5 Months of Weird

The basic storyline is that I volunteered as an English teacher in Voronezh for five months. And didn't do nearly as much blogging as I intended. But Russia has become a state of heart and mind, and maybe those are worth writing about too.


I'm Here

Dear Life-Livers of my Heart and Homeland,

Hey. It’s Chloe. I’m alive.
Although my second day of teaching went infinitely better than my first, I’m still not far from offing myself, and absolutely do NOT have the energy or diligence. Don’t get me wrong—this is an amazing experience with the Russians and Russian and Russia all around me all the time. I’m learning to get around the culture and language barrier and public transportation (which is like one massive game of sardines. Played by mimes or mutes. Who can’t show that they’re aware of each other in public) and things that you’d think would be the most prevalent and imposing of my problems. The worst thing that I’ve found about Russia so far is that the children behave exactly the same as they do in America. “Miss Klo-yeh” indeed.
And I have no idea what in the world I ate for dinner tonight. It was like…slabs of meat in clear meat-flavored jello. The meat was ok! I didn’t touch the jello stuff much, haha. But my apple juice and I were included in every toast that my host-grandparents, host aunt and uncle, and host parents made! Not sure what we were toasting, but I was just as enthusiastic as the rest of them. It was a very fancy dinner at grandma and grandpa’s. And then I played pool with Olya and her husband and my host brother Valyeira and Dmitriy my host dad on their super fancy pool table. Yeah, I’m not living in lower-class Russia. I’m actually kind of living with the KGB. But whatever. I don’t think any of their kids are even taking my classes—I’m teaching the kids from the ghetto.
The ghetto seems to be pretty much all of Russia except inside the flat where I’m living. It’s like Murphy’s Law of Mechanics—everything that can be broken will be broken. Is that Murphy? Even the doors that work, work a little too well. I got locked in a bathroom yesterday for like 10 minutes and had to knock and call and get busted out by a Program Coordinator with a butter knife, haha. The handle wouldn’t work the lever back or something, even when the door was unlocked… Don’t worry, I didn’t freak or anything. I was pretty amused. Do you guys ever get scared you’re going to be stuck in a bathroom like that? Get all claustrophobic? By the way, I win at paddidle maybe forever. When I’m on the street, I see on average probably one a minute. I even saw two padunks driving next to each other tonight. It’s awesome haha. Somebody tell Russell—I don’t think I have his email.
Alicia…my friend Olga…has a coat lined with chinchilla fur. I’m sorry.
Casey and Trish. I saw Bandslam on the plane and laughed hysterically to myself while all the people around me were trying to sleep. It’s on Ethan’s movie list. Even though the only person in the whole cast that I liked was the main character that looked like an emo turkey.
I see things every day that remind me of you all back home, but I forget most of them while trying to figure out how to make demonic Russian munchkins speak English. And while taking Bubble Breaks. Every fifteen minutes to half an hour when we’re all to writing up lesson plans and looking like depressed zombies, I take out those bubbles you gave me Sabrina, and act like they’re my marijuana fix. Seriously. The other teachers make fun of me and talk about cutting me off…but then they play with the bubbles haha. I’m sorry the internet situation is so much worse than I thought it would be. You have noooo idea how lovely a thing free WiFi is. I can’t even get internet living in the high ranks of the Russian secret service.
But my floor is heated. 
Here’s another adventure—I got lost yesterday. In the Ghetto ghetto. Even the local program coordinator called it the ghetto. And it was at night. And I was alone. And the battery of the Russian cell phone I’ve been using was dying. And I was yelling English into that dying phone to be heard over traffic. Might as well have called Captain Kirk.
See yesterday was my first day of teaching, and my first day of using the city buses by myself (interrupting fact: a missionary here told me that when the surrounding countries have used their buses through a certain life expectancy, they sell them to Russia for public transit. Which explains why they have signs in all sorts of languages all over.), so it was big stress day. Like enough stress to gag a goat. My overprotective host mother went over my landmarks extensively with me the night before so I’d know where to get off and on, although it was mostly through body language and pictures. The problem was that the bus windows were too dirty and it was dark. It’s carwash time, Russia. I spotted a giant Macdonald’s sign for a first landmark, squinted and abstracted my vision to find the high-class opera-house-style opera theater, but my last landmark was a cinema. I saw a building with posters lined above the doors, which I now assume were probably movie posters, but I couldn’t tell for the