Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Smell of Dying Grass...

Hi Everyone!!!

Life in Vladimir is pretty fantastic! I FINALLY defeated jet-lag, YAHOO!!! It only took one week!!!! Well, on second thought I may have a residual amount considering I wake up at 7am like clockwork. Oh well, nothing a few good late movies or book can’t cure.

My first week here was pretty great. It’s always pretty great out here! It’s like a continuous vacation from the rat race that was my former profession. Ha! That is NOT a slight to my former colleagues – it takes dedication and passion to even make it working for “The Mouse”. You all keep keepin’ on, you have what it takes! My passion for that wore out and it’s my time to do something else.

Week one in Vlad – I volunteered at my church’s children’s camp. It was like VBS and lasted from noon until five every day. We, the volunteers and counselors, had to arrive at 10am. Since I was still fighting jet-lag, it was a long day for me. I was thankful for the continuous supply of black tea, chocolate and cookies. I was in the yellow group with the youngest kids, ages 3-7. They were SO CUTE! Since we had two kids too young for camp, my friend Olya T. and I were in charge of watching them. So I took Fedya (our pastor’s SUPER CUTE son) and she watched her adorable daughter Sasha.
My group, Team Yellow.
My friend Olya and Fedya.

Fedya is ALL BOY! He’s truly great! He is so full of energy and zest! I had so much fun playing with him and watching him “attack” the slide and wooden animals in the playground. He would literally charge the slide, waving his little arms in the air while yelling his battle cry. He also is very musical – he makes up a song for ANYTHING! He discovered some batteries from the microphone and started singing “эта мая батерая... эта мая батерая” (in English “it’s my battery, my battery!”. It had a melody and everything! I always adored Fedya but after that first day, I totally fell in love with him and the idea of one day having my own son like him! Of course, as with all little boys – we learned to fly! He had a song for that too “We are flying, we are flying!” Yall know how to fly, right? He basically sat on my shoulders while I held him and he put his arms out like the wings of a plane. I wish we had a video, it was awesome! Later that night I felt like a train hit me. Every night after camp, I came home and collapsed into a coma by 7:30p. I figure it would be great to do that every day to stay young.

At Thursday’s camp session, I taught a lesson about America. Marina, our camp director, thought the topic Skyscrapers would be cool for the kids since our theme was Miracles & Wonders. She was right, the lesson was a hit! I put together a PowerPoint and even got to use George’s (my Russian brother) photos of his trip to Chicago. He even came to translate one of my lessons. We had fun!!! I also introduced the kids to Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches! That was fun!!!! I used the jar of Jif I brought back for someone else. Oops! But it was worth it, the kids LOVED it. I have found that when Russian kids taste PB alone, many of them don’t like it. But as a sandwich, all of them liked it and all got “seconds”. Afterwards, I ended up with a fan club. Everywhere I went, I was either followed by three girls: Marina, Leeza & Diana or four little boys: Kirill, Alyosha, Ilya & Roma. They were just darling!!!
Team Red aka my Fan Club
My new friends Marina (L), Diana (R) and their mom.

The day after camp ended Manana (my Russian mom) invited me to their friend’s dacha. It would be my second ДАЧА trip since returning. Both times were great, but they were two different dachas and two vastly different worlds! My Russian family’s dacha is a beautiful American home: two stories, a wine cellar, basement, full shower and bathroom, various bedrooms, a Jacuzzi, pool table etc… Plus the design is GORGEOUS!!!! It’s not like the other towering dachas that the “New Russians” (as my Russian dad calls them) built. Theirs has style and the architecture of an Orthodox church. It is simply beautiful. I could have happily stayed there all week!

The second дача was outside of Moscow and at least a 20-minute rollercoaster ride off the main road. Yes, it was a rollercoaster with all the bumps and holes in the road. I wasn’t surprised that most of the vehicles parked in the дачаs along the way were Hummers and various SUVs. My host dad told me that this is how the majority of the country (outside Moscow) lives. The дача was pleasant and I was thankful for the chilly air which made the mosquitos and flies tolerable. Boy, am I glad I didn’t go to this dacha in the summer! All was well and fine UNTIL I had to use the bathroom. Yeah, there was no toilet, only an outhouse. George and I cracked up laughing when we saw it from a safe distance. Then I really had to go and so I teased him that our friendship ended because he didn’t WARN me about the place before I agreed to come. He said he’d never been, fair enough. I determined to wait until I returned to civilization, I mean home.

