Monday, December 27, 2010

Planes, Trains & Automobiles...oh and Vodka & Christmas Day!

Before I discuss my Christmas day on a bus/train, let me preface this post with a short description of my Christmas Eve.

Friday, or Christmas Eve, was the party for all faculty members of Kalmyk State University and it was a very fun/odd evening.  First off, unlike office parties in the US, everyone here got really drunk and that's the norm, in fact it's expected.  There were gifts handed out and contests going on and it was really fun! It was a little weird though too because I felt like it was a combination of Hansel & Gretel and night club in the geriatric district of Miami.  I was force fed more food and types of meat than I could count and groped by more women over the age of 50 than I care to think about it.  But really I had a great time! Oh and it was at the same club where I saw that guy get shot (I was told he's out of the hospital and fine now) and I was happy to see the club now has signs posted saying you can't bring in guns...

Anyways, onto CHRISTMAS DAY! Yay! Well...kinda. I got up at around 5 am on Christmas to make sure everything in my dorm room was in order, since my bus was leaving for Volgograd at 6:30.  Everything was good and I made it to the bus stop at around 6:10, found my bus and sat down.  We didn't leave Elista until 7 since the driver was waiting for people who didn't show up, but that was okay too since my train wasn't leaving until 3 and it's only a 4 hour drive or so.  The bus ride passed uneventfully as I slept virtually the whole way, waking up only when we stopped in random villages to pick up other passengers.  I was lucky that there was a woman on the bus who spoke English very well and was very helpful in helping me to get to the train station and finding my train.

Anyways, we arrived at the train station at about 1 and I sat and waited for my train.  When it finally arrived I bid my English-speaking friend adieu and boarded the train, taking special care to make sure I was in the right место or bed, unlike the last time I had ridden a train alone.

I was the first of four to arrive in my cabin, but the others slowly started coming in.  The first was a woman, I'd say in the late-30s, who was nice enough, but maybe trying to act a bit young for her age and not quite pulling it off.  The next was a younger woman with her very young daughter (maybe a year and a half?) who provided all of us in the cabin with entertainment during the waking hours and annoyance as she cried during the night.  The last to enter was a bald man, whom I did not realize was a serious alcoholic.

Anyways, our train starts to move and not 20 minutes later, this guy, figuring me to be a Russian guy, asks if I want to join him in the restaurant.  Of course I say sure and we make our way to the restaurant car a few cars down.  We sit down, he takes the menu from me, says I don't need and that, if I'm not opposed, we'll have some beer and vodka.  I reluctantly agreed.   Well, our vodka arrived (I don't remember which brand it was, but it wasn't good) along with our beer.  Before we even started drinking, this guy was having trouble getting the beer in the glasses, which I initially attributed to the rocking of the train.

4 large beers and 6 or 7 or 8 shots of vodka later, I was sufficiently buzzed and this dude was hammered.  I had trouble understanding him at first, but now the words were like kasha coming out of his mouth: pure mush.  At this point, he started getting angry that I wasn't understanding most of what he was saying. I told him I had to go to the bathroom and he got fairly upset and pushed me back in my seat. I talked him down and eventually he let me go. When I returned, the waitress said my friend had gone off in the opposite direction of our car and I told her I didn't care; he was drunk and not my friend.  So I went back to my car, found the bathroom and due to an awesome combination of vodka, beer and perpetual rocking motion of the train, vomited it all back up (but I felt good in the morning!).

Speaking of morning, the darling little girl in our cabin wakes us up at around 7:20 or so in the morning and my alcoholic friend disappears for a bit as we pull into this station a few hours outside of Moscow.  He shows up with, for me and him, 4 liters of Russian beer. "Great!" I think to myself.  Lots of vodka last night and now, I get to really life the alcoholic life at 7:30 in the am with 4 liters of beer.

Of course, as you must have guessed, I did in fact drink. I had maybe a liter of all that and this guy must have had 3 by himself. It was a display to say the least.  I was also able to finally try dried fish or whatever it's called (I don't know the Russian word or the English one) and it wasn't bad, just very salty and fishy tasting.

