Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Land of Smiles

Quick update from Heathrow Airport.

The flight from Moscow to London was very smooth and quick. The best part of it all was that I had a window seat and an unoccupied seat next to me! But the reason for that is quite the interesting story...

While I waited in the departure lounge for my flight at Domodedovo, I couldn't help noticing one fellow passenger, stumbling around and slurring incoherantly to people, plants, signs, benches...he was hardly a discerning conversationalist. Clutched in his hand was a bottle of vodka, which he would periodically wave around in order to further illustrate a point, which I'm sure was very intellectual and engaging.

To my horror, I overheard him telling some poor entrapped guy that his seat number was 19E. Who should be the lucky person who had 19F?

That would be me.

I started to look forward to a loooooong flight.

However, when it came time to board, Mr Vodka had ceased his chatter, clearly finding plants to be not the best listeners I guess, and had passed out on a chair. More kindly, charitable passengers tried to rouse him by various means - shaking his arm, slapping his face, lifting up his eyelids, yelling "davai! come on!" at him, and finally pushing him off his chair...but all to no avail. This guy was out cold.

It was amusing but also pathetic at the same time, and I had a strong desire to take a picture of him but I thought that might be a little rude. Anyways, I boarded the plane and a few minutes later the pilot came over the intercom.

"On behalf of British Airways," he began in that delightful British accent, "I apologize in advance for what will be a short delay in takeoff. One of our passengers has been denied entry onto this flight, and he is currently being detained. However, he is offering up some resistance but we will deal with the problem efficiently. Thank you for your understanding."

I looked at the empty seat beside me. Ding ding ding! Clearly Mr Vodka had woken up and was not best pleased to realize he'd be missing his flight. I have no idea what they did to him, but I'm guessing he sobered up pretty quickly...!

Anyways, thats about as exciting as things have gotten, thank goodness. I've had a great time exploring the duty-free shops at Heathrow, and bought a super-cute Olympics 2012 tote with a Union Jack on it as well as some Cadbury chocolates and an international adapter that was on sale for 9 pounds (which I think is a good deal...still trying to figure out the pounds thing!)

The best thing so far though is just the sheer amount of English everywhere!! I can read all the signs! I can chat with shop clerks and airport staff and compliment the Starbucks barista on her nailpolish colour - all things I was so limited in back in Russia! And everyone is smiling...something I just can't get over! Russians have a saying about how only fools smile, but here I can walk around with a huge grin on my face and no one thinks I just got off the idiot train yesterday. That being said, I'm not comparing England to Russia in any positive/negative way. Just different. Its very interesting!

Well, they just announced my gate opening so I better wrap this up and head over to departures. Maybe I'll pick up some vodka at duty-free...but then again, that might not be the best idea...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Farewell, Moscow

As I'm writing this, I'm sitting in the tiny, hot, stuffy flat on Dimitrovskoe Shosse in Moscow that has been my "home" for the past few days. I've got my window wide open in the hope of catching a non-existent breeze, and I can hear an ambulance wailing while car horns honk madly and the smell of cigarette smoke drifts up from the street. My stomach is pleasantly full (ok, maybe not that pleasantly, I'm actually stuffed!) from my "Last Supper" of tvorog and the delicious Russian bread that I've become addicted to. My month of camp is over, and in 5 hours a taxi is coming to take me to Domodedovo Airport. My destination?

Canada. Home. Or, rather, my other home.

I've always believed that your home is where your family is. Maybe that's because I moved a few times as a child and teenager, experiences that made me realize that it didn't matter what school I went to or what house I lived, as long as I had my sister (who was always my best friend growing up), my younger brother, and my parents. I still feel that way, and I'm excited beyond words at the prospect of being home with my family this summer.

But at the same time, Moscow has really become my second home this year, which is a little puzzling because I came over here in September entirely on my own, knowing no one and having no support system that wasn't reliant on wi-fi!

It surprises me how quickly I fell in love with the city. I made friends - both Russians and fellow expats - who became a second family to me. There were obvious things that I loved right away about Moscow - the history, the culture and museums, the language, the food...and even non-obvious things that I'm actually REALLY going to miss. Like the pigeons. And, dare I say...the ubiquitous mullets that 99.9% of men sport?!?

Today was my last full day in the city, and I wanted to make the most of it. I headed to the heart of Moscow first - Red Square and the Kremlin. For me, this was the spot where it finally sunk in that I was IN Russia, that day way back in September when I did the 5km Nike-sponsored run on Red Square. Still probably one of the coolest things I've ever done!