SEVERAL hours and a complete Georgian feast later, we still weren’t heading home. Much to my chagrin, Manana and the other ladies insisted on a walk. GRR!!! I HATE being forced to do anything much less walk. I have to admit that SOME time I enjoy гулатing (walking) BUT with VERY SPECIFIC purpose and or people who (sadly) no longer live in Vladimir. Я скучю Бекс и Андрушка! I also enjoy going for walks with my students, they’re great. With them, Beks and Andrew, we always have something interesting to talk about and it makes no difference to either of us where we are heading, if anywhere or how long it will take to find Red Bull. To my mind (as Russians say), the idea of walking to just walk without a destination or purpose (i.e. walking to work or store) is pointless. If you want to exercise, go run or buy a bike or something. In my mind, walking to exercise is for old people, pregnant women and people recovering from heart/back/leg surgery. It’s especially tedious to walk with no purpose while I am STRUGGLING to speak Russian and protect myself from a perpetual onslaught of flesh-eating flies, gnats, bees, etc… So it’s now clear, I don’t walk for pleasure; only purpose. I was forced to walk this evening. Barely out of the dacha’s sight, we walked into a PUTRID REEKING STENCH! The family who owns the dacha assured me it was the smell of dying grass. WTH!?!?!? Dying grass?!?!?! Who has ever heard of that?!?! Not I. Granted, I’m from the 8th largest city in America and I consider far-lying suburbs to be “the country”. If grass truly died, I wouldn’t know it. Anyone who knows me has heard and seen that I am SO NOT a “Wilderness Girl”. I’ll be the first to admit it too, no shame! BUT I have been on hundreds of day-long road trips driving through my beloved Texas where we all know it doesn’t rain for months on end so grass is DEAD. Dead grass is not foreign to me but it NEVER reeks!

George was now by my side to coerce to keep walking. A few more steps into the stench and I vomited in my mouth. It was awful and don’t you know we didn’t have any water. It must have been the combination of eating the equivalent of four delicious meals in ONE sitting, lots of Georgian delicacies and an overly full bladder. Nevertheless, I blame the stench without which, I would have been fine. As I tried my best to regroup, I realized that I was in the middle of nowhere surrounded by 12 houses only 2 of which maybe had running water much less flushing toilets. I was not polluting my lungs with fumes from dying grass but from the stench of rotting sewage. When reality hit me, I nearly lost it again – all four meals! It was a sickening thought and smell. When I came to again, I saw that the entire dinner party was around me laughing. I couldn’t help but join their fit of laughter. It was disgustingly hilarious, maybe you had to be there – but be glad you weren’t!

OH! My mistake, we were walking to the lake – that was our destination. BUT the point of walking to the lake was not to swim but to look at it. To me, that is not purpose, especially when vomiting en route is de rigeour. I told George two words when we were done: NEVER AGAIN. He agreed. Despite the graphic events, it was a great Saturday. I had so much fun! My Georgian family is easily the best family in all of Russia. I love them so!!!! Once we returned from our walk, my host dad and mom teased me for half of the 3 hour ride home. We laughed and laughed. That day they learned the words “crap” and “poop”. It was pretty funny when I saw my host dad on Monday, he asked me If I wanted to go for a walk. All of us nearly collapsed with laughter. Then Manana said, “Not if it smells like crab”. George and I cracked up. Great times and even better memories.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Recap of March 2009

OH MY GOSH! I can NOT believe I haven't posted a blog since March. Wow, I am a slacker. Or not, perhaps I didn't post because I was so busy working hard, teaching and studying harder =) Hahah. A little of that is true but mostly, I have been away because I have been loving a good
life!!!! That's right, loving life!
I figure the best way to update you is with bulletpoints & photos, so here goes. The highlights of the last 2 months in my world:
March 2009 - visited Kameshkovo Orphanage with our Friends of Kameshkovo team... We were a small team this year but we had a great time with the kids! The kids were surprised by my Russian, of course, it's not fluent but they understood me and I them. Of course, thankfully we had translators for the big things: like family time, lessons and games. But talking to the kids on my own was AWESOME!!!!!!!!! I can't explain it unless you've experienced overcoming a language barrier. I have a long way to go but I'm up to it!

