What's happened lately? Если честно, I've kinda forgotten. So, sometime ..........
Alright, this is funny. I'm sitting in the university right now and this kid is dancing to Georgian (or perhaps Azerbaijani, considering that's what his shirt says) music that's playing on someone else's cellphone. For real dancing too, he actually knows the moves and is jumping and such. The girl who's playing the music seems to be his dance teacher. That was somewhat unexpected. The dancer was at Chat Hour on Monday, but I told him hello and he looked at me blankly and said привет, so perhaps he's forgotten who I am.

Where was I? Ah, yes. So, sometime this month, in the vicinity of 2 weeks ago, I went to Moscow for my Fulbright orientation. It didn't really orient me, but it was a nice break from work. This lecturing stuff is tiring. I'm getting pretty tired of talking about family, hobbies, and where I'm from.

Now the girl is dancing too. They seem like fun.

So in Moscow, when I wasn't waiting in security at the American embassy or learning about English grammar, I was exploring the city. By the city, I mostly mean the metro. On the first day I tried to go to red square, but it was closed for Putin's birthday. He is so inconsiderate. If he was going to close Moscow's biggest attraction on the only day that I had a lot of free time he could have at least had the decency to invite me to the party. Gosh.

Additionally, the girl is dancing in 6-inch heels and holding the cellphone. Takes talent.

On the way to and from Moscow I took the train. It's 18 hours, but not too bad since about 10 of those hours are at night. This time I was in a full женский coupe, which means only women and mostly older women. I think next time I'll just go with the general platzcart. However, I was pleased that I managed to both find my way to and from the train station in Tolyatti, which I hadn't had to do yet. The solution was pretty simple: a taxi. I wouldn't quite say that I'm a pro at taxi calling, but it's not nearly so intimidating as it used to be. Nothing is quite as intimidating as it used to be. One day I even went by myself to meet up with a realtor and look at an apartment. Yeah. I'm so brave.

Speaking of apartments, I finally have one! It's hideously expensive for this area, so it's costing me a whole $330 a month (depending on the value of the ruble). However, it was recently remodeled, so even though it's small, it's pretty nice. I've spent 2 nights there, and I'm starting to get used to it. The first day I was completely disoriented and without internet, so I dejectedly yet determinedly walked to the grocery store and bought food. I intended to make a celebratory frozen pizza since I now had my very own oven. When I got home I turned on the oven to preheat, and when I came back after about 10 minutes it wasn't even warm! Now, this oven/stove duo is a fairly modern gas variant that has a starter button for lighting it. Great, right? Yeah...the button is broken. The landlady discovered this the other day and left me matches for the stove. No big deal, lighting a match and holding it next to the stove isn't particularly troubling or challenging. There is something that I didn't think about and that she didn't mention though: the oven. In general, I just turn the magical knob to the number that I want and wait a few minutes. However, while I thought that I had mastered the whole oven-using thing, I found myself with no heat in the oven, no pizza, and a fear that I was filling the entire apartment with gas. So, I quickly shut it off, turned on the fan, opened the window, and sulked for a little bit. I really wanted that pizza. My internet also wasn't working so I couldn't consult it to figure out how to make this pizza night work. After waiting long enough that I was certain I wouldn't blow up the entire apartment block, I made french toast instead for my first meal. Satisfying, but not as much as pizza. I also had to sacrifice a bit of my coveted maple syrup that I found in Moscow. Syrup, by the way, is not something widely available in Russia. Neither is peanut butter or tortilla chips. Or regular lettuce. Stop and think about this for a second. Here is what I usually make when I'm in charge of feeding myself:

-French toast
-peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
-spaghetti o's
-grilled cheese

Uhh....yeah. So, I've been making a lot of grilled cheese, and I brought along a jar of peanut butter. I guess it's time to learn how to make new (some might say "real') food. The landlady is coming over tonight with some other things though, so I'll mention the oven then. She seems like the type of person who can get things done, so maybe she'll have someone come over and fix it. I really don't fancy having to crawl into the oven and light an elusive pilot light every time that I want to bake tasty things.

I also have a washing machine! However, at the moment I'm completely intimidated by it and try not to touch it when I'm in the bathroom. Russian washing machines have a sort of mystique surrounding them. They are usually the most prized possession of any babushka lucky enough to own one. Usually foreigners aren't allowed to touch them. In Irkutsk I could use the washing machine, but only with babushka supervision. They are extremely fragile beings. Generally there is a draining tube that hangs over into the bathroom when you want to use it, but mine doesn't seem to have this. I think mine might actually be connected to the wall. I will verify this tonight when the landlady comes. Along with not blowing up my shiny new apartment, I also don't want to flood it.

