In Russian time can do many things; it can fly, it can simply just go, or it can run. In 38 days it will be December first. First and foremost that means getting our next stipend, which is definitely a highlighted date on my personal calendar. In more somber terms, it also means winter. But seriously, where has time gone? I see the changes in my schedule – this week is actually full. I had forgotten what having a full schedule was like and it honestly excites me to once again be busy.
The last two weeks have been more of a blur than most. Two Sundays ago I was on my way to Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Aside from seeing great friends in Piter and fighting Russian weather, my mom flew in from Michigan. We then went to Moscow where I orientated with the Fulbrighters and my mom slept.. a lot. We tried to do some touristy things, but once again wrestled with the weather. All-in-all it was very nice to see Americans, to laugh, to joke, and to relieve a lot of stress. In fact I’m not sure if Moscow’s effect on us was positive or negative. I arrived back in Astrakhan last Monday with a heavy heart and sad soul. The first two days were hard, and I feel bad that my mom had to endure my emotional rollercoaster. I suppose it was good to have the support. Perhaps she helped me avoid stage 2 of culture shock.. how optimistic of me to think I can avoid it just like that.
However, the end of the week really picked up. The weather in Astrakhan has been exceptionally gorgeous and my mom and I spent a lot of time walking, sitting in cafes, and just relaxing.
All week she sat in on my classes and went with me on my high school visit. We had tea with a library Babushka and looked at pictures of her parents during World War II.
We discovered the great markets in Astrakhan. There are three or four of them, all filled with immigrants selling everything you could need for remarkably cheap prices. We ventured there on my mom’s first day in Astrakhan and she was absolutely floored; however, the next day she demanded we go back. So we went again on Saturday, attempting to walk directly in and buy spices but we easily got caught up in the people and the colors and the wonders of these Eurasian-style markets.
We then wandered into a second one, filled with clothes, shoes, and necessities for children, including baby strollers and cribs. This market had aisles so small, you really can only fit one person at a time, and Russians are bad enough as it is with personal space. I felt like I had been transported back to Turkey, and sure enough I heard a few words amongst the vendors. My mom and I bought fruit, spices, meat, cheese, and a huge smoked fish, which was sooooo tasty. It lasted us four days. She also found a really great hat for my dad and a few other knickknacks. Success.
Thursday night we spent the evening at a friends of Angelica’s who also happen to be the parents of one of my high school students. They live in a private community in a house, an actual, real, live house! The man of the household is in the oil industry, thus explaining the living situation. While we were visiting he was on a business trip in Sakhalin. The family is so nice. When we arrived we were introduced to the “host”, or my student’s mother. However, they are always referred to as the host; that is, if they cooked the meal and prepared the house for guests. Her mom, or my student’s grandmother also lives there, and we met her as well. First the host showed us around the quite extensive house. Both kids had their own room (quite rare by Russian standards), as well as the parents, and the grandmother. They had a sauna and a large garage used for get-togethers. The kitchen was enormous, by Russian standards, and they had a nice sized living room. After touring the house we had tea along with a cottage cheese/curd pie my student made and a great crab salad made by the host. She spoke pretty good English, even though she admitted she hadn’t practiced in a long time; I can only imagine how good it was when she used it daily. I really enjoyed that night, even though we were only there for a few hours. It was really nice to have some home-cooked food and just relax in a comfortable home – comparing to my own not so “homey” dorm room.
Friday night we had a great dinner and I got to catch up with some acquaintances. Saturday night was spent at my colleague Angelica’s house. First we learned how to make pelmini, or more so how to artistically fold the pelmini in a Russian style. We tried caviar sandwiches, which is bread, topped with butter, and loaded with caviar. After that we made two pizzas; my mom had brought a simple kit from home and another American Fulbrighter had made her own homemade pizza. It was pretty interesting and I definitely did not care for the Russian “pizza” sauce, which in reality was BBQ sauce. We then had a round of pelmini, followed by two rounds of pizza. The night ended with a few games of “Durak”, the Russian card game. An overall fantastic evening.
So my mom left this morning. At 5:30 am I met my colleague Angelica, who took us to the airport. Crazy babushka with spiky black hair and a deeply raspy voice was working. She’s my favorite, probably because she talks to me the most and calls me Rita, or Rebecca, or what ever name comes to her head (she’s crazy, if you couldn’t tell by the hair and voice). A couple a weeks ago, this American was staying in the dorms for a week (she came to check out the Persian department.. long story.) but she didn’t speak any Russian. We were in the lobby talking, and babuska yelled at us to go away because she was on the phone. I think she was just upset because she couldn’t understand us. Digression… This morning I told her, or thought I told her, “I’m taking my mother to the airport, I’ll probably be back before six, please do not lock the doors.” I got back around 6:30, walked through the front door, and found babuska with spiky hair and raspy voice very angry indeed. First she yelled at me because she thought I was just walking my mother to a car and then coming back. So she was all worried and upset. Then she yelled at me again, asking if I knew where the Italians were. First off, I didn’t even know Italians EXISTED in Astrakhan (where are they, I want to meet them, NOW!) secondly, how the hell did I know where they were?! She then expressed very slowly the Russian equivalent of “fuck” but a lot worse. My eyes got big and I looked at the other girl in the lobby who obviously just got back from going out.. the girl mumbled something about being able to rent an apartment and went upstairs. I think she got yelled at too. Then babusha explained to me that the Italians went to a cafe and still weren’t back. More than likely they were out partying, but babushka obviously didn’t understand this and was all stressed out. I sort of just snuck into my hall saying, sorry, I don’t know where they are, sorry, sorry… Poor babushka. BUT the moral of the story is.. we have a babysitter; well actually maybe six of them. They are babushki. They are a force to be reckoned with. They scare the shit out of me…. [To move out, or not to move out... that is the question.]
This evening I attended an Indian party at a restaurant. Russians are truly obsessed with cultural parties. Not long ago there was a Spanish party as a Japanese restaurant; now I’m attending an Indian one; and next week there will be a Halloween one, once again at the Japanese restaurant. The idea is actually kind of fun, except Russians are much better at these type of things than I am. I wore a sari and wanted to take it off the minute I got there. However, I endured most of the night until I felt I could no longer breathe. Thankfully we left before the “dancing concourse” and real self-embarrassment.
In reflection of the two weeks with my mom, i’ve come to the following semi-cognitive conclusion. I really, really enjoyed my mother’s visit and loved seeing her; however, I realized visitors are hard for me. I mean, my mom was dependent upon me for language, culture, for everything. It was hard; very hard and I’m not sure if I’d want to do it again. I suppose it makes me more reflective before inviting, or demanding others to visit. …But come visit Astrakhan, Russia!!