Saturday, 29 September 2012

Catch-up by Numbers!

The past few days I've lacked internet due to the password changing without notice.

So, what's new in Orion?

1. The gold colour of the school! It was blue, yellow and green plastic cladding, but they decided to paint it a colour more in keeping with the rest of the village so it's painted earthy gold. It looks lovely.

2. New major effort on the vegetable patches. Dimitri, at the grown-ups only meeting after the village meeting on Sunday, talked about how the garden was going to waste and covered in weeds. This has led to a big push this week to get them all weeded and hoed and tidied up. Lol hoes. This also has meant that we've talked to the children a lot more.

3. Pizza magically appeared. After discussing the awesomeness and absence of Domino's here on Thursday, as if our wish had been granted, pizza was served for dinner on Friday and it was Pepper and Ham flavour and amazing :D

4. We realised that all the Milka that the shop sells is gone off: the record for most gone-off is held by my chopped-nut bar, which went off back on the 29th of May. This begs the question of what it was doing until the time it went off, and for those extra few months it was hanging around until September. Our best guess is that the entire shop is stocked by lorry accidents. It is still edible though!

5. We went outside the village again: Katya and us two volunteers took the Kindergarteners down to the river. The river is what happens if you turn right out of the village, walk a tiny bit down the road until you're pretty sure there's nothing interesting about to appear, and then turn down the hill. The river itself is pretty, and used to be deeper and better for swimming in until they built the road over, so now it goes through a tunnel (if I understood correctly!). In the winter they go skating on the frozen river, and skiing down the snowy slope. So cool. But apparently we won't see any good snow in November unless we're very lucky.

6. Our trip to Moscow should be on Monday, but we haven't checked if it's still happening. One way or another, we hope to go very soon. We are conspiring to go to Кофе Хаус (English people, that just says Coffee House), where one can choose from a vast menu of delicious cheesecakes, and Шоколадница - which, to the uninitiated, is this chain of chocolate cafes where you can buy hot chocolate that is literally just a cup of melted chocolate. Om nom nom.

7. Yesterday we mostly used Vicky's Magic Painting book to amuse the Kindergarten and ourselves. The ones Vicky and I did this evening will join our families, the Daleks, and the terrifying deer and other forest animals painting on our walls.

8. Storms are terrifying: the wind howled and the rain lashed the windows - the lights flickered on and off and there was even a short and terrifying power cut. Suddenly I felt like I was 5 again.

9. Yesterday I had rather a rubbish day, but I know why I was feeling rubbish and I'm taking proactive steps to fix it. Therefore, today has been like the opposite and everything is just dandy. Huzzah!

10. Vicky and I have Prince Ali from Alladin stuck in our heads, reeeeally bad.

11. Discovered another Incompetent Englishman thing: we can't peel sausages as quicky as the Russians.

I think that just about covers it. Nyusha the kitten disappeared for a few days, but we came back from dishwashing to find her all on her ownlies in a very playful mood. She loves to chase my owl necklace :3 She's now snoozing inconveniently on Vicky. D'awww!


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

You kinda had to be there...

This past two days have been full of much hilarity.

By the time we finished our really useful Russian lesson with Lena yesterday it was very dark out (only lit by the lights outside the houses) so I let Vicky and Lena get down the stairs before I switched the first floor light off. I got down a few stairs while holding the banister, then realised my error: in trying to save the planet, I had blinded us all! I managed to get down the stairs somehow, but that only meant that 3 of us were stumbling around in the pitch-dark, circular room, bumping into pillars. I thought I'd found the door, but only walked into some kind of chair. Eventually, someone found the corridor with loos that leads to the dining room, and cleverly remembering there's no light there I switched on the toilet light. More laughter ensued as we gratefully managed to find the rest of the light switches and get out through the kitchen. Maybe you had to be there?

Then today Masha invited us to dancing, which meant skipping karate, but Vicky and I were game to try something new. Immediately the title screen made us crack up: the blonde model wearing a hot-pink bikini top made me think it was a really dodgy dance-video, possibly to do with stripping. I hadn't figured out at that point that "Танец живота" (lit. Dance of the Stomach) meant Belly Dance!  More confusion ensued as we realised our televisual teachers were identical twins, and cue embarrassed giggling as we were instructed to stick our chests out and circle our hips, thankfully not at the same time. Actually, it was a great workout, and we stayed to do another episode with Masha after Ira and Lera (two of the 9th grade girls) left. However, I can't speak for how my abs will feel tomorrow, as I swear they nearly exploded during the second episode.

One more funny episode: we got followed home by Nyusha the kitten, and we let her into the house to come play. Thing is, next thing we knew she'd jumped into the bin and was eating something out of it! Revolting. She then had the cheek to try jump on our beds, but I stopped her. Funny thing was, she then started licking her paws and deliberately looking at me as if to say "Look! I'm clean! Let me on the bed now!". Silly Catface.

Also, there's this brilliant thing Galya makes, which is like full-fat cream cheese with onion (spring onion?) in, and I think garlic maybe, and there must be something else I can't put my finger on because it STINKS. It is also DELICIOUS. We don't know what it's called, so we just called it Smelly Breath. This stuffs needs to exist in the UK. Galya also made poppy-seed pastries today, which I got proper excited about, but they are really rather plain and not a patch on my mum's. I'm so spoilt. I also miss Nutella (chocolate spread here is really bland) and peanut butter and combining the two in a toasted sandwich with banana. Mmmmmmm...