Kameshkovo Photos:
With Andrei, Alyosha and Maksim
The Red Family Group
Front L to R: Maksim & Mekhti; 2nd row: Alex, Valya, Alyosha and Yulia; Back row: Korvan, Veronika, Oksana, me, Katya
Our "Noah's Ark" Skit Group: Mekhti, Valya, Oksana & Alyosha
Alyosha, aka The Greatest Child Ever, was Noah... He and I created the ark =)
With The Greatest Child Ever, Alyosha
At the Nadezhda Fund with the Kameshkovo Grads
Again at the Fund with Lena (L) and Anya (R)
With the senior boys: Vanya, Andrei, Vitya, me, Sergei, Maks & Artyom

The end of our camp at Kameshkovo was sad because I don't know when I will visit again. I still don't have permission to visit on a regular basis. I have resolved to give up on pushing/trying for that because I have done everything I possibly could and nothing came of it. So it's in God's hands now.
Another reason it was sad, my host mom Manana, got very ill during this time and was hospitalized. She has a severe heart and blood pressure problem. She was in the hospital a very long time, nearly 3 weeks. She came home in mid April. Since she and I her husband gave me their master bedroom, they needed their space back so she could recover. So on April 24th, I moved into my own apartment. It was sad to leave my host family because I loved them as my own family. They are AWESOME! The saddest part was leaving her and having her cry and cry. I have visited them since and I try to call them at least once a week to say Hello. She still is not well, so please keep her in your prayers. She will be going to Moscow later this week for more tests.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Super Sunday

AT LONG LAST!!!! Alyosha, Oksana and Pasha came to visit me in Vladimir. We had a TON of fun!!! It began at 8am when they arrived at the train station. Then I gave them a tour of the AH, the school where I teach. Ironically, they loved the place of my stress!!! It was completely foreign to them so I guess that's why =)

Then we went to Mir Reptili. Which looked like an overpriced little room with 20 cases of reptiles. The kids were happy so I was happy. BUT THEN, the worker chick came over and took the animals OUT OF THEIR CAGES!!!! That's right, it was wild! We got to hold anacodas (it took 8 of us), gekkos, turtles, a boa, etc... It was awesome! So worth the 150 rubles per person =) Then it was time for lunch at Cafe Pizza. And after that bowling!!!

They'd never been before and it was so fun to see them loving it =) Even Nina bowled!!!! I won the first game and Alyosha won the second!!! It was truly a perfectly, wonderful day!!!!
Then we finished the day with tea, cookies and ice cream at the AH. It was truly a wonderful and perfect day! THIS IS WHY I MOVED HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My Fabulous Weekend Continues...

After camping, err.. the retreat, I went to Dasha's birthday dinner. She turned one years old on Friday. She is precious as ever=) She greeted me at the door. As soon as I took off my boots, I opened my bag to pull out her presents. Dasha heard this and ran back toward me with her arms out ready to get her gifts. It was SUPER CUTE!!! She knew exactly what to do and pulled the wrapping paper off immediately!
She loved the books!
Anya and I midway through the night.

In the end, it was the birthday girl and I.

Camping in Russian- Sorta...

So my church had a weekend retreat for the college and career group. Ever so grateful to still be in this age group (HAHAH!), I attended. Of course, I didn't bother to ask what to bring or where it would be. So being the witty and clever genius that I am, I called it CAMPING! Ha!
To my delight, it was way better than camping!!! If you're reading my blog, then you know me and know that I am so not a camper. I don't mind wearing "wilderness" girl outfits if need be but seriously not for more than a day! And I certainly won't play the part, I will only wear the gear. My brothers and family know that I hate camping more than I don't know what. I have only been twice and not since I was 13. That was when my idiot cousin and brother threw my backpack in the river. My dad made them chase it but all my clothes were soaking wet. It sucked. The memory makes my skin crawl, ew.

Our retreat was more of a huge dorm. It was fun and I am sorry that I left early but I had triple-booked that weekend.

A few pics:

The view from my room, pretty huh?

Sadly, Russian winter is on it's way out. I didn't even get to ski, BOO!

This was our scary and sad shower, thank God I was there only one day and got to shower at home! So you see it was camping-like. But we had a flushing toilet, yay!

