Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2. The Availability of Local Unprocessed Food

One of our weekly rituals is buying food from the farmers who set up shop in the parking lot outside our apartment building every Sunday morning. I say ritual rather than chore because buying fruit, vegetables, and occasionally prepared foods from the farmers, Larisa and Yevgeny, is still a bit of a novelty. 

It's nothing fancy; they unload a table, a scale, an old cash register, and twenty to thirty cardboard boxes full of produce to which they affix some prices with plastic forks. By this time there are usually twenty or so folks--mostly old women--waiting around, but they aren't necessarily standing in a line. Patrick learned that they figure out their order in line by asking, "Who's last?" when they arrive and telling whoever's last, "I'm after you." It isn't a perfect system, but it allows the babushkas to sit and rest on the nearby steps rather than stand in line for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Come to find out, the farmers grow a lot of the vegetables on their own land, and Larisa makes some of the prepared foods, such as eggplant salad, Korean carrot salad, and fruit leather, herself. Additionally, there are a couple of dairy farmers that sell milk, bryndza cheese, tvorog aka farmer's cheese, sour cream, and sometimes whole chickens and eggs from the trunk of their car. There's also a beekeeper who's shown up twice this summer.

I know that the farmers have documents that allow them to sell food, but I highly doubt their farm and products are inspected by some sort of agency to check that health or agricultural codes and regulations are being followed. The milk that's sold by the dairy farmers is definitely raw. An hour or so after we buy it, a layer of thick cream rises to the top. You know it's high-quality when one family regularly sends their son out with a few five-liter jugs to fill and when the babushkas fight to get to this milk, which they've described as настоящий. In other words, this milk is the real deal--not the processed crap in the supermarket. The honey isn't processed either. There are tiny bits of honeycomb in it, it crystallizes pretty quickly, and the taste--it's like nothing I've ever tasted. Its flavor rivals maple syrup in my opinion. According to Patrick, "you can taste the flowers."

Honestly, with all the chemicals, pesticides, and genetic tampering with produce; the antibiotics and hormones in animal products; and the frequency with which corporate and factory farm products are contaminated with lethal bacteria, I'll take my chances with the unregulated, unprocessed food, which I'm fortunate enough to have access to here in Russia.

Monday, August 4, 2014

1. Russians' Attitudes Towards Literature

Pushkin. Tolstoy. Dostoyevsky. Chekhov. Lermontov. Turgenev. Gogol. Gorky. Bulgakov. Nabokov. The list goes on. Russia has a wealth of writers, and one thing that surprises and impresses me is the number of students, both teenagers and adults, who say that they genuinely like reading classic Russian literature. Last week a twelve-year-old told me that she had been reading Pushkin before English class that day.

Lermontov Statue in Stavropol. Taken from Voices From Russia, Too.

I even read an article about a city, Novosibirsk, that offered free metro rides back on 6 June to people who could recite at least two verses from any poem penned by Pushkin. How cool is that? Stavropol can't commemorate great Russian writers with free metro rides, but it does have a few statues. I walk past Lermontov nearly every week and past Pushkin about once a month. I'll have to ask my colleagues and students if there are any more writers hanging out in Stavropol.

Pushkin Statue in Stavropol.

Anyway, I greatly admire Russians' interest in classic literature, and I hope that literature is able to maintain its position within Russian society even though younger generations are increasingly enticed by mind-numbing games and other technological distractions.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Putting Politics Aside

"Naughty America," said my student, grinning and wagging his finger. I smiled slightly. I had prepared some activities to practice asking and answering personal questions about name, age, family, address, phone number, likes, dislikes, etc. I wasn't prepared to respond to my favorite nine-year-old's comment about America, but I didn't want to ignore it either. 

I paused for a moment and wondered how to go about having a child-friendly converesation about culture and politics with the limited English vocabulary that he knew. 

"Where do you live?" I asked.
"In Russia," he told me confidently.
I nodded. "Do you like Russia?"
He rolled his eyes as if I had asked him a stupid question and then responded with an resounding "Yes!"
"Why?" I asked him.
He pressed his lips together and thought before telling me, "Because it's home."
"I like Russia too," I confided, "because it's beautiful and because I like my colleagues and my pupils."
He smiled.
"Do you like New York City?" I continued.
"Why do you like it?"
His eyes grew round as he told me, "Because it's got big skyscrapers, very big."
"And...?" I prompted.
"And it's nice," he added.
"You're Russian. Are Russian people good or bad?" I asked.
"Good," he quickly confirmed.
"That's right. And I'm American. Are American people good or bad?"
He shrugged. "Mmm, good."
"Am I Obama or a normal American?"
He laughed at the idea of me being Obama and said, "Normal American."
"Are Obama and Putin normal people or politicians?"
"Are politicians always good or sometimes good?"
"Sometimes good."
"Are politicians sometimes bad?"
He paused and then responded, "Sometimes bad."

