Friday, November 19, 2010


Its Friday afternoon here in Mytishi, and the only thought running through my head right now is TGIF!!! It's been a long week, but one that had TWO very big highlights...drum roll please...


How exciting! While I was skyping with my family on Sunday night, they told me that Canada Post had just alerted them that the package they sent had finally arrived at Language Link's Central Office in Moscow. My mum mailed it on September 26th, so it took just under two months to travel across the rest of Canada (Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes), over the Atlantic Ocean, past several European countries, and push past what was the former Iron Curtain to arrive - safe and sound, with only one casualty - here in Russia.

I set off for the Central Office on Tuesday afternoon, after getting one of my administrators, Vlada, to call ahead and tell the people working there that I was coming to pick up my package. For once, I didn't mind the long commute into Moscow, eagerly counting down the metro stations as we whizzed through the underbelly of this huge city - Medvedkovo, Babushkinskaya, Sviblovo, Botanichesky Sad, VDNKH (pronounced vah-din-kah haha...when I first saw this station I was like, "uhhh where are the vowels in this word?"), Alekseevskaya, Rizhskaya, Prospyekt Mira, Novoslobodskaya.

Then out onto the busy street of Novoslobodskaya, where I crossed the street through a tunnel (this is the common way to cross the street here in Moscow. Traffic is so insane that it would be a death wish if you tried to cross the street aboveground) and made my way to the Central Office. You can imagine my soul-crushing disappointment when the woman behind the desk informed me that the delivery man had just set out for Mytishi with the mail. Even though Vlada had called them less than two hours ago to say that I was on my way...grr...I bit back a retort because hey, when in Moscow, you have to do things the Moscow way (also known, half the time, as the nonsensical, futile way. Welcome to Russia.)

So I got back on the metro, then back on the bus, and then finally arrived back at the school in Mytishi, where my package was waiting. It was like being a kid on Christmas, I was sooo excited to open it and get a whiff of home! (Although it was more like a whiff of chicken stock, as the packages of powdered chicken stock my mum had sent had partly opened and spilled out)

Inside were letters from my mum, my brother and sister, as well as a newspaper article, some photos, my first university alumni magazine (I still cannot believe I'm actually an alumna, and not a student anymore! I feel so old...), and...chocolate chips!!! Chocolate chips are something you just cannot get in Russia (or anywhere else in Europe, I'm told) so they were a very welcome treat from home. Whenever I've done any baking with Rhea, we have chopped up chocolate bars in lieu of chocolate chips, so now it will be fun to use these for some "real" chocolate chip cookies. I showed everything to my classes, getting them to sample the chocolate chips (definitely intrigued by them but also a little disappointed that it was just semi-sweet chocolate, with nothing overly special about it...I think I'll have to bake some cookies and bring them in for a taste-testing!) and look through the pictures and letters. Everyone thought my dad was very handsome and they loved that he was drinking beer in the photos! Overall, I was really touched by how interested everyone was in my family and my life back home. This is why I love teaching! Uhh...not so that I can blab on and on about myself (duh, that's why I love my blog!), but because I really get to develop relationships with my students, to learn new things about them and to share things about myself. Yes, Nastya is still nasty and probably always will be, but students like that are definitely in the minority. My students here are all wonderful, funny, smart, engaged people who I generally have a blast with. Actually, that's a nice segue into the second highlight of my week...


After two and a half months away from the pool, I finally got my feet wet again! :)

I love swimming, maybe even more than running although the actual "getting wet" thing kinda sucks sometimes (my hair is long ok? It takes forever to dry!) I swam competitively for several years and worked as a lifeguard/swim instructor for the past five, a job that I highly recommend for teens. I mean, I got paid way more than your average Tim Hortons' employee and all I really had to do was sit in a chair in the sun and get a sick tan (haha ok, there was a little more to it than that, and unfortunately I only got two summers at an outdoor pool, but it really was a great job and I made some fantastic friends through lifeguarding). ANYWAYS, I've really missed swimming and I've been very curious about trying to swim here.

Unfortunately, to be allowed to swim in a pool in Russia, you need to have a spravka - a health certificate from a doctor asserting that you are healthy enough to use the pool. This was a problem - how was I supposed to get a certificate? I posed this question to my class of upper-intermediate adults last Monday night and nobody really seemed to give me a straight answer. THEN the next day one of the administrators, Olga, dropped by the staff room with a piece of paper. "One of your students dropped this off for you," she said, looking confused and passing me...a health certificate!!!