Many hugs,
A happy and affectionate Lois :)

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Спасибо Sundays #2

This week I am grateful for:

- Vicka for being the funniest when she told us we had a special karate session with her. She cycled round the village giving us 'encouragement' as we ran our fifth lap of the day (we'd thought karate was off so ran laps instead), then lead us through warm ups. It was at this point that Sergei came along and told her off: karate had been delayed by half an hour and had just started! She's so funny and cheeky.

- Vicky for being mega-supportive and listening to me pour my heart out when I found out on Friday that my Grandma has been diagnosed with cancer.

- The fourth form for not being too harsh on us when we took three double lessons instead of Sasha while she had meetings.

- Nyusha the kitten - for being utterly adorable and massively comforting.

- Terry Pratchett for writing awesome books that one can escape into.

- the fact that despite the rain we had a BBQ lunch!

- whoever runs the shop down the road deciding to stock Milka chocolate!

- Katya for having a chat with Galina - she's making much more of an effort to be understandable now.

- Pokemon Fire Red emulator - where would I be without you?!

Saturday, 22 September 2012


Today's blog is very different, because today I had some mini-epiphanies while talking to Vicky, so many thanks to her for listening to my ramblings and being helpful.

Epiphany 1: You can't fix friendships with a magic wand. If your friends have fallen out or don't get on there may be no hope them becoming friends (again). One or both of them may really be so upset that they are irreconcilable. You can hope to stay friends with both of them, and ignore when one complains of the other or tell them you don't want to hear it.

Epiphany 2: A short while ago I was upset and moping over a guy I very much like, but know a relationship with him is for all intents and purposes impossible. I wrote a note and tucked it in my Kindle cover, and it read "You will find someone better". Today I realised that someone better is single me.

Since I began my first relationship aged 15 ½, I have spent roughly 2 years and 8 months out of relationships in the last 5 years and 9 months. I find this shocking, and have come to the conclusion that I am a serial monogamist. I've never before committed myself to the goal of finding out who I am when I'm single, what I'm like when I'm not longing to be someone's girlfriend, either chasing a relationship or being chased, or falling into one for one reason or another. I've even gone on dating sites while I've been bored and single for a few months, seeking out someone new, interesting and attractive to talk to. No more!

I have enough self-confidence now that I don't need strangers to tell me I'm good-looking, because I'm happy with my appearance. I have plenty of new and old, interesting friends who I neglect to spend enough time speaking to. While pursuing relationships and being introduced to the hobbies and interests of my boyfriends, I haven't cultivated many of my own. I used to be a real bookworm when I was younger, before I, like my group of friends, became more interested in "Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll". Part of finding single me will be to reawaken that urge to read and learn for leisure, as I have so much time now. I will also apply myself to learning a martial art: gaining a new skill will increase my fitness and self-confidence, and if I keep it up then I could even have belts to show for it. It just so happens that I have the opportunity now to participate in karate lessons: I've had this dream of taking up a martial art for some time, but hadn't made it a reality until moving here.

My promise to myself is to be single for at least a year. I'm nervous to find out who I am when I'm single though, as I don't know whether I'm mad when I'm single for long periods of time, or a crazy cat lady, or whether spending more time in my own head will drive me bonkers. I'm naturally more inclined to think more about other people's problems than my own - having a boyfriend gives me someone to care for and help out and listen to, and I guess without that I'll have to think more about caring for, helping and listening to myself.

Self-improvement is the only way forward.


Yesterday there was an epiphany of an entirely different, terrible nature. I discovered via a message from my mum that my maternal grandmother has cancer of the lining of her lung. Tomorrow she will have an operation to remove fluid from her lung, and to take a biopsy to find out more about the nature of the cancer. I did a whole lot of crying yesterday, and again I must thank Vicky for being really supportive. I know nothing is a foregone conclusion, but I think I was crying mainly because it sounds like it must be really scary and painful for my grandma, but also scary and painful for my family and I wish I could be there to offer my support.

My thoughts are with my family at home who I'm sure are doing their best to take good care of Grandma Marilyn.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A Ruddy Good Telling Off

Today I've been on the receiving end of several telling-offs (tellings-off? Correct me in the comments section).

I think it all started going wrong at breakfast time. I've been reading Jon Richardson's book
It's Not Me, it's You and I'm starting to agree with him that if you can fail at such a rudimentary task as starting the day then you may as well go back to bed. As it stands it was buckwheat or oat porridge for breakfast, so I'll take it that was a bad omen.

After washing up we began preparing for our first class with two 10-year-old girls. We planned to work in the first lesson and make friendship bracelets in the second bit. Once we were actually setting up for the lesson - after some confusion over which classroom we were in - Vicka walked in and showed off the... *drum roll* ... friendship bracelet she had begun making in the previous class. Oh dear. 
We decided to worry about that bit later because our lesson plan could take far longer than we'd anticipated, which it did, in fact we worked for the whole hour and a half without a real break. Even in the break time, Vicky and I were sitting for portraits(!).

Everything was going well, though taking about twice as long as anticipated... until partway through the shop role play the two girls started arguing over who would get the cute animal magazine, and who would be left with Top of the Pops. They weren't even supposed to open them, they were just for the game, but they argued and argued.   Then Vera, who is 16, walked in and told us off! She said they shouldn't be playing in their lesson, they should be studying. Well, up until a few moments before she walked in they had been behaving themselves, and the role play was there to teach them vocabulary and to use the vocab they had been focusing on in the previous lessons. I am mentally sticking my tongue out in Vera's direction. After the lesson finished we let them take a few bits home: the magazines, some beaded necklaces, some UK flags, and they were so grateful they gave us each a big hug. D'aww.

