Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Day of Mourning

While my family in Canada is currently in mourning due to the Calgary Flames' annihilation, I stayed home this morning to see how my resident country is paying respect to their first President.

I woke up not so early to my cell phone ringing. As luck would have it, one of my classes was cancelled. So relieved for an extra hour of sleep and extra time to go to the centre to pick up my pay (an hour commute), I began to relax.

Last night some of my students were talking about how today has been declared a day of mourning for Yeltsin. There would be no television commercials or entertainment of any kind. To find out if they were right, I turned on my television for only the second time since I've been here. The first time was to watch Putin's address on New Year's eve (booorrring).

There was a live broadcast on almost every channel of the funeral, open casket and all. They showed thousands of people lined up outside the church in Kropotkinskaya, which happens to be next to the school where I needed to pick up my pay. New plan. I decided to stay home, prepare some lessons, and watch TV.

The Russians were paying their respect by walking through the church and viewing the body. It went on for hours. The more important people were greeting the widow and her daughters. Mrs. Yeltsin looked exhausted. Despite not understanding the Russian commentator, I did hear some name mentions, including former Canadian Prime Minister Chretien... or was that Chechnyn? Probably not. I think I saw the back of his head, anyway. George Sr. and Bill, sporting what appeared to be matching blue ties, stole the spotlight for a while, along with some other former world leaders.

My students had nothing but praise for Yeltsin. Some recounted stories of his social exhibitions and a group of older students told me he gave them hope. Mary, who is 45 years old, said it was the only time in her life she felt that way. We don't talk 'politics' too much in class, partly due to my not wanting to offend anyone and also because, as one student put it, "the walls might be listening", But, without criticizing anyone in particular, they did agree that they don't feel that same sense of hope now.

No one's perfect but I think it's pretty cool that a guy could inspire hope in a whole country and keep their respect. RIP Boris!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

We Are the Champions!!

Every month, our school puts on a seminar for professional development. Although it's tough to give up a precious Saturday, I like going to get new ideas and it's also an opportunity to meet other teachers. There seems to be a revolving door with this company and it's hard to find ex-pat friends since where I work is a bit isolated.

Yesterday, I participated in a trivia quiz/fundraiser, put on by a couple of the teachers after the seminar. My friends basically forced me to join their team. The idea was to get a good mix of nationalities but to ensure at least one Russian, which we were having trouble finding for our team. That was worrisome and I was also quite nervous that I'd be expected to know important North American references.
I actually hate trivia. I have a great fear of it.. going hand-in-hand with humiliating myself in public. I stayed up late every night the past week surfing the web to find and memorize important dates, like birthdays of former Prime Ministers and when Champlain first arrived. 1603. If you knew these girls who put this quiz on, you'd understand the pressure.
Well it turned out to be quite stimulating, even fun... and brain-damaging. We snagged an authentic Russian, Ilyia, during the seminars and we managed to get enough right answers to win the quiz. Luckily, there weren't many Canada-related questions (although I also found that somewhat insulting). Like, who really cares about rugby and cricket? But somehow even I got lucky with a couple answers. Gotta love those old Saturday morning movies. That conversion from the 'Imperial' system when I was in grade 4 also came in handy for calculating California Mike's answers into the 'metric' system.
The top three teams were neck 'n neck throughout the nine rounds, but Russian Roulette (I picked that name) came out on top. The best part was that we raised over 10,000 rubles for a great Moscow charity which helps children with disabilities get medical care. Good stuff!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Christos Voskrese... Happy Easter!!

My Russian Orthadox friends told me Christos Voskrese literally means 'Christ Has Risen'. The reply is Voiltinu Voskrese... 'He really IS risen'. They celebrated in their church from Saturday evening until 6:00 am, Sunday morning. Then they ate home-made Easter bread called Khulich and started drinking kha-kha. I suspect they still are after all that fasting.

A bunch of us teachers went to a Bulgarian restaurant and celebrated a 40th birthday, along with the fact that we weren't currently working. The food, atmosphere, and company made it a very enjoyable evening, although quite expensive. I'll be fasting for the rest of the month.