Today I'm going with a friend to see about setting up some new internet. It will probably take a while to get set up, and I'm not sure how I go about paying for it (since mailed bills here don't really seem ideal), but it's good internet and I want it. I'm talking good enough to start a movie online and watch it all the way to the end without having to stop and wait for it to load. Right now I have to wait 30 minutes to watch a youtube video. I've been fantasizing about this kind of internet ever since I got here. Which, by the way, was only a month and 10 days ago, which seems impossibly short. If you think about it though, the longest amount of time that I've been in Russia was one semester (3/3.5 ish months), so I'm about halfway through the longest time that I've ever been in Russia. Thinking back to Irkutsk, after a month and 1/2 I was feeling pretty settled, so I guess it is a respectable amount of time. I'm ready for an America break though. Mostly I just miss people.

I've met a fair amount of people, but so far not many that I think "Hey! We're going to be lifelong friends!" I miss close friendships, after college I got pretty used to it. It's always hard having to start from scratch someplace new. University students here are so young.

However, Moscow was really nice because I got to see Kendra! It was both odd and normal to see her in Russia. I really enjoyed just having normal hang-out time. Being the token American makes me really miss normalcy. Kendra has a pretty nice apartment way out in the middle-of-nowhere, Moscow. However, it could be worse. In honor of Canadian Thanksgiving (who knew there was such a thing?) we went to another teacher's apartment. This teacher really does live in the middle-of-nowhere. She doesn't even have a metro stop! After much trial and tribulation we finally found her apartment, which was full of many other people who apparently had no troubles at all with directions. Most of the food was gone, but the company was nice. So many English speakers in one place. I was having culture shock.

When it came time to get home we were in for even more troubles (primarily thanks to a tardy pumpkin pie. I don't even really like pumpkin pie!). The last bus from the apartment to the metro leaves at about 11. So, at 10:55ish when I was attempting to drag Kendra and the pie out of the kitchen, I asked one of the guys who lived there which buses we could take. He told me the numbers, and then said that one of them had just left. Weeelll...we went to the stop and took our chances. I consoled myself by thinking that even if we had missed the bus we could still just take a taxi to the metro station. If any taxis would stop, which they wouldn't. Apparently out of the 3 of us waiting we were all woefully inadequate at waving down taxis. There also weren't any of the usual taxi ads plastered to the sides of the bus stop or written on massive billboards. Even the sketchy taxi just hanging out on the side of the road near us ignored us. After 10 minutes of this we gave up and decided to go to a different bus stop on a slightly more major road. To get there we had to pass a stop light. Stopped at the red was an empty taxi, which I pounced on. Not literally, but almost. We all jumped in and I asked how much to the metro. He said 800 rubles, and so I looked him in the face and just told him НЕТ and then we got out of the taxi. While we were waiting dejectedly at the other bus stop an unmarked black car glided over and parked near us, obviously wanting our attention. I pointedly ignored it (because I'm distrustful), and so he backed up. I sighed and went over. The conversation was something like this:

Driver: Where do you want to go?
Me: How much to the metro station?
D: *hears accent* Where are you from?
M: That's not important, how much to the metro?
D: Where are you from?
M: Maybe I'll tell you when we get to the metro if you give us a good price.
D: Why won't you tell me where you're from? How much will you pay me?
M:....400 rubles?
D: 400? I'll do it for 200.
M: ok! *we all get in*

Along the way I chatted with the driver, and eventually revealed that we were a group of American English teachers. He wanted to know what would bring us to Russia, and particularly this area, so I told him. Then he wanted to know what was interesting about Russia, so I told him that too. Kendra is of the opinion that I buttered him up a little, but I still maintain that everything I said is my honest opinion. Russia is one of the most interesting places in the world, it's the biggest country in the world (and thus very important), and I like the people and blini best. After about 15 minutes we arrived at the metro, and when I got out 200 rubles to pay him, he told me to keep it. So..while I was kind of irked by missing the bus over pumpkin pie and our taxi troubles, we did save 50 rubles by not taking the bus (transportation in Moscow is ridiculously expensive, by the way!).

This week my clubs are starting up and my Russian lessons too. This means that I'm about doubly as busy now. I need a weekend! Sadly, Fridays are my longest days. I start at 8:30 and end around 6. There is a break in there, but it's more annoying than anything since I don't just live across the street now. So, there's a random 2 hour break. I probably will just waste the dollar it takes to go home and take that time to eat lunch. I don't know, we'll see. Life is starting to get a lot more expensive. Oh, about Friday though, Fridays are so long in part because they involve Movie Time. While this sounds fun, and it is mostly, I still have to do work for it. This week we're watching The Beverly Hillbillies. This is mostly because all I have are the movies that were on my ipod, so my choices are sort of slim. I think they'll like it though! Last week we watched The Truman Show. They were particularly amused by the bathtub man. It's always interesting to see which parts make people in different countries laugh.

This is getting pretty long, but there's still another important bit of news that I found out about yesterday. One of my teachers from Русская Школа, Елена Николаевна Щепина, died this week. She got sick in the middle of our program and had to return to Russia, but I was hopeful that she was getting better. She's one of the nicest and sweetest people ever and even though she was always tired and in pain I'm glad that we got to have her for a couple of weeks of classes. RIP Елена Николаевна.


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Bad news: I'm really lazy about posting when I'm not in Russia