After lunch while playing with some kittens in the picnic shelter David Dean stopped for a chat with us which was pleasant, and offered his assistance if we need him to sort things out in the realm of relations with the adults, so that was nice. I didn't realise that by the end of the day that I'd suddenly be having such bad relations with the adults!

We spent 2 hours in the afternoon sorting out clothes and washing grubby shoes from the boutique - they are old hand-me-downs and donations as far as I can tell, as amazingly enough I found a Jaeger cashmere pullover in the mix. Sadly it looks stained, but what a diamond in the rough! Over the next few days we have to get all of the clothes washed, ironed and folded ready to be sorted out.

After that we cleaned the ground floor of the school - just as well Katya came to instruct us on the clothes else we would have cleaned the first floor! (Non-language students: on the continent there is no ground floor, that's the first floor, and all other floors and numbered accordingly). However while changing the mop water I got my second telling off. I was pouring the mop water down the sink, seeing as it's got bleach in I didn't want to go chucking it on the grass and killing all the grass and animals. Galya the cook then came in and started giving me an earful, saying I should throw it on the grass, and I told her I was worried about killing the animals. She seems to think Vicky and I are somewhat stupid because we don't understand her when she speaks really fast colloquial Russian, and seemingly can't be bothered to either slow down or try to explain in different words, so just treats Vicky and I like simpletons. We pretty much reply 'Yes' to whatever she says because we've no idea what she's saying. Nevertheless, I gave the sink a very good wash and the next lot of mop water got thrown on the unsuspecting grass.

At dinner time Katya invited told us to sit on the grown-up table, which was nice because a) it took the stress out of trying to choose where to sit, which I find a constant trial in any cafeteria situation and b) I found out who Olga is. She lives in a house outside the main circle of Orion - it's vast and had a lovely-looking green roof and balcony. She's a life development coach or something similar at the weekends, and Monday-Thursday works in Orion sorting the boutique, helping with Kindergarten and doing craft classes with the kids. So that explains the friendship bracelet mishap earlier. She has two adopted children of her own. As such, she has a unique position of constantly interacting with the community, also caring for orphaned children, but her and her family not actually being part of the community circle. Apparently she moves to Egypt for the winter: jammy!

After dinner came the THIRD and final (hopefully) telling off of the day. Katya came to our room holding Top of the Pops magazine, and I wondered what it could be about. Turns out it has pictures of a topless male popstar, and a female popstar making a face that suggests a rebellious devil-may-care attitude. Katya very kindly and sensitively explained that they don't want their kids seeing such images, and I could only be incredibly embarrassed; I had no idea what was in the magazine as it had been wrapped in a plastic cover to hold the free gifts on to it. Had I known I wouldn't have bought it: simple as. Though obviously these kids have some idea of western popstars as they know enough about Lady Gaga to suspect she is an alien.

Katya also talked about the Galya episode, explained that there is a third way which is to throw the waste water on the paving stones, which I am much more happy about. Then I managed to burst into tears while trying to explain about the whole "I barely understand a word Galya says but I wish she'd try to speak slow and clear Russian to us because I really like cooking and I don't just want to peel potatoes because she thinks I'm a simpleton incapable of anything else". I'm paraphrasing here. She said she'd have a word with Galya about these matters, so I feel much better, but I did need to consume two Minature Heroes to deal with it all.

As it stands Vicky is cheered me up by reading bits of Top of the Pops mag to me and going all fangirl over One Direction. Everything will look better in the morning.

Bye for now,
An Exasperated Lois x

Monday, 17 September 2012

Спасибо Sundays!

I know today is Monday, but this is Russia, so yesterday was Monday and today is Sunday. This was all to do with having lots of guests yesterday, so the cook was working and wanted a day off today, so yesterday was a normal working day and today we relaxed. I say relaxed, Vicky and I joined the karate class yesterday so we had an hour and a half of training today.

Yesterday we went to the third floor of the school for our very first karate lesson, only to be told 'Go outside, you can't see, it's a surprise!'. So we began our class in the open air as the sun was setting beautifully, we stretched and practised stances. It turned out that the surprise was a guided meditation lesson - which involved sitting in front of a tealight and listening to Sasha talk, which in fact was really rather nice. I tried to follow the meditation guidance but I got a bit lost trying to understand what the flames burning inside me represented. Still, it was pleasant to sit in the candlelight and get really relaxed by the smell of incense and the sound of a gong.

Today karate was back to 'normal' - after stretching we moved to the playground, where we had to 'gently beat up trees', and more terrifyingly, gently beat up our partners. Vicka, my partner, kept encouraging me to hit her harder, and laughing at me for apparently dancing as I punched her belly. I couldn't help laughing. Still, I'd rather punch her too gently and be considered weak than punch a child too hard and floor them! The last part of the lesson was spent on the kids practising routines of moves, which involved moving about the floor and punching the air, but obviously Vicky and I couldn't participate in that bit.

Each Sunday there is a therapeutic community meeting of everyone in Orion, save those who are off on trips. At the end of the meeting everyone is invited to volunteer their expectations, and also to thank those they wish to thank. In the spirit of this game, and also in the spirit of Gala Darling's Things I Love Thursday weekly article, I will also endeavour to post a weekly list of things I am grateful for.

