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.