It was packed with tourists and I have to admit to feeling a sort of smug "I'm a local" feeling as frenetic Asian tourists madly dashed after flag-toting guides, even though I realized with a shock that after today, I may never be able to say "I live here" again (although who knows what lies in the future, right?)

My initial plan was to go to the Armoury, but even though I arrived an hour before the excursion started, tickets were already sold out. I was disappointed, but honestly somewhat relieved that I had a viable excuse to save 700 roubles. Those tickets are pricey! If you have an ISIC (International Student Identity Card) definitely bring it with you because you'll save 450 roubles. Or, you know, you could be a Hero of the Soviet Union and get in for free. I wonder what THAT card looks like?

So instead of the Armoury, I checked out the State Historical Museum, which is right inside the gates to Red Square. Ticket prices there are much more reasonable (250 roubles) although in hindsight I should have splurged for the English audio guide because all the exhibits were in Russian. I definitely would have gotten a lot more out of the experience otherwise, but it was still a very pleasant way to while away the hottest part of the afternoon! There are some interesting artifacts there, including a tapestry from 1389 that was commissioned in order to celebrate the Russian victory over the Mongols at Kulikovo Field in 1380, and some very old manuscripts in Old Church Slavonic. If you're interested in the Scythians or pre-Christianized Russia (prior to 988 CE) there is a LOT at this museum to check out!

After the museum, I met up with Rhea in the Alexandrovsky Gardens and we went on a massive walk around the city centre. I thought it was very fitting that my last day should end with Rhea, who played such a pivotal role in my first (disastrous!) day here! She's staying here and continuing teaching for Language Link, and I'm very excited to stay in touch with her and hear all about her adventures that will continue in the fall.

We eventually parted ways with a big hug in the Arbat metro, as she was headed off to the Gogol Bordello concert and I had to get back to my flat to finish up packing! How have I accumulated so many things?!? I'm actually leaving A LOT behind...this is hard for me as I'm somewhat of a hoarder...

So. Anyways. Time to say goodbye to Moscow. For now. I do feel a little sad, but I know that our goodbyes aren't forever, and that I'll be back.

Thank you Moscow, for an incredible, unforgettable year. I'm a different girl than I was when I arrived - I now feel SO much more confident in my own abilities, but who wouldn't after learning how to navigate the Moscow metro?! - but at heart I'm still the same devushka I've always been.

Mosvka, ya tebya liublu. Moscow, I love you. Thanks for the memories, and I can't wait to return one day. Maybe by then the fashion will have passed from the 90s to the early 2000s and the mullets and scrunchies will be gone. At the very least, a devushka can always hope, right? ;)

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Beet Stops Here

A shocking confession: I am beet. Beets - my longtime love - have beat me.

After eating them approximately twice a day for the last month, I don't want to see another beet for a very, very long time.

You see, about two summers ago, I entered into a rather passionate love affair with beets. I suppose I had liked them well enough before, but for some reason after I broke up with my boyfriend of two years, I turned to beets. Yeah, I know, its messed up. Girls are supposed to find solace in Haagen-Daazs after a break-up, right? Or Ben and Jerrys? Well, I'm clearly not a normal girl, because somehow I found myself making trips to the London farmers' market on a mission to buy beets.

And that was just the beginning. I used to defend my obsession to my roommates and family, who were all equally tired of finding beet juice stains EVERYWHERE, as proof of my Russian heritage. "This is just a sign that I really am Russian," I'd say smugly. "Its in my blood, my genetic makeup, to love beets." (Note: sadly, I must confess that there is very little likely chance that my ancestors were Russian, regardless of how much I love beets...and cabbage...and vodka...)

My beet love continued unabated and kept going strong during nine months of living in Russia. But in the past month, living at Euro Club camp and eating beets for breakfast every morning (breakfast of champions, didn't you know?), something has happened...

We've broken up. I honestly don't know if I can stomach the thought of eating beets EVER AGAIN. (Yes, I am prone to occasional hyperbole if you haven't noticed yet)

You know, I've spent a lot of time this past month fantasizing over what I want my "first meal" back in Canada to be. Mum, Dad, if you're reading this, please be aware that greeting me with beets would be a cruel, cruel joke...because I truly am beet.*

*In more ways than one. Finally back in Moscow for a few days before my flight back to Canada, and I am exhausted. Off to bed!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Things in a Russian supermarket

I was inspired today by David Lebovitz, an American chef/writer whose blog on food and life in the City of Light I like to read. He just wrote a post on "goofy things in a Paris supermarket" and I thought I would do the same here. So I brought my camera to the Perekrestok chain store on Novoslobodskaya, and here are the results:

1) Kefir

Kefir - I'd say the third most popular drink in Russia, after vodka and kvass! (only half joking) Kefir is a slightly carbonated, sour milk drink that is absolutely delicious (and, in case you were wondering, very healthy to boot!). There are approximately fifty billion different brands and percentages of kefir to choose from, but my favourite is Bio-Kefir (the green carton).

