Fulbright Moscow and My Russian Family Part Deux

Posted: January 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

I have returned happily from Moscow. This past week, we had another gathering of all of the Fulbrighters. The trip started off very well. This time around, Fulbright was able to order the train tickets for me. Surprisingly, they booked me a higher version of second class than I buy for myself. This one included dinner, breakfast, and as much tea as I could drink. While the food was nothing to write home about, I did have a nice compartment mate. It was an older woman of about 55 or 60. At one point, when I was munching on some knock-off Indonesian Pringles, she yelled at me and told me what I was eating was garbage (yummy, cheese flavored garbage). She then proceeded to make me eat some sliced sausages and bread that she had brought with her. In the morning, she gave me the majority of her breakfast because she was diabetic and apparently couldn’t eat much of what they gave us on the train. As we talked, I found out that her brother is a teacher of higher mathematics at my university. She then asked me when I was returning to Ulyanovsk and was very sad when she found out that she was leaving a day before me and that we couldn’t ride together again.

From the train station, I took the metro to our hotel, which was in the very far north of Moscow. In October, we were housed in a 4 star hotel in the center of the city. This time, our hotel was a lovely Soviet institution. The hotel was made up of various buildings. I figured that check-in would be in the first building. After wandering around most of the complex to find the entrance of said building, I was surprised when I found nothing that looked like a check-in. I asked the security guard where I had to go and he told me to walk through a mini-mart and back outside into the second building. This was fun as the door of the mini-mart was somewhat closed off with plastic tape to guard persons from walking in areas that are in a danger of falling ice and snow. As I have written this and you are reading this, I’m sure you already know that I did not die. Upon entering the second building, I asked the security guard for the check-in. He told me to enter the fourth door on the right side of the hallway, which was unmarked. Through this door, I found a counter selling airline and train tickets. I noticed another door and went in to finally find the check-in.

Finding the check-in was only the start of the adventure of checking in. I spoke with the woman behind the desk, who did not really understand that I was with Fulbright. I had arrived too early, so I spent an hour wandering around outside. When I returned, I found a few more Fulbrighters at the check-in. The woman behind the desk kept telling us that we had to pay for our rooms in cash. After a quick call to the Fulbright office and the wonderful Oksana, everything was taken care of. We were handed slips of paper and told to go back into the first building to get our keys from the kassa, or register.

We were slightly surprised when we got to our rooms. Each door on the hallway was for two rooms, one single and one double, which shared a bathroom. I got to room with Grace and we were lucky that our suitemate was Rikki. Some of the Fulbrighters had random Russians staying in the extra room. This was also slightly annoying in that many of us had made requests for roommates, which the hotel had ignored. So much for living with Kari. I guess I have to go to Yakutsk to experience that.

As for the Fulbright related activities, we had two days of presentations from ETAs, students, professors, and US Embassy Officials. The presentations were interesting and some of the ETA related ones gave me some great ideas for class. On the third day, the ETAs had special ESL training. The activities were mostly fun and I picked up wonderful activities to do with my students.

Kari and I are clearly good at teamwork.

On the first day in Moscow, I got to accomplish one of my longtime goals in Russia – I got to meet with my grandmother’s cousin, Tatiana Selvinskaya. I called her and she invited me to her studio. I took a long ride on the metro to the last stop of one of the lines. From there, I hopped on a mashrutka and noticed two very interesting things – the drivers were actually Russian and they were nice when I asked them to let me know when we were at the correct stop. The meeting was perfect. We had tea and talked for two hours. Tatiana asked me about my family and told me about hers. We were also joined by her best friend and student, Luda. Tatiana was very generous and gave me five books. One was a book of her father’s poetry, which was a new edition that had not been censored. She also gave me a book of her poetry, one about the Selvinsky museum, and two books of her art work.

Just hanging out with my grandmother's cousin, no big deal.

She enjoyed our time together and invited me to her upcoming art exhibition at the Bakhrushkin State Theatre Museum in April. I’m supposed to call her again in the future to find out about the details when they are more set in stone. I then spent the next two nights reconnecting with the people I had met at the children’s camp, Anas and Paola. They are both students at RUDN (Российский университет дружбы народов, РУДН, The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia). Anas is from Jordan and Paola is from Ecuador. Kari joined me and we went at ate wonderful Peruvian food at a café right next to Paola’s dormitory. We then went to another café near where Anas lives, which serves Arabian food.

Being silly like it's our job.

On our trek back to the metro, we met two friends of Anas and Paola on the RUDN campus. Both of them didn’t recognize me at first, but then they did the “riding in an UAZ” pose and asked if it was me. You see, whilst at the camp, I entertained the children by imitating what it’s like to ride in a UAZ (lots of bouncing). Some photos and video were taken and that’s how random people in Moscow know who I am.

Driving UAZiki on the metro.

On the second night, Kari and I ventured back out to meet Anas. Unfortunately, Paola couldn’t join us. We went back to the café near where Anas lives and enjoyed hummus, falafel, and shawarma. On the third night, Kari and I met with my friend Heather, but before we met Heather we took the obligatory trip to Red Square. Being smart (read: super stupid) I decided that it would be a good idea to get a photo of my Ulyanovsk State Technical University hoodie with Lenin (well, his mausoleum).

I brought a bit of Lenin's hometown back to his final resting place.

After putting my coat back on and trying to get the feeling back in my fingers, we headed off to meet Heather.  Heather and I lived in the same apartment building in St. Petersburg. This year, she is teaching English in Moscow. We got dinner at a Georgian restaurant and then went back to her apartment, which is right on Pushkin Square in the center of Moscow (coincidentally about 3 blocks away from the Fulbright Office). Heather and her Jersey Shore-esque roommates live in a gargantuan apartment that must have belong to Soviet officials back in the day. They had four spacious rooms, a large kitchen, a sizeable hallways.

Heather got the better host family and apartment in St. Petersburg. It's not fair that she gets the awesome apartment in Moscow.

The last day, we were free. The only thing on my schedule was to catch the train at 7PM. Kari and I headed off to the Cosmonaut Museum, which was awesome. I was creepy and listened to a German family talking in the museum. I made up for my creeping by asking them if they wanted a photo taken of all of them in German and they were happy. Creeping can lead to good deeds.

To space!

After the Cosmonaut Museum, Kari and I capped off our tour of gluttony at the American dinner. Nachos, cheeseburgers, and milkshakes have never tasted so good (nor have they been so expensive). Fighting off the post binge sleepiness, I went back to the hotel and picked up my stuff. Anas was very nice and said goodbye to me at the train station. Then, when I arrived in Ulyanovsk, George was nice enough to meet me at the train station and carry my book filled bag for me.

On the downside of things, I have become slightly sick. I have lost my voice and cough occasionally. This has resulted in me getting advice for how to cure my illness from various people at the university. Here is what has been suggested:

-drink warm beer (I can think of nothing worse to do to beer)

-drink warm milk mixed with carbonated water

-drink warm milk with honey and butter

-drink warm milk with onions (I think I would puke if I attempted to drink that)

-drink herbal tea

-make fruit juice from frozen cranberries

I have settled on trying some of the herbal tea, regular tea with lemon, and lots of orange juice. Time will only tell if I get better ignoring their advice or if I succumb to my illnesses in the harshness of the Russian winter.

  1. I like the way you write! It is really awesome!

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