I sometimes have to remind myself of the message that I was trying to send to my student. Of course I have my own opinions about Obama, Putin, and their domestic and international policies, but I shouldn't let that color my impression of Russian culture. Patrick and I put together a list of the top ten things we like about Russian culture, and I'll be posting about those topics over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 18, 2014

All Hail the International Organization for Migration

It's a month and a half after our Moscow rendezvous, and with any luck, we'll receive the results of my FBI Criminal History Summary before the end of April although that may be too optimistic. They've already reached my parents, but I'm not particularly confident in Russian Post. On the bright side, you'll be happy to know that I'm not a criminal.

For the most part, things went swimmingly in the capital. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was and is a godsend. It's an intergovernmental organization that provides various services to migrants, whether they're refugees, internally displaced persons, or random expatriates like me. IOM is most easily reached via phone--not via email.

I had an appointment to show up at 11:00 to the IOM office on 12 2nd Zvenigorodskaya Street near the Ulitsa 1905 Goda metro station, or as it appears on Google Maps, Mezhdunarodnaya Organizatsiya Po Migratsii. However, being the anxious person that I am, we arrived at the office before 10:00. Fortunately, the staff was kind enough to help us right away. I completed a registration form with help from an English-speaking staff member, paid for the medical exam, and gave my documents to another English-speaking staff member so that Patrick and I would have all the necessary paperwork to a) enter the clinic and b) have my upfront medical exam done. The medical exam was supposed to cost 315 USD, or 13,500 RUB, but we somehow ended up only paying 4161 RUB. Huzzah!

After that we headed to a clinic near Lenin's Library. I needed to have a few different tests done. First I peed in a cup, they stole some of my blood, and I had chest X-rays. That all happened pretty quickly, but I had to wait an hour and a half to see the doctor for my physical examination. Aside from the wait, I was impressed by how professional and organized the clinic was. I think that it's affiliated with IOM because everyone there seemed to have some sort of visa paperwork with them. The USA seemed to be a pretty popular choice, but I saw a couple of people with papers indicating that they wanted to go to Canada.

Finally, it was my turn, and I answered a bunch of yes-no questions for the doctor, and we chatted a bit. She must have been pretty surprised to see me because she asked if I was sure if I really needed the medical exam. Alas, being an American and the wife of a Canadian doesn't mean that the Canadian government gives me any privileges.

As soon as the exam was complete, we booked it back to the IOM office for fingerprinting. Igor, the fingerprinting technician and security specialist did six full fingerprint cards for the price of one, which ended up being only 1,278 RUB rather than 7,668 RUB. While he was taking my fingerprints, we chatted and he asked about whether or not I felt safe in Stavropol. I thought it was a strange question coming from a Russian, but I guess that any city in the North Caucasus would seem a bit dangerous to a Moscuvite. Plus, he probably helps a lot of refugees from the nearby republics.

The last thing on our agenda was to mail my fingerprints and the appropriate forms to the FBI. Fortunately, DHL is in Russia, so we swung by the office on 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya, shelled out 6,078 RUB, and called it a day. It took less than a week for everything to make it to the FBI, and my credit card was charged for the record request about two weeks after being signed for.

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Canadian in the Making

I'm going to preface the below whinging by keeping the end goal in mind. Two years from now when I'm a Canadian permanent resident, I want a chocolate mocha cake with a Canadian flag on it. And Québec tuition rates.

Because I was slated to work for AmeriCorps through Citizen Schools for two years, Patrick and I submitted paperwork to apply for his green card last February with the hope that he'd be able to join me in the States in the late spring of 2014. Well, the partnership between Citizen Schools and the school I was serving was put on hold for the 2013-2014 academic year, so I decided to jump ship and run away to Mother Russia with Patrick.

Even though his green card was in the works, at least the first part of the lengthy process was, we've more or less scrapped the idea of living and working in the States in the near future. Now we're thinking Canada. The only hitch is that the process of applying for Canadian permanent residency seems like a bigger pain than applying for a US green card. I guess Canadian peace, order, and good governance don't come cheap.

