Tuesday, 4 September 2012
The First Week
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
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)
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!