Things I'm saying спасибо to/for this week:
- Beautiful sunsets
- An abundance of playful kittens
- Phone calls with my family and messages from friends
- Sasha, for being a really fun karate teacher and for letting us into the karate class in the first place
- Katya for breakfast and dinner, and Sasha again for cooking lunch
- All the kids in the 5th and 6th classes who made the alien lesson really fun
- Gordyei, for lending me his copy of Terry Pratchett's Interesting Times in Russian
- David Dean (a visitor here from Scotland, who is somewhere in his 70s, super nice, and a counsellor who advises Orion and other places in how best to manage the process of raising children) for suggesting to the adults here that Vicky and I should be made part of the circle during meetings and more included and mealtimes, because honestly he's right - I do feel like a second-class person when I'm sitting away from the rest of the community
- Vicky, for being hysterically funny... "Lois! Your feet fell off!" need I say more?
- Everyone who reads this blog!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Kittens or Hitler?

The lack of posts over the last few days has been due to a lack of much remarkable.

Today was pretty funny/scary:
- I knocked a stack of breakfast plates onto the floor, told the cook I'd broken 2, but on closer inspection I figured out I'd broken 5! Oops!
- During Kindergarten Nastya and Danya had a fight, pulling each other's hair and slapping each other. We didn't really know how to get them to stop, then Danya hit Nastya so hard she started crying. I tried to get Danya to apologise, but had no idea how to say "Say Sorry!" in Russian, so did so part in English... "Скажи Sorry!" didn't work, he just put his finger in his ears. Russians very seldom apologise: I've only heard one "Прощу прощение" the whole time I've been here. Vicky handled it by asking Nastya what she wanted: she wanted a sweetie and she knew where they were. Soon she was back in the kids' room offering sweeties round to all the children including Danya: I guess they must have these fights all the time and forgive each other just as often.
- Fact of the week: farting is internationally funny, and the kindergarteners love to announce "Я пухнула"... so very ladylike. They also equally love to blame it on others. Today they blamed it on me because, and I quote them "У тебя есть большая попа". For those who don't speak Russian out there, that means "You have a big bum". I cracked up at their cheekiness :D

By way of an explanation of the title of the post - we were offered the opportunity to watch a documentary about Adolf Hitler with everyone, but we declined in order to play with Smudgy the kitten. I think we spent the evening in a much more lighthearted, pleasant and relaxed manner because of it.

Good evening!

The internet stopped working while I was typing up that last post, so apologises for the absence. Having used Google translate and the marvellous Russian slang dictionary at, we have now found out (and laughed a lot, and have been appropriately shocked) that the little 5-year-olds, having said "Lois - you have a big bum!" then said (excuse their French) "Vicky - you have a big c**t". Note my self-editing to protect my parents' delicate eyes. We're pretty horrified that they know such a strong word. The c-word is not so bad in Russian, and actually has the strength of the f-word in English: as in, so overused it hardly has any strength at all and some people use it every second word.

There's lots of extra people about now, we have neighbours in 'our wing' of the White House who are foster parents from Kitezh, they seem very nice and smiley. Even when we nearly woke one up from a nap while watching Mulan, the other very politely asked us to be quiet, and when she passed me just now she actually thanked us for quietening down! Praise majestical headphone splitters, meaning one can watch films comfortably without making so much as a peep.

Today we also had a relatively successful English lesson, and it was actually a laugh. The aim was to get them to do a role-play in pairs of meeting a stranger for a first time - we decided to make it fun by getting one of the pair to be human and the other from outer space. We had a false start when we hadn't looked up alien in advance, and we had some difficulty getting the kids to settle (we moved to the third floor as the classroom was tiny, they ended up getting out the armour and handpads for karate and mocking up alien warfare... at least they entered into the spirit of it). Still, we had success in eliciting appropriate questions from the class and getting them to converse in English. In the end, we had to move downstairs as our 'classroom' got invaded by visitors, which meant that in pairs they produced a dialogue in front of the class. I think it was pretty quick thinking of me, when one of the boys started communicating in alien-ese (cheek-popping), to hire a translator to speak English for him.

We had free time for the whole 4 and a half hours between lunch and dinner today, so we went to the farm and spent a jolly hour playing with the kittens there, naming them, and rescuing one who seemed to be having the back of her neck nibbled off by her siblings. When we put her down again she curled up in the protective paws of the sleeping dog - d'aww ^_^

I'm overjoyed to have my Russian mobile working at last, although I've been called 9 times today at least by a mystery number who hangs up as soon as I say hello. Creepy.

That's about all to report for now,
Stay tuned x

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Teaching and Learning

Sunday was as relaxed as anticipated: Katya and family welcomed us into their home for all three meals of the day which was most kind. There was a therapeutic meeting again which I think I grasped more of this time. Most of the day was spent on the sofa watching What Women Want and Hope Springs  - the latter of which featured Colin Firth looking rather yummy and being very funny, so I'd recommend it.

Yesterday was a day of teaching and learning. I did a solid hour's potato peeling after washing up, so I learnt how to efficiently use the potato peelers (a useful and often employable skill I assure you). After that we were invited to watch Sasha's English lesson - a double with the 5th form. I noted the things I thought were positive about the lesson, but also some improvements that could be made. It felt embarassing to correct Sasha when she got English phrases wrong - at first I thought they were errors and that she needed teaching the correct ones, but much like I do when I think about language too much, they were just mistakes (or at least I'll have to take her word for it). It feels good to see someone else try to teach and not get everything perfect first time, as I know I won't!

During Kindergarten I was in a really sad mood, thankfully the children were more feeling sitting and colouring in and playing (almost) quietly. We finished off The Little Mermaid and started on The Fox and The Hound. I didn't realise it might be quite... un-PC(?)... that the Fox is in fact orphaned right at the beginning. Nobody burst into tears though, so it can't have been such an insensitive oversight.