life of me if that’s what they were. There are philharmonic concert halls around here and those could just as easily have been posters for concerts or specific musician things, etc. So I looked out the other side to see if I could see the ‘skveare’, tchaikovsky square or whatever ‘ovsky’ with the lit up trees and fountains. I couldn’t. So I waited a stop or two, hoping the buildings would clear and a square would open up. Then the bus turned a way that I knew it was NOT supposed to turn before I got off. But those durn buses give you about .5 seconds to get on and off, and it’s hard to get through the sardined Russians to the door, so it was still at least two stops before I got off the bus, and the spaces between stops get longer as you leave the good side of town, and I found myself surrounded by dark, crumbling buildings, dead trees, and trash haha. It was awesome. I actually wasn’t scared then either. I thought I’d be scared the first time I got lost out here, especially assuming it would be in a situation like that. But I was actually annoyed to call for help. Or maybe I was just uppity in general because of the goat-gagging stress. I just started walking back the way I came, and even though they told me to find the next closest bus stop and call to tell them the Russian signs around me, I kept going for a long time. At some point they got me to tell them where I was and were like ‘okay, just stay right there, hold on,’ and then I got a call from my Dmitriy saying ‘K(pleghm)lo-yeh, don’t move!’ haha. I love Dima. He works for the KGB hahaha. Story of my life.
One more thing, and then I must be sleeping. Oh dear… that was Renglish sentence formation. It’s starting.
You know the rule that generally applies to asking for help on the street? If you can run faster than them, they’re probably safe to ask. Well…I think that might apply to Russian staredowns too. See, at home, when I accidentally meet someone’s eyes on the street, I’m never the first to look away. It’s not really purposeful, but here it makes me even more uncomfortable to be the first to look away! So I kind of made an experimental goal to see what would happen if I didn’t look away—if they’d just sticky-eye for EVER. And while I was lost, ‘not move’ing, these young Russian men in military uniform (straight out of a WWII film, seriously) came across the street toward me. Just minding their own business. But foreign military (well, foreign to me) makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong just by being alive, no matter where I am, so I was kind of peeking suspiciously out from under my hat and watching them come toward me. By the time they hit my sidewalk, they’d looked up and we got sticky-eyed. Not really sure how three people can all get sticky-eyed, but it happened. We sticky-eyed until they were pretty much past me and turning their heads back to maintain connection, but it freaked me out a little when they started smiling and I looked away haha. Russians don’t smile on the street. That was some kind of a creepy red flag. Not going to do that again unless it’s an old babushka. I mean I got a long-term death glare from this kid Stepan in my class but I-
Oh bleen. Late for bed. Yeah. Stopping. I’m going to get some tough love from my pycco family tomorrow about staying up late again… (explain: pycco rhymes with psycho in my head, but in Russian, Руссkий [roo-ski] means Russian. Pycco= psycho Russian) I love you all very much, and I’m sorry if I didn’t get around to saying whatever I meant to say to you specifically this time, but please write me back and I’ll do my absolute best to reply and remember and have time. I’ll figure out how to get online more often, but this first week or two is just going to be a little crazy not dying. Trust me, I’m a lifeguard. :P

Miss Klo-yeh

p.s. they actually DO say bleen for ‘shoot’ (it’s like a kind of pancake), but most Russians just go for profanity in its entirety as far as I can tell. And you can pretty much tell when a Russian’s cursing, as opposed to just yelling.

Dear Everyone Again,

So…you remember how I said I was living with the KGB? Well Dima found out he’d lose his job if a foreigner kept living with them, so now I’m with Areil, my head teacher, in…pretty much the picture of what you’d think you’d find in a second-world country for volunteer English teachers. It’s awesome haha. No heated floors, but at least I can use the internet for a few minutes here.
Also, I found out I was moving AND moved on the day I got really sick, and they didn’t tell me why they were moving me until after I was already moved out, so I pretty much thought they had decided I was a defective Amerikan. That was less than fun. But I’m on Nyquil now (yeah, it’s bad enough to get me to willingly pill-pop), so maybe another 9 or 10 hours of pass-out-age will recover me. It’s crazy around here, and we’re pretty short on teachers. They need me.
The point is, I lived with the Russian secret service for a week and now am officially a winner. CIA agents want to be me for once. :P Hopefully they’ll be able to find me a new family in a couple weeks. But I’ll unpack less quickly this time.