In keeping with Russian tradition, we had tea. I drank more tea in two days than I typically do all week. Wow.Our room was comfy. The bed was great! I even took a nap 10 minutes after waking up and dressing!

Good times: with Bekah and her guitar (Stella)

Saying good-bye to Kati, it was her last weekend in Russia.

Country-western line dancing - Russian style!

Decorating sugar cookies, OF COURSE!

Vacation TIME!

I only got three days of vacation but considering the crap that I deal with at work, they were more than welcomed!!!! Plus we got paid during vacation, I was happy to have my SIX dollars. HA! Sad, but true.
On Monday, I headed out to Moscow with Bekah and Reese, my MAPs. We took THE BEST photos ever of each other clowning around. Including a MUST-SEE photo of "Muslim Erin" and "Erin the Thinker". Those two shots are OUTSTANDING. But beware looking at them while you are at work, you will scream with laughter.
Bekah with her new fur hat, isn't she PRECIOUS? Only $16 for that hat! I brought on too and when I came home wearing it, George yelled "COSSACK!!!" It was tremendous!

This is host cousin, Tamuna. She is gorgeous and 13. She loves all my earrings. Ironically when we were shopping in Moscow, I saw a pair EXACTLY like my silver ones that she loves. Needless to say, I brought both a pair in gold, YAY! Georgian sisters, TOCHNA!!!!

Celebrating Women's Day - Day Four

My first house guest came to visit, dear and sweet Bekah, YAY!!!!!!!!!!! My family LOVED her and my host uncle and cousins came over. We had a HUGE meal and lots of delicious treats =)
Aren't they sweet? I LOVE them!!!

Celebrating Women's Day with Gifts!!!

I started to celebrate on Thursday when my students brought my flowers and chocolates. It was very sweet- literally, hahaha.
Friday morning, sweet little Arseny "congratulated" me with my FAVORITE flowers, tulips. When his mom gave them to me, he quickly jumped in and said, "those aren't from me, those are from my mom and dad". Then he ran off and quickly returned holding little juice boxes. He said, "These are from me!" It was the CUTEST THING!!!Friday night, my host dad threw a small surprise party for Manana (my host mom) and I at their restaurant complete with DJ and dancing. It was so fun!!!!! I didn't have my camera but George did and he took tons of photos. I will post them soon =)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Heart-Shaped Cookies

So the day before, on the 13th, I went to the Nadezhda Fund with moi russki brat, George and maya padruga, Helen.

I baked/decorated Valentine's Day cookies and brought snacks for tea time.

The cookies were originally just for visiting Aloysha and the kids in Kameshkovo. But I had so much fun baking them that I baked 10 DOZEN, that's right folks. And I decorated EVERY SINGLE LAST ONE of them!!!! It was so fun!!!! I even shared some with my teenage students, they loved them =) Everyone - my students, the grads and I, had a great time!!!

The Weekend I'd Been Waiting For...

FINALLY came on the 15th of February- I got to visit both Alyoshas, Oksana and Pasha at their foster family in Kameshkovo, YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! From L to R: Alyosha Usoev, Slava (their foster dad), Pasha, Alyosha, Erin, Nina (their foster mom), Karina (Nina & Slava's granddaughter) and Oksana.

My dear friend Anya drove and translated. She did a fantastic job, per normal!!! SPASIBA ANITCHKA!!!! In the photo below, she is sitting next to me. Isn't she gorgeous?!
It was our Christmas/Valentine's Day celebration. Nina, Alyosha's foster mom, made a delicious meal!!!! I baked and decorated Valentine's Day cookies in the shape of hearts. It was hilarious to see their expressions when they saw the cookies! They loved them =) I guess now, that I think of it, cookies like that don't exist here, hehe. Then of course, the kids got their presents. The flying monkey was a HUGE hit with everyone!!!! Pasha LOVED his electric guitar toy- even Slava enjoyed it =)
With my favorite kids in the ENTIRE world: Pasha, Lyosha, Alyosha, Karina and Oksana.

Karina with her stickers and Alyosha in the back- I can't believe how much he grew!!! He's fantastic! If I could possibly love him more, he'd be my own son!

The BEST thing this month, actually in the six months that I have lived here, was seeing them! Plus, even better is that Nina agreed to bring them to Vladimir regularly to hang out with me! This weekend, we're going to plan for ice skating, skiing or bowling- YAY!!!!