We had our first Russian lesson in the evening, courtesy of Lena. Though I found it pretty easy, it wasn't boring or unhelpful: the topic of family was covered a long time ago in my 9 years of studying Russian, so I picked up some new vocab and revised lots of old that I hadn't used in a long time. We even received our own workbooks and had homework to do afterwards - it feels like being back in school in a good way.

Today is a lovely, sunny, chilled-out day, only 3 hours of helping.

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Pleasant Surprises

After the emotional washing machine that was yesterday, today has been refreshing.

For breakfast (why do I always post about breakfast? Because it's always a surprise!) we had cheesecake! I am not even joking. Cheesecake, with baked apple. Vicky and I swear they are fattening us up so they can cook us on a cold winter's evening.

The next surprise was when Katya came over to inform us we had a class, right then! After a laugh trying to find the right room and the right class to teach, we finally got in to find all these 3 11/12-year-olds sitting on their low chairs, gazing far up at us. First thing we did was introductions - we've been here a week and a half, so though it's hardly a shock that we haven't learned all the kids' names, it was funny to realise they didn't know our names. Introductions out of the way, the first thing we did was rearrange the chairs into a circle - it's hard to play games in the context of two standing teachers and three kids seated in rows. We fumbled plenty attempting to explain the 'I packed my suitcase and in it I put...' game - we gave up on doing it in alphabetical order when we realised that was really tricky for them, and just played with whatever words they could remember. The 5th form, as their first lesson of term, did the verb 'to be'. This came as a surprise to both of us teachers, as 'to be', though hard to learn, is a vital and constant part of our language. Vocabulary-wise they were comfortable with animals and classroom objects. So really elementary level, even though they're 5th form. Just as well we're starting on the Kindergarten kids now!

At 3pm we wandered trying to find the person who was to set our 'work in the garden' task. All it took was a quick knock on Katya's door, and it soon turned out she was the one who was meant to show us where the overgrown lettuces were. I don't know the technical gardening term, but instead of being nice little ground-level lettuces they had turned into tall mini-tree lettuces, and according to Katya that means they're 'not good'. That was explanation enough, so we pulled up lettuces for an hour.

4pm was the most exciting time of the day - time to collect mushrooms! Lena and several of the children passed us in the garden, I think not realising we were meant to come with, so we ran, grabbed our gardening gloves, nicked some knives out of the kitchen, and caught up with them at the edge of the village. We each got a bag, and a model mushroom, and set to hunting down these little peachy-fleshed inside-out-umbrella mushrooms. At first Vicky and I picked up the wrong ones, and it was pointed out that these had dark undersides. What innocent Westerner would've thought they were wrong, when they look the most like the ones you find in the supermarket, and when the correct ones look bizarrely inverted and fuzzy? Vicka, one of the 4th form girls - who I would describe as none too keen on physical labour but quite the gourmand - gave our picking efforts the once-over, pointed out how she knew which ones were rotten, and immediately I warmed to her for being a clever little mushroom-policewoman.

The 'volnushka' mushroom: freaky-looking, and completely edible (allegedly)
Another surprise for today was how much I've missed English chocolate! I opened up the London-bus-shaped Olympic-commemorative Miniature Heroes tin (Cadbury's sponsorship here I come!) with a sigh, deeply inhaling the familiar and oh-so-British smell of Dairy Milk. It was a smell for sore noses. I shared them with Vicky, Katya and family over a lovely cup of peppermint tea while watching a Russia Today program from 3 years ago about Kitezh and Orion. It was amusing to see how the children have grown - little Sonia was excited to point out her cameos - and also how the village has changed. They used to have a currency called the Ori here which the children earned per hour of work, and could spend on food etc in Orion. The children tired of this 'game of economy', says Katya, and now prefer the 'game of authority', which I think is a way of saying they'd rather earn respect than earn money, because it's strange to carry out monetary transactions with people on an everyday basis when you think of them as your family.

It's Sunday tomorrow, which means rest, relaxation, and watching films. Perfect.

Picture from

Friday, 7 September 2012

Fetching Tartan Paint

Today has been an emotional washing machine. It all started at breakfast, when I was starving hungry - when I'm too hungry I easily burst into tears over nothing.

The guest mugs had disappeared, so I grabbed a random one for tea. Lena, one of the older grown-ups, pointed out it was her mug, and my eyes just decided to leak. Thanks eyes. Then I was crying from just being so utterly confused, feeling like I couldn't do anything right and like I don't have a hope of fitting in when I can't even understand the mug system. Lena was so sweet, she just said "It's your mug" and that just made me cry more because she was being so nice to me. She even hugged me and said "Я люблю тебя" (tr. I love you), which coming from a Russian, famed for their general lack of smiley-ness, was so ridiculously cute I giggled. After eating breakfast I felt so much better I near-danced around the kitchen tidying up, while attempting to explain to the cook that I wasn't really sad, just hungry.

We washed up after brekky, which seems less of a slog each day now we've developed our "Who Wants to be a Restauranteur?" gameshow idea. The pitch is that people who want to start a cafe or restaurant are dealt out what seems like an insurmountable amount of dishes and cultery to clean. They must scrape, move to the sinks, wash up, rinse, and put away all of it (no drying dishes here). Each day we've been further optimising the task, despite only having one plug between three sinks. Potential winners of the game show must show the required amount of initative to plug all of their sinks (they get to choose their sink set-up to try and get the best time, but there will always be fewer plugs than sinks).

