I really need to work on my post titles! It’s hard to come up with quirky names… but hey here’s my ‘weekly’ update. I say weekly in inverted commas because technically this is about a week and a half since my last update post… I’m getting worse and worse at sitting down to write these.
I wish I could say that I’m getting more settled in and life is all hunky dory, but to be 100% honest I am still having some down days. It is getting easier, but the tiredness is real. Some days it’s a struggle to get out of bed, and in lessons I just want them to be over before they’ve begun. I’m also hungry all the time. It’s probably all the walking… I do so much walking! It adds up and you don’t even realise… especially when you’re carrying a heavy rucksack around. I’m not the only one, my classmates have complained about it too. I might have already said that in my last post… I can’t remember 2 days ago let alone a whole week ago. D’oh.
My friend from my class has this theory that it’s all of the pollution… apparently the lack of good oxygen makes your heart and lungs work harder. Sounds feasible! St P is really polluted. Around the rivers the air is a little fresher, but some of us girls have noticed that our hair gets greasy so much quicker here and our skin is so much oilier than normal… and apparently this could be due to the pollution and all of the smoking too. The streets are full of cars and smoke. I’ve noticed that some of the statues on the buildings have this black oily substance on them…. the kind that only comes from a build up of car fumes. Yuck. It makes you appreciate what you had in your home country a lot more, that I can tell you! Can’t wait to come back to England and breathe some fresh air soon. Fingers crossed my passport comes back in time for my October half term.
Another thing we talked about is the phenomenon which is the маршутка [marshootka, or minibus] that you can catch around St P. I haven’t been on one, mainly because of stories people have told me. Apparently they don’t always stop for you so you have to literally jump onto a moving minibus. They are crammed full of people, and you have to yell when you want it to stop because there aren’t any bus stops for them. And the drivers are known to be talking on the phone, driving, smoking and taking the money from their passengers, possibly all at once, though I suspect they do two of these things at a time at most. They are questionable modes of transport. I think I’ll stick to the trolleybus and metro thank you very much!
But yeah, overall it is getting a little easier. I’ll allow that. My pronunciation is improving too… so much so that I get into trouble sometimes. If you can pronounce things decently well and speak fast enough then people think you’re fluent and start speaking really quickly, but then they realise that you don’t understand and you have to say the whole ‘I’m-English-please-slow-down’ spiel.
This year has been so full on!! I’ve not really stopped since Easter, so I’m really looking forward to going home at Christmas and not doing anything for a few weeks. My course starts up in February so as to avoid the worst of the weather in the winter (I think) so I will be home for about 2 months. Sounds like a lot but I know it’ll go quickly!!
I miss home a bit right now as I sit here writing this, because, although my hosts are so kind and lovely to me, my host mum is sitting in the kitchen smoking with her friend, and it’s tea time and I want to make my food, but I don’t want to go in there and inhale second hand smoke and have them staring at me while I make whatever it is I’m going to scrounge together.
They are really kind though. One thing about Russia is that they are great at hospitality. They will literally serve you only the best food as their guests. They’ll buy the best bread, the best cuts of meat, prepare salads with dill on top (dill goes on everything here), make you borsht (beetroot soup), provide the best fruits. My hosts buy boxes of Ferrero Rocher and exotic looking cakes. They always offer me the leftovers and things and they sometimes even let me sit with them and their guests. They never did this when my other flat mate was here so I think maybe they have a soft spot for me. Possibly because I’m vegan and they think I literally only eat cucumber and buckwheat. (Trust me I don’t!) But also possibly because I had a bit of a cry in front of them the other day when I was trying to sort out my new job with their neighbours and feeling down because I wasn’t sure if I would get my passport back in time for my reading week. I was also extremely tired and discouraged after a long hard day of lessons which hadn’t gone as well as I’d have liked. These are the realities of your year abroad and I don’t feel like it would be honest to hold them back. People considering doing a year abroad need to know that the first few months, (if not the whole year) are tough. You have to be prepared for that. Fortunately when I had my little cry, my host babushka was very kind about it. She has two daughters so I’m sure she’s seen her fair share of drama. Ever since then she’s told me that if I ever need anything I just have to say, and she’s always willing to help me with any homework I don’t understand, which is so helpful.
Oh yeah, so my new job. A neighbour of ours happened to be visiting my host babushka a few weeks ago when I got home and she said would I like a job teaching her daughter Spanish. I thought that this would be a great idea as I’m more confident teaching Spanish grammar than English grammar and it would help me keep my Spanish going a bit. Not that I’m particularly worried about losing it – it is my second language and I’ve been speaking it for nearly 11 years now. Fun fact: In England we don’t really learn grammar. I know, shocking right? Anyway, I was having some trouble getting her to agree to pay me enough and not make me work too many hours a week, and I think that’s all been sorted out now, thank goodness.
I am so aware of all of the things I’m having to overcome whilst living here. I’ve learned so much and I’ve only been here for 2 months. Having to negotiate my wages with this neighbour was hard – I hate talking about money. I kind of just hope that my employer will pay me a decent amount and that I’ll never have to talk about it. Maybe this is my Englishness coming through. We like to be very subtle instead of just getting to the point because for us it’s considered more polite. I’ve had to step out of my comfort-zone and embrace my inner Russian persona several times, especially with rather overly-keen young Russian men (I’ll possibly do a post on this in the future – total cliff hanger there!). I’ve had to pay my rent, I’ve had to figure out transport systems, I’ve had to buy a sim card and an oyster card and figure out how to top them up. And later this term I might actually have to try and find a flat to rent for next term. Hopefully I can do this with the help of a Russian friend because I think it would be a bit risky to do totally alone.
I also feel so much closer to God out here. I talk about God a fair amount because as far as I’m concerned he is a huge part of my life. I wouldn’t be here doing this without him. I really believe that. He’s constantly reassuring me that I can do this, that I just need to trust him, that it’s all going to make sense in the end because this is part of his plan for my life. It’s preparing me for something bigger later on. My first few months have felt a bit like a wilderness. Everything has been so confusing and challenging, I feel stripped of most things I get my comfort from (family, home, friends, my uni etc) and I’ve been questioning everything. Why am I here? What am I doing? What am I doing this for? What’s the point? Why is this happening, why is that happening…? and so on. I can’t say I have all of the answers yet but I do know that God is in charge and I know he’ll get me through. I guess sometimes not being able to see clearly is part of the process. Even if it feels like you’re walking in the dark, God is teaching you something, growing you somehow, and later on the experience will be useful.
One verse that has stuck with me through some really tough times in my past is from Philippeans 4:6-7: ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.’
I kind of mostly have this verse memorised now. And it’s still relevant to me. As someone who worries a lot, and struggles to not over-analyse everything all the time, this verse is a good reminder because whenever I start freaking out it kind of floats back into my mind. I’m lucky because I’ve grown up in a Christian home, so I’ve known God my whole life, and whenever things got really hard and overwhelming I just naturally end up talking to God about it. I guess it’s because I know he’s always there and he sees my thoughts and knows me better than everyone else. And that is what keeps me going. That’s my ‘secret’ if you like. Not that it’s really secret anymore!
But anyway… hey, this wouldn’t be a true post if I didn’t end it with another one of the weird things I’ve seen around St P this week…. I saw a guard at the entrance to a hotel’s car park come out with what I can only describe as a giant mirror on a stick like the one the dentist uses and check underneath this guys car as he was about to enter the hotel. I have no idea what he could possibly be looking for. A bomb I suppose. The car looked expensive and the guy looked like a businessman of some kind. I guess these things are normal here in Russia? ‘Til next time guys!