Opal Archered

A fig!

A brief description of my life in Russia so far: Part 2: The City

 August 18, 2011 at 19:44

I’ve been here nearly a week now. It’s hard to gauge how well I’ll like it after a year, but so far I love it. Initially the slight disrepair of everything caught me off guard. Imagine, if you will, an entire country modeled after Glouster or some similar dilapidated southern Ohio town. Everywhere buildings are crumbling. The road between Vladimir and Moscow stretches grimly along hours and hours of moribund wilderness, the trees and grass tinted with sickly hues that match those of the sky. Huge soviet apartments rise from the earth seemingly at random.

In the actual city of Vladimir, once the capital of Russia, the scene isn’t much different. The buildings are old, and they wear their age with cracked facades. I live roughly 35 minutes away from work by foot. However, Vladimir has an excellent public transit service, and I usually take the bus to work.

Russians have a very distinct, acrid body odor, and it seems to permeate the city. The fetor comes at the oddest of times. There are times when I am walking through a market or sitting on a bus, and that biting stink wafts by, and I am simply astounded by it. I’ve never encountered such a persistent or devious scent in America.

The city is much bigger than I thought it would be. I was originally told Vladimir was a ‘small town.’ I then was told it has roughly 200,000 people. In reality, it has closer to 350,000. I don’t have to speak much to the locals. My conversations are pretty much confined to asking babushkas on the bus if they are going to get off at the next stop.  Other than that, I’ve had a few random encounters with people on the streets. They’ll ask me for a lighter or a cigarette or money for beer. Usually I have no idea what they are saying, and I just walk away.

Despite the general state of arrested decay of the city, there is a beauty here. This city is ancient, and its history and culture are rich. I love to walk through the streets and simply take in the vast differences of the people and architecture. A few days ago, two of the teachers and I went with two Russians to a park near some centuries-old cathedrals. We sat on a hill that looked out over miles and miles of land, and we drank cheap Russian beer in the midday heat. By the way, I was not greeted by the mild Russian summer I expected. It is just as hot in Vladimir as it was in Athens.

As I write this, I am watching Russian television with my host mother. She loves the program, ‘Let’s Get Married.’ As far as I can tell, young men and women come on the show to try to find a husband or wife, selecting from three suitors. I guess there are astrologers who help decide. I don’t really understand it or her enjoyment of it, but it’s good practice for listening to the language.

A brief description of my life in Russia so far: Part 1: My Apartment

 August 15, 2011 at 13:39

I wake up each morning extremely confused. After a few seconds, I remember I am in Russia, and the unintelligible shouting I heard from the street the night before makes more sense.  I am gripped by a sudden moment of terror, and the thought ‘what the hell are you doing’ enters my mind a few times. Eventually, that subsides and I take a shower and have some breakfast before I go to work.

I live in a four-room apartment with my host mother and her 22-year-old son. We sleep on couches. My room is just smaller than the living room, and I feel guilty about having the largest in the house. Daniil, the son, sleeps on the living room couch. Tanya, my host mother, sleeps in the computer room. The apartment is on the third floor of an old building. The building itself isn’t much to look at, but the actual apartment is extremely cozy, and it already feels like home.

Tanya and Daniil love to talk, and both are very patient with my poor understanding. A previous American Home teacher, also named Alex, is here for the summer. He lived with Tanya when he taught, and he has eaten dinner with us a few times. He usually acts as translator when he’s here. When he’s not here, Tanya, Daniil and I are left to our own devices to make me understand them. They do not speak any English, though they both understand some English words. Usually we get by with pantomimes and frequent trips to the Russian-English dictionary; however, there are some conversations we are forced to abandon as soon as we begin them due to my complete lack of understanding. I’m getting better at listening to their Russian, though, and I think it won’t take too terribly long before I can converse without much effort.

Tanya is an amazing cook. She makes my breakfast and my dinner every day, and, true to form for a Russian mother, she wants me to eat a lot. Even after she explained that she would understand if I could not eat huge meals, she forced me to finish a rather large breakfast of buckwheat she had prepared for me. She does so with a smile, though, and I know she finds it funny. Our first dinner consisted of a typical Russian salad (covered in Mayonnaise in the traditional Russian style), borsht, a final meat dish, and a bottle of vodka. Everything she has made is delicious. I’m pretty psyched to have someone to make food for me again.

