Last night was rough. I was asleep by 8, but I woke up in the middle of the night and spent 6 hours staring at the ceiling.  Finally dozed off again and woke up just in time for the joyous affair of breakfast (salad! carrots! cheese! tea with lemon! more salads!) and the beginning of orientation.

PSA: Apparently Russian customs can and will charge 4 euros per kilo of imported packages, no matter what they contain. So please don’t send me anything except letters. You can mail books out, but, in the words of the Fulbright director, “bring it unwrapped to the post office. They’ll tie it up with brown paper and string [and whiskers on kittens?], and about 6 weeks later it will usually arrive more or less intact.”

The first few hours of orientation consisted of short, useful talks by Oksana (the Moscow Fulbright Coordinator), Dr Ed  Roslof (US-Russia Fulbright Director), and Cathleen, last year’s ETA to Ufa. Then Toni, a teacher trainer for the Moscow area, took over.

Whatever optimism I had about this orientation was pretty much shot by the end of today. The first hint that this might be the case reared its ugly head in the very first activity we did with Tori. The activity was simple: each person draws a picture to depict (a) a thing/person they love, (b) something they want to do, and (c) something cool they’ve done or seen. The game is for the other classmates to guess what each picture represents. Well one of my clever colleagues suggested that the last picture showed a person slipping another person a roofie (how do you even spell that)? Tori’s response: “Already I’m reminded that I’m working with ETAs, not with my usual professors and doctors.” Ouch.

Although many of the ETAers seem to be good, interesting people, there’s a distinct sense that no one actually wanted to teach English; they either wanted a research grant (or Big Person Job) but thought they wouldn’t get one, or they just thought it was a handy way to have an  all-expenses-paid year in Russia. As such, the teacher training is survival-oriented. Today, we just did a bunch of short activities–designing name tags, guessing games, speed dating, etc.–and then said  “You can use this activity in the classroom.” In a nutshell, today we learned how to waste instructional time if you lack the organization to do better. Which I don’t.

I’m sure the next few days will be better; you have to start somewhere. I was, however, disappointed that no one actually has any interest in language teaching.

Lunch is provided at the hotel. As in much of Europe, Russians usually eat their biggest meal at lunchtime. Our meal consisted of a salad course, a soup course, and then potatoes and pork. The “salad” was shredded hot-dog-like sausages mixed with corn, beans, and some orangey, presumably mayonnaise-based sauce. I thought perhaps this was typical Russian fare until Oksana sat down next to me and said, “Now this is a fascinating combination.” Then I tried the pork, the first straight-up meat-on-a-plate I’ve had in a long, long time. Narrowly avoided throwing up in Oksana’s lap. 1 star; would not try again.

After orientation, I was all ready to go down to Arbat, one of the main tourist/market sections of town (generally, of course, one would try to avoid tourist sections, but I don’t know my way around at all, don’t have a map yet, and am curious to see the market). I asked some other ETAers if they wanted to come with, but they were cozied up playing cards because it was raining and they were tired (SO WHAT, I say!). I sent Nathan an e-mail that I was coming to find him and set off on my own. I did not find Nathan, so I went to Red Square.

A concert was being set up in the square, and trashy pop music was playing on the loudspeakers. It seems that the sound engineer had either had a stroke or decided to sit on the levels and spin in circles, because the bass was so high that my ears actually feel bruised, and you could hardly hear the singer at all. I stuck around long enough to take a few pictures and then set off for…where, I didn’t know. I hadn’t really expected not to find Nathan. Fortunately, he had gotten my e-mail and somehow managed to run into me just outside the square. If you don’t think that’s surprising, then stop and get a mental image of how big Red Square is in your head. Now double it. It’s even bigger–about 4 football fields long.

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Across eastern Europe and Russia, they often hang cloth facades over construction sites to show what the building will look like when it’s finished. This particular facade has been hanging since fellow Fulbrighter Kate was here 2 years ago.
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The Kremlin and some of the concert set-up.

Nathan greeted me by saying that he’d found a statue of Christopher Columbus on his boat, holding up a golden scroll. At first, he’d thought it was an advertisement of some kind, but when he realized that there was no clear connection to a product (except air–“Air! It’s everywhere around this scroll! Get yours today!”), he determined that it must be Columbus. Because no one other than Columbus ever had a boat. Because Columbus is in any way the most important historical man-on-a-boat to Muscovites. Needless to say, I’m being sarcastic. Also needless to say, it wasn’t Columbus, but rather Pjotr Pervyj, Peter the Great.

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While watching the river, we shared a pirog, which was really more like a croissant. Then I put my attempts at cultural immersion on hold long enough to find an American-style grocery store (LETTUCE OF SHAME), and have Döner, except that these guys call it мясо курицы с салатом в арабском хлебе (meat of chicken with salad in Arabian bread). It took a rather long time to order.  They put pickles, tomatoes, mayo, and some red sauce that looks like ketchup but is less awful on it. All in all, it didn’t suck.

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Pirog so gribami, pirog with mushrooms. Nomnomnomnomnom…

Also–the beer for sale at Nathan’s hostel has a sign on it warning you that “This beer will leave you with nothing more to hope for.” Better avoid that, then.

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