2) Lays "Crab" and "Red Caviar" flavoured chips

You know, for when you want to be classy while you eat chips.

3) Pickled corn in a jar, and various other pickled products:

4) Special K cereal

For some reason I have never been able to figure out, Special K cereal is RIDICULOUSLY expensive over here. That's one small box going for 689 roubles, which according to the fabulous website, is $23.92 Canadian. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (other cereal brands are nowhere near this expensive, if you were wondering. It's JUST Special K. Why???)

5) MedovukMedovuk is honey cake, a tasty Russian traditional dessert that is MUCH better home-made, but a store-bought version does in a pinch. My friend Natasha would always bring us a box of Perekrestok's medovuk whenever she would visit - yum! (Note: I had to fight off two businessmen in order to get a pic of this medovuk: it was the last one on the shelf! I think they were more than a little perplexed when I put it back after taking a quick photo, but they quickly snatched it up and ran off to the cash register with it...see how popular this cake is??)

6) Blinis

To Westerners, Blinis are perhaps Russia's most well-known culinary dish. They're thin pancakes which can be stuffed with either sweet fillings (Nutella, sugary condensed milk, honey, cottage cheese, jam) or savoury ones (mushrooms, fish, caviar, smetana, smoked salmon). Obviously, like the medovuk pictured above, homemade blini are the BEST. But for the Russian whose rushin', prepackaged "just heat and serve" blini are a popular choice, and you can pick up blinchiki (the cute form of the name) with just about every possible filling. These remind me of "Bagel-fuls" back in Canada - slightly creepy looking tube-shaped quasi-bagels stuffed with a cream cheese-substance that can pass for a "breakfast-on-the-go" if you try really hard to trick your tastebuds while simultaneously ignoring the list of 37 different ingredients. Appetizing.

7) Dried fish

The less said about this popular snack the better. I still have painful flashbacks of a vodka-fueled night where I mowed down on a bag of these.

8) Kotleti

Kotleti is an umbrella term for various types of patties - either meat/fish or vegetable-based (I've seen beet kotleti, carrot kotleti, and lentil kotleti, especially popular during Post, or the Great Lent fast before Orthodox Easter).

9) Mayonnaise in a bag

Mayonnaise. Ingredient number one in a Russian salad. Ingredient number two: meat.

10) Harry's American Sandwich bread

When I was reading David Lebovitz's blog, his number ten goofy thing found in a Paris supermarket was this exact brand of bread - Harry's American Sandwich bread. When I saw his picture, I immediately thought, "Wow! I know I've seen this somewhere!" So today when I walked into the Perekrestok on my food photography mission (and yes, I definitely did get some weird looks as I ambled around taking pictures of food), I made a beeline for the bread section to see if I was right. Yep, it turns out that Harry's is not just a Parisian phenomenon but a Muscovite one, too. David Lebovitz posited that the bread is so popular amongst the French because it is sweeter than most and makes large sandwiches - plus the "American" part of the description makes it seem trendy. I honestly don't know why Parisians or Muscovites would choose this bread over the delicious homemade varities you can get that are nestled right along beside (and that are baked fresh in the store nonetheless!) - Russian bread is something I've fallen in love with over here and I don't know how I'm going to cope back in Canada without my 20-rouble loaf of "domashni khleb"!

Anyways, there is your look into a typical Russian supermarket. I didn't get around to including the huge selection of sour cream, tvorog, vodka and beer, but you can take my word that it was quite extensive!

Now I'm off to rustle up something to eat. Perhaps some Russian bread? Gotta load up now - I only have two weeks left before I have to return to boring old Canadian bread!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Met-iquette: the unspoken rules of the Moscow Metro

I have heard it said that it is only on the metro that you will encounter Muscovites adhering to any form of polite etiquette. In the streets, anything goes. But on the metro, you best follow the rules or risk the wrath of a cane-wielding babushka.

Because the metro-riding forms of etiquette are unspoken and assumed to be universally known, I had to go through a bit of trial and error during my first few months here. But gradually, through some intense observation, I think I finally have it figured out. So here it is, folks - how to behave on the Moscow metro, as delineated by one certain devushka:

1) When the train pulls up to the platform, wait to the side of the doors and let the passengers exiting the car disembark first. Do NOT try to jump on right away, because you'll be trampled by the mass exodus of people streaming out who are on a serious mission. Trust me, there is plenty of time for them to get off and for you to get on before the doors close with a whoosh! and the disembodied voice comes over the intercom: "Sleduyushaya stantsiya: Novoslobodskaya" (or Biblioteka imeni Lenina, or Mendelevskaya, or whatever station it is that's next).