Katya alloted us an arbitrary hour to do the washing up and peel potatoes, but in reality it takes about 40 minutes to clear the first task, and in fact we peeled potatoes for a further 50. So already we were behind schedule. Then our next job was to clean the first floor of the school, which was a mega job because the porch was filthy from everyone's muddy shoes, and the main hall is really rather large - in an hour we managed to sweep and mop the porch, and sweep the main hall. By that point we'd missed our chance to sit in on an English lesson, and had to apologise to Sasha the teacher! Thankfully, Masha had invited us for tea, so we took a break at 1...

So here's the turn around. That which has put everything in perspective. It was 1pm, Masha had had 3 hours without her little girl Sasha, but she still hadn't showered, because she was so busy. Masha looks after 5 kids. Masha, along with Tamara, built the first house in Kitezh with her bare hands, because hiring workers was too expensive. Together they dug a 1.8m deep and 30m long trench for the gas pipe. Masha is only 27!

This woman is hardcore.

Katya wanted to check whether 4 hours of housework a day is alright, and having just discovered all this about Masha, both Vicky and I said yes. Because we're volunteers, and we said on our applications that we're willing to help in any way we can. Right now, what they need is help keeping the place ship-shape while they focus all of their minds and might on getting the education system here right. These people have created this whole village, this whole lifestyle, for the benefit of these children, and they put that ahead of everything else, even just simple stuff like having a shower.

So I cried for the second time today, cried because I am so in awe of the amazing dedication of these people to the cause of creating a new and happy life for orphaned children.

After that I felt much happier, like I can take any amount of work they assign me. Being a 'помощник' means being a helper, and I want to help these people any way I can, because they need help far more than I need a sit down.

Also for lunch we had heaven on earth - mushroom pastries with chive soft-cheese. I rescued a trapped butterly and set it free into the blue sky and that was delightful too.

I attacked the task of mopping the floor after lunch with vigour - I put my ipod on and danced with my mop until the entire hall was spotless. When Katya came to sweep the stairs with only a little dustpan and brush, that further reminded me that we're all helpers here. Maybe we don't get thanked every time we complete a task, but then who's around to thank us? They're all busy doing their own jobs!

The kindergarten girls were utter sweeties today - proper excited to continue watching The Little Mermaid! The girls all ran inside; Vicky went with to get them started on colouring. But by god, the next emotional washing machine cycle made me go white!  I ran after the little boy Danya to corrall him in. When I found him, he was collecting twigs. He said something about a knife but I didn't understand. He went over to a tree-stump, sat down, and to my horror pulled a knife out of it and began scraping the bark off these twigs! The blood drained from my face as I saw he was holding the twig between his legs, and I desperately grasped for the words for "Stop! Don't! That's sharp and dangerous!". Thank heavens he handed me the knife for a second, I think just to hold it, and I refused to give it back and hid it high up in the wood pile. He took to attacking nettles with a very heavy log after that, but he shortly got tired and luckily Tamara crossed our path and told him to run inside. So we raced inside, and soon he was joining the girls quietly colouring in.

So a happy ending to the story of today: the story of redefining my idea of 'difficult'.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Orion Diet Plan

It's a huge lifestyle change moving here. People pay a lot of money to go to spa and fitness retreats so they can lost weight, get fit and relax, but here that just happens by the by.

I'm pretty sure I'm already losing weight here. While I was home for the summer there were the constant temptations of biscuits and chocolate and puddings, plus my parents' bizarre ideas of reasonable portion size and constant offers of seconds. Pudding isn't a thing here - occasionally we're lucky and Galina the cook makes sweet pastries with fruit or curd cheese, but generally dinner is just a savoury main with bread and fruit. Yeah, I've got a stash of treats under my bed, but the 'dark' chocolate I bought at the corner shop is horridly sweet, and my gingerbread stash is basically gone. I'm keeping the smarties for a special celebration or something. I've got another 6 yummy and filling 'Nakd cocoa delight' bars (highly recommend), but they need to be kept for the days when it's omlette for breakfast (bleurgh). Seconds don't really exist - leftovers might be eaten at another meal time, or a hungry and deserving child will snap them up. People pay a lot of money for people to cook them balanced meals with the right amount of calories and to be denied unhealthy and overzealous quantities of food, but this all comes included in the (incredibly reasonable) amount we paid for accomodation and food.

I'm definitely doing way more excerise here - moving logs and jars, doing housework like cleaning, washing up and ironing. Housework may not sound very energetic, but a couple of hours a day and it's a radical calorie-burner. It's funny to think that although one can walk across the whole village in about a 2 minutes (I'm not exaggerating), one can still get such a work-out.

At home I tend to stay up until 2am, but here we get a solid 9-10 hours sleep depending on when we go to bed - we don't have to get up until 9.15 am which is pretty sweet. I've taken up being an evening showerer so there's no rush in the morning, and it's something to do in the evening. Though days are busy, we get a couple hours' free time in the day to relax, read, write, listen to music or whatever takes our fancy. There's even creative opportunities like today's tote bag painting session which was super fun.

Maybe it's just the multivitamins I've been taking, or something in the water, but I'm feeling very healthy and happy at the moment :)

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

How Not To Eat 'Herring in a Fur Coat'

Today on my blog I would like to talk to you about one of my favourite Russian dishes not to eat, and that is Herring in a Fur Coat.

If you would also like to not eat Herring in a Fur Coat, I would recommend following these steps:
1. Do not grate a layer of potato into the bottom of a dish.
2. Do not put a layer of chopped herring on top of the potato.
3. Do not cover that layer in mayonnaise.
4. Do not add another layer of potato.
5. Do not put over that a layer of grated carrot.
6. Do not conclude with a layer of grated beetroot.
7. Finally, do not finish with a drizzle of soured cream.

