Sunday, December 31, 2006

Making Friends

I've been getting to know some of my students better. Somewhere, something shifted, and I've started going out socially more often. Learning more about some of my students is fascinating. Their commitment to learning English is incredible. I spent one Sunday walking in the park, talking to a student who began studying English at home, by herself, with a pile of books and tapes. She lives in a nearby village and has to take a 30 min train to get to Vladimir. On the days that we have class, she spends the night with a host family in town because it's too late and too far to go back to her village, plus the trains don't run that often. We spent most of this day walking and talking until we were cold, and then we moved to a cafe. Since then, we've gone out to dinner, and also went to a performance at the drama theater. I knew from her journals that she liked fashion and design and used to make her own clothes and jewelry. I didn't know until we shared some pictures with each other that she also used to model. She's very tall and dramatic. It was interesting to look at the other women in her modeling class/group. Most Russian women are petite and very beautiful. In contrast to the stories of some of my American girlfriends who have modeled, no one in her group appeared overly thin or anorexic. I'm sure it happens, but this particular group looked very healthy, which I was glad to see. For Christmas, she made me a beaded bracelet, and I'm trying to figure out what on earth to do in return.

Another of my students is a competitive athlete (biathlon - skiing or running and shooting), but she really dreams of being a tour guide. We went to the art museum together and spent over three hours there :) Partly because we were both mesmerized by looking at and discussing everything, and also since we were distracted by a demonstration of ballroom dancing ettiquete, where museum staff danced with one another and explained how fans were used to indicate your level of interest in a man (I think three feathers was a good sign). She's quite indignant that many people in the city haven't explored the cultural events that do exist in Vladimir, and I forsee many more outings in our future. At the end of our museum trip, she said she was glad I could see the museum and all of its paintings, because it helped to explain Russia, its history and its people to me much better than if she had tried to in her own words. Also, it made her feel a little bit like a tour guide (which I think she would be great at).

I think it was a Wednesday night that some of the men in my class protested their exclusion after I'd gone to Baskin Robbins with the women in the class, so in support of gender equality, we all headed out to a cafe and played billiards until 1 am.

All in all, it's feeling a little bit more like home.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Wednesday morning, we visited an orphanage. 6 of us went (4 women, 2 men). When we walked in the door, several young children started yelling.

Galya: Do you know what they're saying?
Us: No
Galya: Mama, papa, they're coming to take us home.

<knife in stomach>

We spent a few hours with the kids and some of the other teachers who work at the orphanage. I'm not sure if it was state-funded but it looked like a nice place. I think they take good care of the children. We played airplane (and were told "Only men should pick up children. We feed them. Men lift them.") Fortunately, my lack of Russian was not a barrier.

One girl hasn't been adopted yet. Her mother doesn't have custody because she's a drug addict. She keeps visiting the orphanage to tell her daughter she'll be coming home soon. Her daughter keeps waiting and believes that she'll go home one day.

We've agreed to go back - at least 4 people will come and help once a week.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

We held our own celebration here at the American Home, cooking a great feast last Sunday for the Russian staff and our host families. My contributions included bread pudding and gravy for the turkey (yes, we actually found some turkeys in Russia!) For many of us, it was the first time we'd ever really made everything on our own. With a recipe mix of family favorites from all parts of the country, it turned out quite well. You can see us making fruit salad in the kitchen, and me stirring the pot of gravy on the stove.

Friday, December 01, 2006

No Snow

The weather has been very strange lately. Last winter was one of the coldest in recent memory. This winter is uncertain, but shaping up to be one of the warmest. All of the snow has melted, leaving a constant wet drizzle accompanied by large swaths of mud in its wake.

Global warming?

It feels more like late fall on the east coast than anything else. I kind of like it except we're all getting sick.