Clubs, Drivers, and Dachas

Posted: February 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

Dear loyal readers, may fun things have been going on in my life. Firstly, my friend Anas came to Ulyanovsk this past weekend. The group of us who were counselors at the children’s camp in January, as well as a few teachers from the camp, met up to hang out with him. The result was a few too many days of adventures and not enough sleep.  One of these adventures was winding up at one of the dance clubs on Saturday night/Sunday morning. To my chagrin, four of us went to the club. Our party consisted of myself, George, Anas, and Mahmood. Mahmood is from Palestine and studies at the other university in the city. He was also a counselor at the camp. I don’t particularly enjoy clubs, dancing, or house/techno music. Thus, I was not looking forward to the night. Eventually, I was pulled onto one of the dance floors. Things got slightly awkward when I was tapped on the shoulder by Dasha, one of my first year students. Instead of just saying hi, she basically joined us for the rest of the night. At one point, Mahmood went missing and George and I tried to find him. This resulted in me running into another first year student, Anton.

I better be her favorite teacher now.

As it is February, the true Russian frost has set in. We’ve basically hit the temperatures where it is too cold for snow. For example, I woke up on Monday morning and the temperature was -31C/-24F. This may not be much in comparison to some of the people who are stationed in Siberia, but it’s still really f***ing cold. In comparison, today was a balmy -13C/+8.6F. At this point, it it’s in the positive end of Fahrenheit I’m overjoyed.

Additionally, I have started going to Tae Kwon Do again. This time, however, my schedule permits me to train at the really nice gym in the center of the city. While I don’t always understand the instructions for some of the drills, I had a great time last night. At one point we put on sparring equipment (read: they put on equipment and didn’t have enough for me, just the old and illegal style chest protector that has not back or shoulder protection) and went after each other. I disregarded any pain in my shins or arms and did pretty well against my opponents. I wasn’t fighting the best of the club, but I fought one very good and young girl. I scored a few points against her, which made me feel good. I think I also redeemed myself in the eyes of my trainer. Usually, she isn’t too fond of my technique or inability to do her drills, but she was shouting words of encouragement when I proceeded to score some points against her students.

The final development in my life is that I have a new house and second job, of sorts. Through my volunteering and hanging out at the local private language school, I came to the attention of the wife of a prominent local official. Her idea was for me to live with them and speak with her in English during breakfast and the evening. She also said that I might sometimes speak a little English with her 4 year old daughter, who was described as a “child with character” by her mother. Well, in reality I’m like another nanny/play thing for the daughter. I try to speak with her in English, but she often resists. While this was not the deal that I originally agreed to, I can live with my arrangement for my compensation. I am not paid by the family. However, I now have my own dacha (little Russian house) in which I live. I went from a cold and noisy dorm room to having a sweet set up. I have a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, office, living room, entry way, and two unheated rooms that are meant for summer use.

Moving into the dacha was a little strange. I spent four nights in the family’s house. Then, the were supposed to move me to dacha number 9. They wanted me in dacha number 4, which is directly across from the house, but the said that there was a problem with it. The didn’t elaborate much, just something about the guy who lives/lived there. On Monday, I thought I was moving into dacha number 9, but I was brought directly to dacha number 4. I don’t know what happened to the man who used to live here, but I’m assuming that he was kicked out the day that I moved in. His things were still all over the dacha, including dirty plates in the sink and food in the fridge. When I returned on Tuesday night, all of his things were gone and the internet and cable TV were set up.

The man's things.

I now live in the middle of a forest, about 15 minutes away from the university, in a gated community. There is a private branch of police, who guard the territory and the policeman who opens the main gate salutes the driver every time. When I am done with work, a driver meets me at the university and takes me to the compound. I am fed dinner and play with the daughter for a while before I retreat to my dacha. In the morning, I walk back across the street to the house where I am fed breakfast before being driven to the university. I have gone from being a regular citizen who relies on public transport to the lowest level of the Soviet elite, in terms of the cars that I am driven in. Usually, I am picked up by a Volga sedan. In the Soviet era, Volgas were only driven by party members (or rather, the drivers of party members). Only the super elites of the Soviet government were driven in Chaika or ZIL limousines.

The final thing that I get out of this deal is that I essentially have a Russian host family. Usually, the wife is tired and speaks to me in Russian, instead of our agreed upon English. Her husband, with whom I have only briefly interacted, only speaks Russian. Additionally, her parents come over every day to watch the child until the parents return from work much later in the evening. Grandmother Olga and Grandfather Yuri only speak Russian, and they are willing to converse with me. I’m now getting far more practice in Russian because I am forced to talk with them and I cannot cheat and try to speak English with them. Additionally, the grandparents are very sweet. They had me stay in their apartment last weekend, which I tried to avoid. I could not refuse. There I was stuffed and then some with various foods and the grandmother is insisting that I return for blini this weekend. The grandmother is pretty awesome. She has accounts on a series of social networking sites and asks me to sit with her and translate things for her from English to Russian. Although I’m currently completely exhausted, I’m loving life.

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