Here is a picture of what it should definitely not look like:

Contributor Vicky advises not eating Herring in a Fur Coat by picking the upper layers and bottom layer off, leaving the mayonnaise and herring layers intact.

I would also recommend not eating Herring in a Fur Coat with really salty, watery oat porridge.

Thanks for reading folks!

Picture credit to

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The First Week

Dear Readers,
I haven't had internet for the entire first week, so apologies for the lack of updates. Without internet it appears I mostly play Pokemon Fire Red and read Fifty Shades Freed in my spare time. Pity me. I present to you my diaries from the first week of my experiences here in Orion, which I have kept true to the form I wrote them in at the time. You can tell I was tired after my journey on Wednesday!

First day - arrived in Domodedovo - no sign of help. Waited, changed money, Yura showed up after about 30 mins and rescued us.
Traffic was mental - rain (some cars had no windscreen wipers - the drivers got out and used a cloth!), driving on the hard shoulder, cars butting in, cars without number plates, not indicating, massive lorries all over the place.
Stopped at a shopping centre - mahoosive! Andrei bought us tvorog cheese wrapped in milk chocolate and pinapple drinking yoghurt- om nom nom!
Finally arrived in Kitezh about 20:20, we had huge slices of 'арбуз' - watermelon to start, then a dill-y vegetable stew dish with black bread, black tea, and plenty of biccies. Plus somethings called 'zephyr' I think - like huge gooey marshmallows.
Relaxed for the evening, read the volunteer guide, pontificated about what tomorrow might bring.
Brekky at 9.45 tomorrow - lie in woo!

After a delicious breakfast of semolina pudding, bread, cheese, chocolate spread and apples we were given a tour of all the sights of Orion - we met the cats, kittens, dogs, horse, and cows. There are also rabbits and chickens but we haven't met them yet. We helped clean the windows of the school, and helped pick the useful books from those that were no good for learners and could therefore go on the bonfire. Oscar Wilde would be rolling in his grave. We assisted Lena cooking a nutritious soup with about 4 different kinds of meat in it - Vicky is trying honourably to eat meat to make life easier for herself and others. We also helped Anton cook dinner but were excused early (we must be efficient!). After dinner we went to Katya's and drank tea with her, and talked about ourselves. Peppermint tea is nice. In the evening we watched a chick-flick called "The Woman" on my computer - much love for Meg Ryan.

After breakfast Zhenia from Kitezh gave us our timetable  - we washed up after breakfast with Gordei (aka Gary), then went for a wander to the heady distance of the shop at the end of the drive, feared a stalker and turned back. We helped Lena cook lunch again - a coleslaw-like salad.
Then we read and rested until 4, when we went to help Katya preserve tomatoes. There's lots of fresh fruit and veg about that appears to have been harvested - we eat lots of them but there's so much there's plenty to preserve. While washing up I noticed a very lazy wasp in the bottom of the pot - they're all lazy here, and barely fly. So I squirted it with the tap until is was swimming and pretended it was in a little wasp theme-park. However, the wasp theme park closed when one of the customers drowned. The unfortunate was buried at sea. Once we'd finished helping prepare dinner we went back for some tea, and Lena implored us to speak Russian more, and to more people, and not to be shy. Dinner was much chattier after that. Some of the boys came to show us their hilariously coquettish matryoshas and talk to us, which was sweet. One of the boys asked "What clock?" meaning to say "What's the time?". Vicky said "We'll teach them proper!"

I cried here for the first time today, and it was over porridge.
At breakfast a different cook was there, an older lady. The breakfast didn't look appetising - grain in what looked like watery milk. As the previous kashas - semolina and macaroni in sweet milk - had been delicious I accepted a big bowlful anyway. As I took my first spoonful I realised it was horribly salty oat porridge, and I could see from her look that Vicky agreed, but we decided to eat it anyway to not seem rude, and added lots of sugar. But half a bowl down tears pricked my eyes and I excused myself to go to the bathroom and cry. Why did I cry? Not homesickness, but because I hate oat porridge, and no matter how much I want to fit in here, I just can't make myself eat it.
Luckily, Katya sat down and told us lots of people didn't like it so salty, and said she'd have a word with the brand new cook.

We moved house today from Flagman to the White House. We feel practically presidential. We're still sharing a room, but we got to pick which one - each is beatifully decorated with murals. We're in the 'Wild Animal' room, and there's also the Cat Room, Undersea Room, Rainbow Room... you get the picture, it's really cute. This house alone can sleep most of Orion - and indeed at one point early on everyone did live in here!

We helped chop wood in the afternoon. Everyone from the community fit enough to took part. We made long relays of children and adults to get the logs inside the village from the woods: it was a really good work out! Sasha who works on the farm called us heroes but I laughed it off - I think skanking through the days at Boomtown Fair more than prepared me for an hour's physical labour :P

Tonight there is to be a barbeque and 'party' to celebrate the end of what has been a difficult summer for Orion, apparently for 4 reasons but I'm not sure what they are. Vicky and I have resolved to speak Russian when possible whenever Russians are around, which means more people have begun to chat to us and we're getting more practise.

