Two days after I arrived in Kazan, there was the characteristic brrr-click-brrrrr-click-brrr-click of suitcase on tile and a knock at the door. It was my new sosedka, or roommate (actually the word means “lady-neighbor”). She had a black suitcase roughly the size of a Lada and an equally large, canary-yellow one covered in sock monkey stickers. “Privet! Menya zovut Katya,”  I said and put out my hand. She laughed and replied, “I have a Russian name, too: Liza.”  (LEE-zuh)

And so I came to no longer have four beds to myself.

Liza is from China–“between Shanghai and Beijing” (as if that helps)–and has been in Russia for a year already, although she just arrived in Kazan. She’s in a program that is jointly sponsored by the Russian and Chinese governments, at the end of which she’ll be a Candidate of Science in PoliSci (that’s roughly equivalent to our PhD).

Considering room assignments at KFU are completely random, so far we couldn’t have gotten more lucky (or perhaps I should only speak for myself). Ours is a quiet room–we both spend a lot of time reading; we eat together (although we cook separately); and everyone’s in bed by 11. In the evenings, she fills the air up with strange spices, and I with music (I’ve decided not to worry about cooking too much–it’s frustrating to cook for one person with minimal supplies and a tiny fridge, and since a full hot meal can be had for less than $2 in the cafeteria, I’m trying not to feel too guilty about it). In the mornings, I have coffee and wheat kasha, and she has hot water and rice kasha; we both read the news as we eat, which gives us something to talk about.

On Monday, I came home to find a shell-shocked Liza sitting on her bed and two strangers fast asleep in the remaining ones. Those strangers turned out to be Kira und Carola from Gießen, Germany. Although I’m sure they’re fine people, they severely harshed our mellow. Neither of them spoke much Russian, which was ideal for me, since it meant that I could speak Russian with Liza and German with them. But Lisa only speaks Russian and Mandarin, so there was no way to involve all of us in the same conversation. Kira said maybe three words the whole time they were here. Carola, on the other hand, is loud and, as a wide-eyed Liza warned me while they were sleeping, “Everything she does is so big. All her movements are big. She talks big.” We chatted about Kazan, about Germany, about Amis (that’s Americans–and more than once I had to remind Carola that although Germans get a big kick out of criticizing us, we’re actually not as pointless as some small-minded journalists over at Der Spiegel would have the world believe. Especially when she had the bad luck to equate Kentucky with American backwardness (or at least the lack of forethought to ask where I lived first)).

Our cohabitation was not off to a brilliant start.

Fortunately, the Germans (Nemki, or mute ones, in Russian–which in this case was patently untrue) were not impressed with the dorm (no matter that it’s widely recognized to be some of the best student housing in Russia). It may have had something to do with the fact that the morning they arrived, our bathroom sink got disconnected, flooding the bathroom with a mixture of water and five years’ worth of dust and grime that had lodged in the cracks in the floor. Or that there was no Internet (although after much drama, I did eventually manage to solve that one). Or the strict rules (no alcohol, doors lock at 11 PM, no visitors even from other buildings in the complex). Or, being German, maybe they were freaked out by the amount of surveillance (after you present your documents at two security checkpoints in order to enter the dorm, you find that there are not only cameras covering every inch of the common areas, but even trained on the security personnel to ensure that they are sufficiently stringent in monitoring residents’ comings and goings). It’s pretty Big Brotherish, yes, but the entire country is like that (It’s almost like Orwell was basing his book on Russia or something–CRAZY). Even grocery stores have security guards stationed at the doors full-time. If you can’t live with that, don’t come. Don’t go to the beach and then complain when your feet get sandy. Especially when rent on that beach is 8 Euros a month.

Anyway, within 24 hours of arriving, the Nemki had secured an apartment through the loud one’s former host family and had packed their bags and gone. So at least for the time being, Liza and I have our peaceful kingdom back. We don’t know if they’ll assign new roommates to us, but all students were told to arrive by September 1, and classes start Monday for most of us, so it’s looking less likely by the day. If they do, I just hope she likes kasha and goes to bed early.

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