Friday, July 8, 2011

Leaving Russia....

This post is considerably late in coming, I realize this, but at this point it can't really be helped can it?

It's been a month since I left Elista and left Russia altogether.  I still can't believe it happened so quickly and I still can't believe it's over. It was a trip both metaphorically and literally. Here's what I have to say:

I HAD A GREAT TIME!

I had a pretty amazing time in Russia despite my complaints and despite everything else that might have happened.  Russia is a place that you love and hate and one you most certainly love to hate.  As I was leaving the airport, there was another American sitting there, talking and crying to one of her friends still in Moscow.  We spoke and I asked her how long she'd been in Russia (2 years) and how she felt about leaving, etc, etc.  She told me this and while I've known this all along, her analogy was perfect.

"Russia is like a mean husband and those of us who keep coming back are like the blind wives. We know we should leave him because he is mean and beats us, but we him deeply and we can't help, but to return to it."

This is a perfect way of illustrating how Russia can be. One minute you love it, the next it's your least favorite place on earth.

I had initially thought this post would be very deep and introspective, but as I write I realize that I can't do that in a post about leaving Russia. That will have be more of a post about me and what I learned there and this just isn't the place for that. Instead I will leave you with a brief pros and cons list of what was great about my time in Russia:

Pros:

  • Living in the dorm (to an extent)
  • Amazing experience
  • Wonderful, fun students
  • Great friendships made
  • Really experience a new culture
  • The food
  • The language
  • The independence
  • The Russian and Kalmyk people
  • Babushki
  • Train rides
  • The history
  • The pride in their culture and heritage
  • The amazement that occurs literally every single day (whether it's good or bad, the idea is an overwhelmingly good one)
  • Everything

Cons:
  • Living in the dorm
  • The toilets (I'll forever hate these in Russia)
  • Seeing someone get shot the day before my birthday
  • The food (it's good, but not much variety)
  • All the smoking
  • The stereotypes that seemingly hold up (whether ones Americans hold about Russians or vice-versa)
  • The internet
I definitely had my troubles in Russia and did my fair share of complaining, but my friends (both those in other countries as well as my fellow ETAs) and my family helped me a great deal and overall, I just can't believe how great it was.  I would do it again in a heartbeat, but knowing what I know now, I'd certainly change some things.

To those of you who read this and have been to Russia for any length of time, you'll understand my sentiments. For those of you who have not, I apologize because there is truly no way of writing about what Russia really is and what it means to experience it so I'll leave you with a quote I was given by a friend by the poet Tyutchev:

"Умом Россию не понять,
Аршином общим не измерить:
У ней особенная стать —
В Россию можно только верить."



Translated as this:
"Russia can't be understood with the mind,
Can't be measured with a yardstick:
She has a unique characteristic - 
In Russia it's only possible to believe."


So Dear Readers, I leave you with these final thoughts about my time in Russia and what it meant to me. It was a fantastic time and one that cannot be replaced or replicated.

Monday, July 4, 2011

101 Things: #57 - Visit two new Russian cities

So as you can see I've been bad about posting what I've done, but one of the cooler things I've accomplished from this list is to see two new Russian cities: Volgograd and Astrakhan...let's begin

I was in Volgograd for Easter and it was a pretty crazy experience. I didn't realize it was Easter weekend when I left, but I'm glad I went that weekend since Kalmykia is mainly Buddhist and doesn't celebrate Easter, I was able to see more of how the Russians do things (including a midnight Easter service).

I stayed with my ETA friend Jess and we had a pretty cool time.  It was nice to be able to see a bigger city after being in Elista and it was nice to see the water.  I'm also really glad I was able to see Volgograd since it's such an important Russian city (if you don't know why, google it because you should). It was very cool to see Мать Родина as well as the WWII museum.  I had a great time hanging with Jess and was able to meet some of her friends too!

The midnight service was probably the coolest though. Russian Orthodox churches hold services at midnight on Easter and they last for four hours. And if that's not enough, everyone (including the babushki) have to stand the entire time.  There's lots of singing and chanting and it's really pretty fascinating! We stayed for a little over an hour before deciding to bail and get some rest, but it was a really cool experience!  Here are some pics!
 


It's apparently bigger than the Statue of Liberty and the Russians are proud of that...but we have better roads!




Now on to Astrakhan.  I went to Astrakhan in May by myself and it was a crazy pretty city and extremely old! If you don't know much about Astrakhan I again suggest googling it like I did before I went. It's an old city and was split up into two parts: the Russian Kremlin where the Russians lived and the Tartar camps where the Tartars lived.  The Kremlin is exceptionally beautiful and the churches and museums are amazing.  The city is also located on the Volga river and so the sunsets were absolutely gorgeous!

Astrakhan was also very interesting because sitting where it sits, it's a mixture of Russian and Muslim and I saw Russian and Azerbaijani flags flying together along the streets. It was a sight to see in Russia.  The city was also very poor though, very different from Moscow or even Elista. Some of the homes where people lived in the Muslim section of the city where just tiny shacks and it was pretty sad to see.

I also took a nice boat tour on the Volga and had some nice dark beer and dried fish, even if it was a bit overpriced.  All in all it was a great time! I even managed to navigate the marshrutkas by myself! I was so proud!  Check out the pics!



101 Things: #33 - Live in another country

Well I finished my time in Russia and I think that 9 months sufficiently counts as living in another country, especially considering I was living not in a major urban center, in the student dorms and working there. It was a good experience and I really do miss it!

And now I've moved to the Dominican Republic where I'll most likely be living for the next couple of years so I definitely say I've lived in another country!


101 Things: #23 - Finish Grad School

This is going to be a short post, but I did it! I finished graduate school and now I have a Master's in Teaching and am officially done with the UW! It feels good and it was a long, EXPENSIVE process, but I'm done and I never have to deal with it again! Whoo hoo!!!


StuffRussiansLike - Update: July 4, 2011

Okay, here's another, much overdue StuffRussiansLike Post!


66. Grannies - I find this one to be absolutely hilarious.  No matter who you talk to in Russia, if they're speaking English and their grandmother comes into the conversation, it's never 'my grandmother' or 'my grandma' it's always 'my grannie'. Doesn't matter how distinguished the person is, they use the word Granny.  It's funny and I like it!






67. Shirts Too Tight: I've noticed that many European men, but particularly Russian men, are like the Grinch. Only it's not their hearts that are two sizes too small, it's their t-shirts.  In shape? Tight t-shirt. Really Skinny? Tight t-shirt. Severely overweight? Tight t-shirt. Doesn't matter, the t-shirt sizes in Russia seem to be two sizes too small. It's...weird.




68.  Ice Cubes: This one isn't really so much of a 'StuffRussiansLike', but more of a 'StuffRussiansHate'.  I don't know why they don't like ice cubes. Maybe it's superstition, maybe it's just dislike, but either way it's mind boggling. When it gets hot in Russia, you'd think some ice to cool off your (non-refrigerated) drink would be delicious, but nope. It isn't. It's scary and terrifying apparently...