Safe to say, me and Vicky crashed out after the barbeque last night; we didn't fancy awkwardly dancing much. Everyone laughed when Dimitri offered me some wine and asked "White or red?", and I replied "Белое". Dimitri kindly explained that if you just say "White" it means vodka, not white wine! As it's Sunday today Katya said we have a free day, but also that we had to wash the dishes after breakfast. We found a cat outside sitting in the ashes of the barbeque, so she's now aptly named Ash. We took her inside when it began to rain, but then after sitting quietly for a long time on our laps she got up, looked confused, went to the room that looks like a garden, and presumably having mistaken it for a garden she left us a mess to clear up! After much laughing and pinching our noses, I managed to pick it up with a plastic bag, because I really want a dog when I'm older so I must get used to these things *thinks of adorable Italian Greyhounds, King Charles Cavalier Spaniels and Boston Terriers*. At 4.30 there's a therapeutic community meeting which we are invited to attend, should be interesting.

Such is the way of life here, the meeting got moved from 4.30 to 9am this morning, as we were celebrating one of the girl's birthdays instead. There was cake, lots of fruit and sweets. This being topsy-turvy land in some ways, the kids went straight for the fruit rather than the sweets. My jaw hit the floor. It was fascinating to sit in on the community meeting - the adults already had a few topics for the agenda, but they asked the children first what issues they would like to bring up. Topics were such as the timetable for the new academic year, not jumping on the sofas, who was making what trip to where and when. The chair read out some sort of progress update on some of the children, congratulating some on their progress, making supportive comments to those who had been struggling. I've never seen anything like it, but I got the feeling it's a really good way of organising life here: everyone knows what's happening, who is in charge of what and so on.

Today our timetable looked a bit like this:
08:30 Wake up
09:00 Community meeting
09:45 Breakfast
10:20 Washing-Up
11:30 Clean the house
12:30 Free (Read Fifty Shades Freed for a bit)
14:00 Lunch (afterwards we attempted to get the flies to leave the gap between the two windows so they'd stop buzzing all the time!)
15:00 Work with community (that meant moving logs again - good bicep workout!)
16:00 Free (Hello!)
17:00 Kindergarten (Playing and teaching English - really looking forward to it)
18:30 Dinner
19:30 Tea with Tamara (One of the foster mothers)

I plan to call my parents at 8pm - haven't spoken properly since I arrived!

23:01 update. Oh god, me and Vicky's first lesson teaching English was hilariously bad! We went in thinking we'd be teaching as in properly teaching a lesson. It took us a while to find where the Kindergarten is - not in the school, but a playroom in a foster parent's house. The kids had just woken from a nap, and were hyper and grouchy. Vicky and I were tired from our day's work, and nervous. Tamara the foster mother spent at least 10 minutes trying to get the 3 5-6 year olds to sit down in their 'places' around a low table. We, the teachers, came armed with books, card games and magnetic letters, but no plan and no clue what to expect.

As soon as Tamara left the room all hell broke loose. We tried to get them to sing the ABC song, but couldn't get them to join in. We tried to order the magnetic letters so we could point to them as we sang, but the little boy called the 'Y' his catapult and nicked it off the board. We tried to show them pictures in a book, and get them to say the words, they hit each other and shreiked. We had more luck getting them to match pairs of big and small animals (one animal for each letter of the alphabet you see), but having played well for a while they started scooping up piles shouting "MINE!". This led to crocodile tears, and Vicky and I desperately trying to remember how to say "Share!" and failing. Then, god knows why, they started play fighting, and stole one of the girl's trousers. Then they all started stealing each other's trousers, so they were running around, fighting, rolling on the sofa in their pants/long johns. We tried to get them to give the trousers back to their rightful owners, having just figured out that "Ot-dai!" means "Give it back!". Eventually, we just said "Let's go for a walk!" and before long they all had their trews back and were throwing their shoes on.

After playing on the climbing frame for a bit, the most boisterous girl was a calm little angel, and sweetly asked if we could go inside and watch a cartoon. So we watched the first 10 minutes of a cartoon film about Russian folklore characters who find a human baby that a stork has dropped. Thanks go out to Dr Vladimir Zoric, without whom I would have had no clue what was going on on screen.

Once we'd eaten dinner, with stonking headaches, Vicky and I tried to work out what needs changing in time for Wednesday's lesson, and how to change it. Having had tea with Tamara this evening we now understand that in fact we're more expected to play and bond with the children: if we manage to get in an English song or English game, then that's brilliant, but the main aim for now is to build rapport. Hooray, that seems reasonable :D Also, talking to Tamara for an hour entirely in Russian really helped me feel like I can speak and understand the language, which I have lacked confidence in the past few days.

So, with renewed optimism and a better idea of what's expected of me, I'm going to bed happy and excited about tomorrow.

P.S. Spoke to family today for 10 minutes and my credit ran out. I turned white. I had £16 on there. Turns out it costs £1.49 per minute to make or recieve a call here on Tesco mobile, and 40p per text. Lesson learnt, get a Russian SIM card.

Today we've mostly been cleaning. After brekky and dishwashing we were instructed to clean just the kitchen and one room of house 6, and it took an hour and a half! Crikey that floor was dirty. I went bananas killing flies to the tune of the modern rock station Maxim Radio (bloody good DJs on there: played Biffy, HIM, RHCP, My Chemical Romance etc) - good for getting the old agression out. Lunch is generally some kind of tasty soup here, accompanied by bread and fruit. The new cook likes to cook pasties, which is all good with me :) We cleaned the banya, which wasn't too tricky as it was just brushing up lots of leaves. I had to wash up some tea things, which Katya told me to do back in Number 6, which turned out to belong to Sergei. I spent an hour playing Psychonauts, which is quite a laugh, but I'm not sure if it's meant to be just a kids' game! It's an adventure game about being a kid who wants to be able to control their incredible psychic power potential, quite fun. Sergei has now got the internet working on here: huzzah!