I don’t have access to the internet here, but we have it at the American Home, and there are a few cafes across the city with free wireless, so I am not worried about being able to use it. I should be able to get most of my work done at the American Home, and I will be there for most of the day anyway.

We have a cat here. Her name is Manya, and she loves to stalk me. Tanya tells me that Manya finds Americans extremely interesting, especially when she is in heat. So far, she has simply spent her mornings hanging out in my room, smelling my clothing. She took a nap on my couch last night as I read. Even though she likes to follow me, she will not let me pet her, and she will often lightly bite my hand if I try. I think she’ll warm up to me, though.

I suppose that’s it for now. I’m still feeling the effects of living eight hours ahead of usual. Last night I fell asleep (read: passed out) with a book on my chest. I’m getting used to the transition, though.

The Life Cycles of Small Mammals -OR- Egg Sandwiches Made by Cassidy

(Originally posted  August 9, 2011 )

Today is my last day in the States, so bear with my story.

When I was little, my family and I went to a fireworks celebration. I cannot recall where exactly we went or the year, but I remember the lawn chairs we brought and the excitement of the night. The enormity of the crowd overwhelmed me as a child. So many people had gathered for a singular purpose, and I was part of them. The fireworks could have been spectacular or disappointing; I don’t remember them at all.

It was one of those magical Ohio-July nights for a child, when all the fireflies begin to appear, and the summer immediately takes on new meaning. From the moment we left the van, I sought to catch a firefly. I wanted the thrill of holding something beautiful. At that point, the fireworks meant little compared to my goal.

It didn’t take long, and before we had our chairs set up, I held a firefly in my cupped palms. I watched him illuminate the impromptu cage I had made for him with my hands. After careful study and revelry in the success of my hunt, I opened my hands to allow him to fly away. My mother had taught me never to be cruel to animals, so I had no intentions of caging him for my enjoyment. Yet, as we settled into our chairs and waited for the event to begin, the firefly sat peacefully on my hand. From that moment, the night revolved around my new friend.

He never once left me, and I don’t think I took my eyes off him for more than a few second to catch one of the bursts of light we had come to watch.  It was one of the first times I felt a true connection with non-human living creature. He seemed so content to simply watch the fireworks with me, as though the rest of the world and whatever firefly business he might have had could wait. Eventually, as we headed back for the van, I had to urge him to leave. Had I not brushed him from my hand into the night, I do not know how long he would have stayed with me. As I watched him fly away, casting his ephemeral beams of green, I felt a terrible sadness that only children feel. It comes with knowing you have experienced something wonderful, and you will never have that again. Some things fade with childhood.

Which brings us back to my last day in the States. I am twenty-two years old now, and that little boy who held a firefly during some distant Fourth of July celebration seems no more me than does any other stranger. The older I become, the younger I feel and the greater the rift between my past and me seems. Just like my firefly, I have had to say goodbye to so many people, places and things. Childhood homes, friends, lovers, family members, pets, haunts: all gone from me, some without even a backward glance.  Now it is time to leave again. This time it’s a package deal, and my goodbye must be all encompassing. I know the people who love me worry about my departure, and some wish I would not leave them at all. I can say only that I also worry, and I also wish at times to stay. But I am leaving, and someday I will return.

So here we are. I’m leaving the country and heading for a new place. I will miss you all more than I yet understand. I hope these words will bring me closer to you in some way. I have always felt that the written word binds us more than any other medium.

I have not written in more than a year. I once wanted nothing more than to write for the rest of my life. I had those puerile dreams of grandeur that many do. Somewhere along the way, I said goodbye to those too. I have wanted to write so often over the past few years. A terrible ennui left me lazy and apathetic, and eventually I let my craft slip away from me like so many old friends I no longer see or speak to. Now I have an impetus for change and a duty to keep my friends and family informed about my life. I think it is finally time to write again if only here.

Mark Twain once said the difference between using the right words and the almost right words is the difference between lightning and lightning bugs. I learned long ago that I cannot always find the right words. I’ve spent many years reconciling that fact with my youthful dreams of greatness. I’ve come to accept that it’s not important to always be the best. Sometimes it’s just too hard to catch lightning.

I’ve always been better at catching lightning bugs anyway.