2) Once you get into the car, move it. Don't dawdle by the doors, because you will invariably be shoved by the person behind you who sprinted down the escalator to make the train in time. Either get thee to a seat right away, or, if all the seats are taken, move to the back, grab a pole, and hold on for dear life.

3) Staring at strangers is perfectly acceptable practice. Although it may be considered polite in some places to avert one's eyes, here on the metro EVERYONE checks out everyone else.

4) Bring a book. It seems to me that Muscovites never go anywhere without a book to read, and e-books in particular are very popular on the metro. When you're not staring at the person across from you, diving into some Bulgakov is always a good way to pass the time between stations and to fit in like a local. Newspapers and magazines, however, are not so common probably because of their unwieldiness.

5) Engaging in public displays of affection/groping one's partner is also completely acceptable. As is accordion-playing.

6) Don't worry about falling into someone during a particularly jerky moment on the tracks. Even if your legs are braced and your arm is wrapped around a pole, its still almost impossible to keep your balance. And people know this. So when you inevitably fall into a stranger, he or she is much more likely to grip your elbow supportingly than freak out. That whole "personal space bubble" that North Americans have? Yeah, it doesn't exist here.

7) Don't even try to have a conversation while you're on the metro. Even if you're traveling with your best friend, everyone seems to tune out, read their books, stare, or close their eyes and drift off. Naps are also very common here. If your friend is used to the rules of the metro, he or she won't be offended but will do the exact same thing. You can talk and gossip once you get off - for now, enjoy the little nap!

8) Don't feel obligated to hold the heavy swinging doors that lead out of the metro open for anyone. In fact, most people seem to take a perverse pleasure in letting the door slam in the next person's face.

9) Smoking is a no-no. (probably the only place in Moscow where this is true!)

10) And lastly, if you're a male and you're lucky enough to get a seat in the car (remember, 9 million people use the Moscow metro daily), get up and offer your seat to a woman if she's standing. I know some women may have a problem with this, but I for one am a huge fan of chivalry and I think this unspoken rule is really sweet. And for the most part, EVERY man follows this rule, gallantly getting up as soon as any woman - whether she's a Maria Sharapova look-alike or a tiny wrinkled apple of a babushka - walks on.

Word of caution: when you swipe your pass,
pause for a second (even if this causes the person behind you
to have a mild conniption fit) to make sure the red light turns
to green. If you don't do this, you risk painfully injuring your crotch/
upper thigh region and humiliating yourself as a barricade slams open and
and a loud alarm goes off, alerting everyone's attention to you and thus
revealing yourself as the Russian equivalent of a yahoo from the Ozarks.
Just take my word on it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Brief sojourn in Moscow

Guess where I'm writing this from?


Nope, I didn't escape from the compound by scaling the concrete walls and hitching a ride back to the city. I'm here on a fully-sanctioned, much-deserved (in my opinion!) four day break between camp sessions. I taught for the past seven days instead of taking my one day off, so this way I could get four days in a row free. Because Language Link moved my suitcase into a new flat in Moscow (Timiryazevskaya metro) after I left Mytishi, that's where I am now. I have to say, this flat is definitely not as nice as my one back in Mytishi was. It's not even as nice as my room at camp is! Its a small, cramped flat with a stained mattress on the floor, a dim lightbulb over a desk and rickety stool (on which I am currently perched) and a tiny kitchen and toilet, as well as another bedroom that I haven't seen yet.

I'm sharing the flat with James, a British guy who was an intern in the first intership training program back in August. Then he became deathly ill, spent a nightmarish couple of weeks in a Russian hospital, survived, then repeated the internship with me in September. I never really knew him well, but he seems nice enough. Of course, we got off to an awkward start tonight...

The Language Link driver picked Evan and I up at camp at nine o'clock pm. Evan was dropped off first, around 11, then I got to my new flat at 11:30. As I was turning my key in the lock, the door swung open and James was revealed, standing there in extremely tiny briefs. From the look on his face and the apparel he was wearing, he had clearly not gotten my message that I would be arriving tonight.

His British charm and ineffable politeness managed to rise to the occasion. "Katie!" he greeted me. "Er, do come in..."

