Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I really have no name for this next blog entry, so I've decided to title it "December." There are too many things to write about.

Actually, it is a good point to make that it is NOT November. November was kind of a month of inertia... I got into this lull of classes and routines and people canceling things right and left and being bored and stuck in a comfort zone... which has the effect on me that doing anything out of the ordinary seemed like a big scary deal.

This month is the exact opposite. Things are busy. Interesting. Always involving people. Sometimes stressful, in a good way.
One thing that was NOT stressful was... this weekend! I finally made it to a Russian banya.  In the movies, it's when large awkward looking men drink vodka in a sauna and hit each other over with birch sticks. Fortunately, this is was not the case... I went to the sanatorium with two friends- the colleague Volodya and his friend Anton... they are neither large nor awkward looking, we did not drink vodka, and there were no birch sticks involved. It was pure, relaxing fun. The only problem was that sometimes we would argue about which language to speak. Everyone always wants to practice English with me, but if I speak English for too long my Russian gets all messed up.
It was a weekend of freezing cold frozen-lake islands exploration, deep and meaningful conversations, and бесцельные прогульки (aimless walks- something Americans lack. I noted yet another difference...when friends meet up in America, it seems like it always has to be IN or AT some place.. a restaurant or house or something... Russians can just meet up and walk, without a destination. I like this.)

A sanatoria is like a spa, but not necessarily so expensive and fancy. It's just a room or room suite you can rent with access to a sauna and fresh air. This sanatorium was located outside Chebarkul, a small town near the city of Miass, another city in Chelyabinsk Oblast. It's a completely different world, for those who associate Chelyabinsk with only heavy industry and dirty air. The names of the sanatoria are always something like "Sosnovaya Gorka" (sleepy hill- the one we stayed at) "Lesnaya Skazka" (Forest Fairy Tale), "Uralskaya Zorya" (Ural Sunrise).... except there happens to be one sanatoria named "Metallurg." Seriously, only in Chelyabinsk.
Really? A spa named for the metallurgical industry? Images of massages done with broken tractor parts come to mind.

My winter travel adventure is well on its way to being prepared. I have almost all the tickets bought, accommodations discussed about, itineraries brainstormed. This doesn't mean planned out... it means "options are being considered." It's an adventure, not a plan.
The grand general itinerary is.... North Caucasus-Kyrgyzstan-Moscow-Latvia. Which cities in Kyrgyzstan beyond Bishkek and which places in the Caucasus beyond Adygeya are still to be determined and will depend on money, time, willingness of other people, security, and who knows what else. Places in consideration are Nalchik and Dombai in the Caucasus and Osh and Karakol in Kyrgyzstan... Moscow and Riga...this is more obvious.

Yesterday was my first daytrip to Ekaterinburg involving the Kyrgyz visa. Even though this whole process seems very inconvenient, it is actually very lucky that I live so close to Ekaterinburg. First of all, it's a beautiful city (I will take pictures the next time I go), and second of all, it is easy to take a bus there at any time of any day. The Kyrgyz consulate is located near the center of the city, and I worried about getting there too late (as I did with the Russian consulate in New York, where I waited four hours in line only to be told to come back the next day). On the contrary, there was not much of a line at all, only two Kyrgyz families looking to get Russian passports, which is what I imagine most of their work involves. Russians and other CIS citizens do not need visas to go to Kyrgyzstan. I felt pretty weird there, a young blonde who looks like a Russian waiting around in the consulate asking about tourist visas. The people in the office didn't really seem to know what to do; for some reason or other, they don't get many Americans in Ekaterinburg looking for Kyrgyz visas. They did not ask me to leave my passport there, only took copies of my documents and the forms, my payment in cash, and said it will be ready in ten days. If there are any problems, they will call me.
If there are no phone calls from Kyrgyz bureaucrats in the next ten days... then all is well. I will give them a rating of 5 so far. They were polite and not slow, but kind of unsure of what they were doing. If all goes well and I get my visa on time I will boost their Bureaucrat Rating to a 6. In short: There are much, MUCH worse bureaucratic experiences to be had.
Ekaterinburg itself is gorgeous... very Old Russian. Next time when I am more oriented (assuming the visa situation in the consulate won't take too long) I will take the rest of the day to visit a museum or walk more around the center.
Mom, Dad... when this is all over, you are going to have SO MANY MAGNETS.
Definitely worth the 6:30 am bus ride.

As for the North Caucasus trip... it is to begin after Christmas. I will be leaving by train on the 24th and will be spending the entirety of Christmas Day on a train to Krasnodar, where I will meet and stay with an old time Adyghe State University friend Igor. I will then meet a fellow Fulbrighter named Alex and take a bus to Maykop where I will meet more old friends and celebrate the New Year, and then we are looking to travel onward. I'm not sure exactly the plan, but it will involve mountains, friends, music, wine, long road trips, complex languages, and fond memories.

Okay... now rewind for a second to last week. It is worth mentioning the extra three classes I picked up because one of the teachers was sick. These were elementary level classes, where the students knew VERY little English. I was only with them for one period each, but they seemed to be amazed. To be honest, it is a *slightly* uncomfortable feeling for me... I am not used to talking so much about myself and my own life and having it be so interesting for people... usually when people do that, it sounds conceited and self-obsessed. The students, however, were fascinated to here about my life in America, about Oberlin, about long distance running, about Drag Ball, about my friends from all around the world, about the red Volvo I used to drive. We  mostly spoke Russian (I figured, since I was only with them for one class, I might as well call it a cultural lecture instead of language practice, since their level was so low in English) but towards the end these students became more comfortable and could construct some sentences in English.
Who knew that college life was so fascinating!

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