At this point, we're about 25 km outside of the station in Moscow when our train stops for no apparent reason.  Here we sat, with only 15 minutes to go to reach our destination, for a 4 hours! Ugh! 4 hours and I still have no idea why.  To top it off, my alcoholic friend had discovered that before boarding yesterday, he had purchased a liter of beer, which he 'graciously' offered to me and which despite my gentle 'нет спасибо' (no thank you) I ended up drinking even more or this deliciously above-room temperature beer.

Finally, our train started to move again and we pulled in the station...4 hours late, where I, severely buzzed at this point, left as soon as humanly possible and went to my hotel for a nap and a shower.

So, Dear Readers, Christmas was spent drunk and on a train. It was my first Christmas away from home and weird if only because it didn't feel like Christmas at all. It was simply another day traveling and an interesting one at that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My First Shooting....oh and My 25th Birthday

So this past weekend, I saw someone get shot. Literally shot. Twice.

So here's the rundown: It's Friday, December 3rd and some friends ask me if I want to get some dinner and a few drinks for my birthday. I, of course, agree and go meet them at a little place next to my dorm.  We weren't there very long when we decided to head for a restaurant/dance club 'Даян' (if you can't read that, sorry). I was little upset when we sat down because I learned that I HAD to order dinner, something I had just eaten not 20 minutes before.  But I obliged and ordered some sort of pork with, конечно!, cheese and mushrooms. Regardless of the garnishes it was pretty good, especially with the Carlsberg I was washing it down with.  Anyways, we had eaten, had a beer or two and danced a little (well not me really, my friends) and it was around 12:30 and we were sitting at our table talking a little bit. That's when it happened....

A group of obviously drunk guys was walking down the center aisle after getting their boogie on, about 10 feet away from our table. Well one guy decided to push another, which as it turns out, was a very bad choice. The drunk guy who got pushed wasn't happy about being pushed, pulled out his gun and let off three rounds.

It all happened really fast and it wasn't until it was over and saw the blood and the hurt girl behind me that I realized what had actually took place.  The drunk guy had hit his target twice, though I'm not sure where and I believe a third shot grazed the head of a girl sitting as she was bleeding a fair amount, but not seriously injured.  During the shooting something ricocheted off my head. I'm not sure what it was, but I THINK (though I know next to nothing about guns) it was a casing as it came pretty fast, but didn't really hurt.

I understand things kinds of can happen anywhere and as such the most disturbing part of the evening was the reaction of the people in the restaurant.  While I've never been present during a US club shooting, I imagine that people generally run and scream and try to leave.  Elista, Russia? No sir. After a few moments the patrons of the restaurant continued with their evening of eating, drinking and dancing as a janitor lady mopped up the blood while my friends and a few people who knew I was American passed the situation off as "That's Kalmykia!" or "That's Elista!" No, good people of Kalmykia/Elista, no that is not the correct response.

Anyways, I'm not sure if the guy died or if the shooter was arrested.  I was ready to leave, but my friends said we needed to wait for the police to arrive and make sure we wouldn't get shot on the way out, which seemed smart to me.  The cops finally showed up and it was about another hour and a half before we could actually leave, during which at least two more fights broke out.  But I finally managed to get home, though I didn't get much sleep.

Well the next day was my birthday and due to a lack of sleep, I spent the better part of the morning/afternoon in bed.  However, I had class at 3 and I was excited for it. It was with my Access students and they had decorated the room with some posters and a banner.  It was a very sweet gesture and we ended up having a great class.

That night I decided not to go out, something I figured I was totally justified in doing even though it was my birthday and to relax and watch movies in the safety of my room.  One of the Mongolian students in my dorm, one who regularly attends my class brought a cake, a card and a little gift.  It was very sweet and I was a bit moved as it was very unexpected.  After this, two OTHER Mongolian students, whose names I don't know and had never actually talked to before, brought me some Mongolian keychains in honor of my birthday.

Overall, Dear Readers, it was perhaps the best/worst and most interesting weekend I've ever had.  Not necessarily one I'd like to relive, but certainly one I don't want to forget!