Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Journey to No-Mans-Land (aka my Monday and Wednesday afternoons)

On Monday and Wednesday afternoons, I have a private lesson with a fifteen year old boy - let's call him Lebron, after his favourite player in the NBA (or "the National Basketball Association," as he keeps calling it despite my efforts to get him to use the acronym). Lebron is a great kid, his English is very good, he's a huge fan of the 19th century literary critic Vissarion Belinsky (what 15 year old - or anybody for that matter - has a favourite literary critic?!), but he isn't stuck-up or arrogant at all. He also happens to have a very wealthy family, which means trips to Barcelona and Paris, a private driver in a big black SUV, and a house.

I haven't seen a house since arriving in Russia almost two months ago, because everyone lives in the stereotypical communist-style block apartment buildings. Most people have a dacha, a small cottage in the country where they grow their fruits and vegetables, but houses are just not common here in the Moscow region. I was talking to two of my friends here, Oleg and Sasha, and they were asking me about Canada and whether I lived in a house or a flat. "I've lived in both," I answered. "A house with my family and then an apartment and a dorm for a couple years in university." "What do you like better?" they asked next. This was when I had my horrible "spoiled North American brat" moment, which I'm still so embarassed and disgusted about. I told them that I like living in a house when I have my family or friends there, but that I feel safer in apartments if I'm living alone. "Why do you feel safer in a flat?" they wanted to know. "Well..." I thought out loud. "My house is pretty big, and sometimes if I'm alone there at night I get worried about all the different entrances or windows someone could use to get in there." Then this little voice went off in my head, like Listen to yourself, Katie. Aww, woe is me, my house is just too big that I get scared. Like, barf. Ugh...I sounded so spoiled, and suddenly I just felt incredibly guilty and disgusted with myself. Most families here live in a two or three ROOM flat, and there I was, sounding like I was complaining about having a big house!

Alright, well enough about that. Needless to say, I was not too happy with myself. I'm really learning to appreciate just how lucky I have had it growing up...I think I always kind of knew that, but living here is making me realize more and more that my happy North American experience is certainly not the norm. Knowing something and understanding something are two different things.

Ok, there's my moralizing, Full House-hug-it-out moment of the day. I don't want to sound like I'm preaching!! Back to Lebron and his house...

Despite his having a private driver, my lessons with him have to be at his house, rather than the school, and I have to take a series of buses and marshrutkas to get there. I know, what is the private driver for then, anyways?? a very stupid move, the company I work for sent me out to find his house on my own, with very brief directions consisting of "Take the 11 or 13 marshrutka to the bus station, then take the 314 bus, then walk to his house." Umm...ok.

So I managed to eventually find the 314 bus, but since I didn't actually know what stop I was supposed to get off at, I rode the bus for quite some time before the woman who makes you pay for the tickets told me to get off (On Russian buses, there is usually some woman who sits at the front and teeters around everytime a new passenger gets on, and then she asks you where you're going and takes your money. The bus driver has no communication with anybody, and is usually completely encased in a little glass cubby).

So I was basically kicked off this bus and stranded on the side of a highway. Oh, did I mention that this was the day we got our first snowfall? And naturally, I was wearing a skirt. I waited around for about 30 minutes, freezing. I started to cry at one point but then when my tears started freezing on my face I made myself stop. Luckily, Rhea had let me borrow her mobile just in case (haha, self-fulfilling prophecy?!) so I called the administrators at the school, but that was completely pointless. So then a bus came along and I hopped on it and rode back to Mytishi. When I walked back into the school, one of the administrators actually had the nerve to be mad AT me!! For failing to find this random house when they had given me no house number, no street number, no stop to get off at...ARGHHHH!!!

The next lesson, they sent a Russian with me, Vlada, and to my delight even SHE got us lost! Hah! So it wasn't just me being stupid! Now, however, I know how to get there, what stop to get off at, and how to find his house, so it's not that bad. The other day, the bus ride was actually very nice, (probably because for once it was sunny out) and the sun-dappled forest with the birch trees and golden leaves were absolutely breath-taking. It does take about an hour and a half to get there, though, and an hour and a half to get back...all for an hour and a half long lesson! Grrrr. And then I have a class immediately afterwards, at 7:30, so its pretty rushed and stressful.

Lebron's house itself is very nice, but there's a reason I called this post my journey to "No-Man's-Land." That is because his house is right in the middle of what can only be described as a barren wasteland. Seriously. When I get off on the side of a highway somewhere outside Mytishi, I have to walk down this dirt road for about 10 minutes...and those 10 minutes are the bleakest minutes of my day. There is no vegetation, just mud (I'm suddenly reminded of a line from Wilfrid Owen's WWI poem, Dulce et Decorum est: Bent double, like old beggars under sacks/Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge), and no sign of life besides some crows picking at a cat corpse. Lovely. An empty swing at a decrepit-looking playground swings ominously back and forth in the wind. It is honestly the creepiest place EVER, yet there are all these huge McMansions around, which gives No-Man's-Land an eerie, horror-film-esque sense. Lebron's house has high brick walls built up all around it, and a big iron gate with one of those huge wrough-iron knockers that reminds me of something from Beauty and the Beast.

Today being Wednesday, I was mentally preparing myself for the journey to No-Man's-Land when I got an email from the administrators letting me know that Lebron had to cancel his lesson! Yay!! It's postponed till tomorrow, so I'm still going to have to go out there, but seeing as how its raining and depressing out in Mytishi right now, its really MUCH better to just stay inside and drink tea and watch Pillars of the Earth then confront the living embodiment of T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland.


  1. Lol wow you do sound pretty spoiled :P, well atleast now you're appreciating all the things a lot of people take for granted in North America and who knows maybe you can educate other Canadians to treasure what they already have? Lebron sounds like a cool kid, what does he think about the big three in miami? Umm well you can be atleast grateful that you got to ride inside the bus, some countries the busses are so full that if u can hold onto the bus its a miracle...some passengers just tend to sit on the roofs. Wow your description of the walk to your lesson to the middle of nowhere sounds pretty bad but I think its worth it when you have all that beautiful scnerey to keep you company on your busride there. Ahhh it would be amazing to be able to explore those forests..

  2. Amazing descriptions Katie. I feel like I am right there with you. I wish!
    I find I have to watch what I say to students at my new school- much more so than at ND. But when an answer or comment is made in honesty without condescension, you can't be faulted.I'm sure it has happened in reverse to you. You know when people are speaking with sincerity and when they are flaunting.
    I'd work on getting that driver to expand his duties to collecting the English teacher, or to delivering the student into Mytishchi.

  3. This isn't all that surprising that its out in the middle of no where. It costs $1,937/Sq-ft in Moscow. So being out in the middle of no where would make a lot of financial sense as the prices outside the side are 'dirt cheap' pardon the pun.

    It really is easy to forget how easy we have it, talking to mom and dad or even grandma once in a while gives a crazy perspective. Then again you can't miss what you don't have right? Staying in one spot is monotonous, going up is easy and going down is death.

    The flip side is that theoretically speaking if you were used to having a butler, being driven around all the time and flying to NY for breakfast you would think differently about the life you have now. Its all about perspective and where you are currently situated. Guess what I'm trying to say is don't beat yourself up, you're only human. Everyone will complain, its just part of human nature to want more.