Today I bummed around with Mike and Luis in Oktyabrskaya area. Aside from the massive Lenin statue, now competing with Sanyo, we didn't see any other reference to the 1917's October Revolution. We were actually more interested in spying on the militia while they pulled over dark-skinned drivers.
We considered 'sacrificing' Luis in order to obtain photographic proof of his harassment to date - 49 checks. He recounted one incident where he got some of his property and documents taken away from him - he refused to offer a bribe. An old Babushka, who had been trying to marry him off to her grand-daughter, befriended him. She drug him to the police station and made a big scene by repeatedly slamming her purse on the counter and using official words like 'legal' and 'family'. He eventually got back his stuff due to her demands and narrowly escaped the other 'imprisonment'. I suspect he still has Babushka's number on him though.

The Bolsheviks?
The most impressive place in the area was this authentic Mexican restaurant. Saddles for bar stools and 'Wanted' posters everywhere, it really felt like stepping into the wild west. The toilets were the most fun. They had animal sounds... horses, chickens, cows, and lovely Mexican cowboy music alternating out of them. The burritos were okay but the taco salad tasted remarkably like the chicken salad I had at a Russian chain restaurant a few days ago. Glad I didn't try the ceviche. We're still in Russia after all.
We wanted to go for a walk along the river afterward but there was a freak snow storm and everything was blinding white when we came out so went home and slept.
It didn't feel much like Easter, but I remember being in Israel last summer and walking the steps Jesus walked, ironically, with Mexicans.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Just Another Week

My first week back was pure chaos, which is not unsual here. I had to try and find out which classes were covered while I was away so I could prepare. All the info I did eventually get was incorrect so I had some frustrating moments. I basically did the same thing as when I first got here... flew by the seat of my pants. Luckily, my students are very forgiving and I enjoyed bringing them back souvenirs from Canada. It was so good to see them ... even Masha's dog, Lisa, who joined us for a class. woof woof

The good news is that the weather has been fantastic. There isn't any snow left and it feels like spring. It's still quite ugly and dirty, but at least I'm not having a serotonin crisis. I got a new, and much improved, flat-mate (that's 'room-mate' for you non-Europeans). I like coming home knowing there's someone else around, even if we don't really see each other much. I've had to learn the few Russian words I thought I knew over again but I still remember some British.

At the weekend ('on the weekend' for you non-Brits) I found myself at another teacher's party. I will let you guess who are teachers or students. There was a good mix of both and everyone seemed equally sloshed. Quite a piss-up, even some 'snogging in the toilet (I heard).

The next morning my friend, who had crashed, reminded me it was April Fool's Day so we played a little joke (copyright C.Schraefel 1995) on the guy who had thrown the party. I got a school administrator to ring him (call him on the phone) and tell him an inspector was coming in two hours to look over the flat (apartment). It was quite believable since his flat-mate was about to move out. He called me 20 minutes later, frantic, and said 'Help, I need help. I have to have apartment cleaned in two hours'. In unison, my friend and I said 'April Fool's' to him but he wouldn't acknowledge it. Instead he whispered 'well, actually, I have my students (who had crashed) here cleaning and could you still bring over your hoover (that's vacuum cleaner for you non-Brits). So I carried the blooming thing, along with my aching head, two metro stops over to him... a little relieved, actually,that his flat was finally getting cleaned. He had kind of 'let it go', didn't he.

Sunday night I met a friend for Azerbaijan food. Azerbaijan is on the Caspian Sea and borders Iran, Georgia, Armenia, and Russia. I hadn't even heard of it until I moved here. But now, I'm teaching private lessons to some people originally from there and who are trying to immigrate to Canada. Anyway, the food was great and inexpensive. I asked my student about the meat and she said usually they eat ram instead of beef, but there was a stew that tasted very much like my mom's beef stew. Later we walked along Old Arbat, a pedestrian street catering to tourists. It's weird that this was my first time there since I've been here four months. The street wasn't all that impressive to me. I had seen the merchandise in other places around the city but I do know there is a lot of history which I will try to relay in another post one day. I hope they clean it up a bit for the summer. I'd do anything to sit ont a nice patio. But there are still so many places here I've yet to explore... and Bob's your uncle.

Ilsa recommends trying new things! Cheerio!