Before we mail in our application, I need to undergo an upfront medical exam and get police certificates from the FBI and from the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. I'm anticipating that the FBI Criminal History Summary will be the most frustrating, especially given that I've had problems with fingerprints being rejected multiple times in the past. Also, the FBI claims that the current processing time is 28 days, yet the CIC website says that it takes 16-18 weeks. On top of that, I have to get documents to and from Russia of all places. However, the kicker is that police certificates are only valid for 3 months and the results of the upfront medical exam for 12 months according to the CIC. If the six fingerprint cards that we're shelling out for are all rejected and the FBI really takes 18 weeks to process them, I may actually need another upfront medical exam and another Russian police certificate.

I don't know why my colleagues call me an optimist.

Anyway, I plan to document our immigration journey here in hopes that someday it'll be useful to someone else seeking Canadian permanent residency while living and working in Russia. It also gives me the opportunity to bemoan the woefully inefficient and outlandishly expensive immigration process.

Patrick and I are off to Moscow on Wednesday for my medical exam and fingerprinting on Thursday at the International Organization for Migration in Moscow. Keep your fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Holiday Gift-Givers

'Twas the night before New Year's, when all through the flat
Not a creature was sleeping, not even a cat;
No stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
'Cause they knew Ded Moroz soon would be there;

In other words, holiday traditions in Russia are different than those in North America. For starters, the major holidays are New Year's Eve and New Year's Day--not Christmas. Their trees are New Year's trees and that's when gifts are exchanged. I like this idea because it's a very inclusive holiday; anyone can celebrate the New Year regardless of one's religious persuasion. Theoretically, this is also a good thing because Christmas is presumably less commercial and material. I do, however, get the vibe that New Year's gift-giving isn't done to the extent that it's done in North America anyway. And by the way, Christmas is on January 7 because the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian Calendar.

This fellow looks eerily reminiscent of a certain Western gift-giver, doesn't he? Meet Дед Мороз, which is transliterated as Ded Moroz, nearly pronounced as Dead Morose, and translated as Father Frost, or more literally, as Old Man Frost.

He has a good deal in common with Santa Claus; however, there are some marked differences. Ded Moroz is usually clad in a a semi-round fur Boyar hat; either a blue, red, or white embroidered heel-length robe; mittens; and valenki, which are traditional Russian felt boots. He has a tall, slender figure and a long, straight beard. He also carries a magical staff that can be used to freeze people.

Ded Moroz lives in Veliky Ustyug, so that's where Russian children send their letters instead of the North Pole. He travels overland in a тройка, or troika, a traditional Russian sleigh pulled by three horses. Unlike Santa, who comes down the chimney to clandestinely stuff stockings and place presents under the tree, Ded Moroz goes door-to-door and delivers his gifts in person. He is often accompanied by his granddaughter Снегу́рочка, or Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden.

Although Ded Moroz is a popular Russian character, I wonder if over time he will be transformed into and ultimately replaced by Santa Claus.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Workplace Relationships

Here's a list of things that you probably shouldn't do with your coworkers or higher-ups in American culture.
  • Have a romantic relationship
  • Cohabitate temporarily with the Director of Studies (the academic supervisor)
  • Go to a restaurant / bar / dance club and drink with your coworkers and Director of Studies
  • Drink when the Director (the big boss) doesn't
  • Smoke shisha with the Director and the Administrative Manager
  • Watch belly dancers with the Director, Director of Studies, and Administrative Manager
  • Listen to sexually explicit music with the Director, Director of Studies, and Administrative Manager

I'm married to a coworker. Patrick and I let our Director of Studies stay with us for a few days. It was sort of weird to be in my pajamas and such around her. Our first weekend, we went to a restaurant / bar / dance club with fog machines called Petrovich, where I split a bottle of wine with a coworker although I did decline to dance and to try the local spirit that my coworkers were mixing with red wine. Last weekend, the Director took me, Patrick, the Director of Studies, and the Administrative Manager on an excursion to Pyatigorsk. While we were there we did the last four bullets on the list, and let me tell you, it's really awkward to watch belly dancers with your higher-ups. I want to look to show them that I'm interested in the performance and that I appreciate it, but at the same time, it's a little uncomfortable. Regarding the music, the Director didn't realize that it was explicit. I mean, can you imagine trying to understand rap in another language?

Other interesting differences are that I'm paid in cash and that I'm considered a very positive person in the office. Maybe all of that positive framing while I worked at Citizen Schools did make me more positive. Who knows? Also, family members of the Director and my coworkers often swing by the office with food or milk. They sometimes bring their children to the cramped teachers' room--much to my delight.

With all that being said, I really enjoyed the outings and I definitely like my coworkers and higher-ups. Workplace relationships outside the office are just a bit different here, and it'll be interesting to navigate all sorts of interactions.