It turns out one of my students, Tatiana, bribed a doctor she knows to write me a certificate! Ahhh finally the corruption that Russia is famous for works out for me! Tatiana and I made plans to meet at School No. 10 (schools in Russia are numbered, rather than named after, say, saints for Catholic schools or famous people or street names) on Tuesday evening. I borrowed a bathing cap from the daughter of one of the Russian teachers here and then walked over to the school for 7:45pm. The pool is only open for specific times, and on Tuesdays the pool is open from 7:45 to 8:45. We showed our certificates to the ladies at the desk in the lobby (they looked at my foreign-sounding name and for some reason thought I was Italian) then checked our coats and shoes and made our way to the changeroom. It was awesome having Tatiana there to lead the way and show me where to go and what to do. Full of trepidation, I made my way out onto the deck. The pool was 25m long and 4 lanes wide, and was packed with about 30 people! It seemed to be segregated, although I don't know if that was intentional or not, with the men in the far lane doing the "serious" swimming and the ladies taking up the other three lanes chatting and floating blissfully along. Tatiana and I slipped into one of the lanes and started doing some head-up strokes. The water was really warm, about 85 or 86 degrees I'd say, but I can't lie - it WAS nice to not have to hold your breath and force yourself to jump into freezing cold water!

One thing definitely did scare me though - the complete lack of supervision of the swimmers in any way. I had asked Tatiana while we were changing about lifeguards, but she seemed very confused. "You know...people who watch the swimmers to make sure no one drowns?" I asked, miming out my best lifeguard pose (hey, after doing it for five years, I know how to do the lifeguard pose like a true Baywatch girl) and then doing the "climbing ladder" action of a DNS (drowning non-swimmer - OMG how much fun am I having pulling out my old lifeguarding lingo!?!) but I was just greeted with a blank stare that plainly said, "Uh...are you ok?" So I dropped that topic and just decided to see for myself...but there was nothing to see. No lifeguards. Not even one of the ladies from out front doing a walk-by or body count. Nothing. Nyechevo. This freaked me out a little, as liability has been drilled into my head countless number of times. How is this legal? Oh yeah. Right. This is Russia.

I don't want to sound all dramatic and Tom Cruise "save the day and be the hero"-esque, but I definitely was concerned about a potential drowning or injury and made sure to swim head-up the whole time so I could keep an eye on everything. I also didn't have any goggles and I wanted to avoid swallowing what could be sketchy water (I didn't smell any chlorine, so I'm not sure what they use to clean the water...), so my head-up strokes weren't entirely for altruistic reasons. It was really fun to be back in the water, and I am going to try and go once a week. Once I buy some goggles, I'm going to hopefully do more strenuous strokes than head-up breaststroke, although honestly, the next morning I was definitely feeling it in my arms. I've been doing a lot of running here, but nothing upper-body wise so my arms are slowly losing all muscle tone and getting way too skinny. I want my strong swimmer shoulders back!! For 200 roubles a swim, it seems a pretty good way to achieve this. And one major bonus...HOT SHOWERS!!! I had my first real hot shower on Tuesday night since moving here...utter and complete bliss.

After showering, Tatiana and I made our way out of the school where her boyfriend Ilya was waiting, and the two of them drove me home, practicing their English while I practiced my Russian and we all laughed at the awkward friendliness of it all. It was very fun! I am so thankful for the awesome people I have met here, who have gone out of their way to help me and welcome me to their country.

So, although it was a stressful work in terms of workload, the swimming and the package from home made it all worth it. Now I'm off to bed in prep for what should be a terrific day tomorrow (hint: I also prepped for tomorrow by watching the BBC documentary entitled "Napoleon: Road to Moscow." So excited!) Will post more about it tomorrow plus pictures now that my fabulous family has reunited me with my camera's battery charger!! :)


  1. It seems that Russia's all about survival of the fittest...if you aren't strong enough to swim in Russian pools then apparently you're at the mercy of the Gods lol very nice entry, the part of the swimming was exceptionally funny to read.

  2. "How is this legal? Oh yeah. Right. This is Russia" - tha words can be a messeage for this story as well as for any life situation here in Russia :-D

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