introductions. We waited about an hour and a half for Dasha, the CCS translator who met us there, to arrive, to round up everyone, and to help Tanya with the luggage issue. The we piled ourselves and our suitcases into two vans and were off.

(Given the amount of luggage sitting here outside the plane, I'm surprised that mine came through!)

To my amusement, the first building I noticed as we pulled away from the airport was an Ikea. Hee! I looked out the window of the van, sounding out words on billboards and buildings for a while, until I dozed off.

We stopped at a truck-stop type place about 3 hours into the drive and had dinner all together. I had borscht, a small salad (which turned out to be cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers diced and covered with a lot of parsley), and blini with honey. The borscht and the blini were not too bad. Some of the volunteers tried to keep up pleasant conversation, but most of us had been awake for over 24 hours at that point, so there were a lot of lapses into silence.

Back in the vans for another two hours (which goes by quickly when you’re asleep), and we arrived in Yaroslavl. The city looked interesting, and I’m excited for the tour we’re getting tomorrow. Our hotel is pretty good – I’m sharing a room with Rose, a veterinary student at Cornell, and aside from the lack of storage space and a missing shower curtain, the room is nice.

So. It’s 10pm local time, and although I couldn’t connect to the internet tonight, I figured I would type this up now so I can cut and paste it into my blog when I do get online. I’m starting to get sleepy, and the sun is starting to set, so I believe I will bid you all a good night and head to bed.

Spakoyna nocha!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Russia - Day 1

Hello all!

I have a nice long entry for you all detailing my journey here, but it's on my laptop, which I have not yet gotten connected to the internet.

Right now, I am sitting in an internet cafe in downtown Yaroslavl! I find it strange, still, to think that I am actually here. The fact that all of the instructions on this blog-entry page are in Russian should probably tip me off. Good thing I pretty much know where the ones are that I use to post.

So, what to share? I've been in Yaroslavl for about 24 hours now. In that time, I slept very well, despite the jack-hammer like noise of the tram going by and a male voice that kept making unintelligible announcements over a loudspeaker outside the hotel during the night. Between the Soviet-like decor of the hotel and the noises outside, it felt a little like I had stepped into a Cold War era science fiction novel. 1984-esque, you know? It's kind of fun.

All of our meals are provided at the hotel's restaurant, a room that seems to double as a dance room. I assume this based on the mirrored and pink-curtained walls, the wooden floor, the keyboard and microphone in the corner and, best of all, the disco ball that revolved over us all through dinner. The food served are as follows:
Breakfast - Yogurt (I forgot how good European yogurt is!), ham, cheese, eggs, and a roll.
Lunch - Green apples, Cole slaw (with peas), potato and beef soup, Meatballs with rice and some kind of orange gravy, and rye bread and rolls.
Dinner - A salad made of olives, mushrooms, apples, and peas covered with a glob of mayonaise and shredded egg whites, fried chicken breast with potatoes, and delicious vanilla ice cream with crushed almonds on top.

I think I will get my fill of potatoes very quickly. The meals are heavy, and full of starch, but they keep the portions reasonable, and I feel like my body's adjusting to it okay. I felt a little off yesterday, but I've been drinking water constantly, and that seems to help. I learned my lesson about staying hydrated while traveling when I was in Scotland with Emily. Our room has a little fridge in it, so I've been collecting water bottles as I go and plan to keep the fridge stocked so I can get water whenever. Plus, my tablemates were very impressed when I said, "Excuse me, I need some water please," to the waiter in Russian.

Activities for the day included 1) An orientation to the program, including our placements for the week. I'll be going to the summer camp for orphans tomorrow, and, later in the week, the hospital for kids, the deaf kindergarten, and the hospital for women. I'm excited about the placements and eager to start the work. 2) Russian lessons. Today was the basics, but they geared them towards our work, so a lot of the phrases were new to me. Things like "Let's draw!" and "Give me the ball/crayon/scissors/jump rope" were not covered in my Russian classes in college. 3) A walking tour of the city. We got a lot of the history and saw a lot of churches. I am taking pictures on my camera, which I promise I will post as soon as I can.

So, things are going well. I'm feeling the jet lag today, but I think the switch to Russia time will go fairly smoothly. They keep us busy during the day, which helps. No naps!

Until I get online again, thank you for the well wishes by email and happiness to you all!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Your Little Body's Slowly Breaking Down

I'm alive! I promise. And I've been having adventures that I need to blog about. There's the train ride to Chicago, the conference in Chicago itself, a family reunion at Bear Lake, my Russian studies, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I'm in Colorado now, working at my dad's office and enjoying a vacation for a bit. Thanks to Apple's remarkable repair service (mailed it Thursday, got it back fixed this morning!), I am happily catching up on my internet-ing. Including my sister's blog, where I found a link that taught me this:

$5325.00The Cadaver Calculator - Find out how much your body is worth.

Try it yourself.