It was REALLY awkward because his girlfriend was over, and she was set up in what was to be my bedroom, so she moved into his room but didn't look too pleased about it. All three of us were awkward, over-apologizing, and embarassed. I quickly asked for directions to the nearest produkti (I was starving) and hightailed it out of the flat to give them some time to move her things and get used to the fact that apparently their cosy two-some was now going to involve a flatmate.

So now I'm here, sitting in my new flat (for the next four days) in Moscow, at two am, and...I'm ACTUALLY MISSING CAMP. Yes. I just wrote that. This flat is just so small and dirty and depressing, and at least camp is bright and airy and surrounded by nature. Well, I guess that's how it goes, right? You don't know what you've got till its gone. At least now I'll return to camp fully recharged and more appreciative!

In the meantime, it will be nice to catch up with friends here (its my friend Melissa's birthday dinner tomorrow at Starlite!), do some more sightseeing, and try to get a little more souvenir shopping for people back in Canada done.

It's been a long day (I've been up since six!) so I'm off to try and catch some sleep on that mattress!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


1) The days have been melting together in a blur of early wake-up calls, back-to-back classes, eagerly-looked-forward-to mealtimes that culminate only in hungry disappointment, and daily swims which, to be fair, are pretty awesome. And its already been one week! Only three to go!

2) I've been spending an hour every day before dinner reading on the dock in the sun - Doris Kearns' book about FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, lent to me by Evan - and it is such a peaceful, happy time in my day that I (almost) find myself falling in love with camp. Almost.

3) Met the girls' basketball coach today. He's a barrel-chested middle-aged man with a bit of a beer belly on him, but very solidly built, tanned and hairy. How do I know so much about his chest? Because he coaches them shirtless. There's something about this that makes me think North American parents would not be okay with their little daughters being yelled at by this man, but then again, this is Russia.

4) They don't really differentiate between meals here, and there tends to be a belief that vegetables are best digested in the morning. Hence, I ate an odd, mayonnaise-y beet salad for breakfast today. Oh Mini-Wheats, how I miss thee...

5) There's a Lady here who is in love with Evan. She's about fifteen years older than us, and seems to think I'm her competition because she glowers at me whenever I walk into the room, and then makes a point of ignoring me while falling all over him. If Evan plays his cards right, he might just get to become a Lord...lucky guy.

6) There was a TV news film crew here yesterday and they filmed part of my class! I was teaching the kids about syllables in English and then getting them to write their own haikus. Fortunately for me, I've been assigned a proper classroom where the kids are basically forced to pay attention to me, whereas Evan has been assigned the ballpit as his classroom (I am NOT joking...he has to teach in a giant ball pit like those ones you see at McDonalds' playplaces!) and as a result, his filming segment was a bit crazier than mine!

Well, that's all for now. Off to bed, with the curtains firmly drawn - it stays light here until about 11:30pm, then its sunny and bright at about 4. Definitely makes up for the four months spent in darkness over the winter! :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

They tried to make me go to, Russian camp

And even though I said "nyet, nyet, nyet," it looks like I'm stuck here at Camp Euroclub for the next month.

How can I describe this place? It reminds me of what I believe a fancy rehab to be like - beautiful wooded scenary, a little lake, a corral with horses, a football pitch - but all surrounded by thick stone walls and uniform buildings (called corpuses) that give off that institutionalized, "we're not just keeping people out, we're keeping people in" feel. In fact, I've taken to referring to the camp as simply "The Compound", or when I'm feeling less charitable, "Alcatraz."

There's even a doctor who walks around the property all day decked out in a white lab coat with a stethoscope around her neck, performing random checks on children. Every water cooler is unplugged because apparently cold water is dangerous to children, and the hottest tea or coffee you can get here is lukewarm at best because hot water is also considered dangerous. Mealtimes are strict - if you miss breakfast from 8:40-9:40, lunch from 1-2, or dinner from 6:15-7:15, well, you're going hungry. As I did my first full day here, on Thursday, when I missed out on lunch and dinner because nobody would tell me where to go or when they were being served.

BUT...ignoring the fact that I just wrote two paragraphs complaining about the place, I need to back up and start at the beginning. Because today I remembered with a twinge of shame something that my students had written on the back of a framed photo they gave me on Tuesday night: "To Katie, the most positive person". And the thing is, these past few days I have NOT been positive. At all. I've been wallowing in self-pity, indulging in a sobfest over the phone with Iain, and counting down the days until I can escape. How is that positive? How is that ME, the real Katie, who always tries to have a smile on her face? Being miserable isn't going to help things, so over the past couple days I've decided not only do I need to suck it up, but I need to make the best of everything and stop being so damn negative. Be the positive Katie my students in Mytishi knew!

I read this great article once about living in a foreign country. "Stop asking 'why?'," it advised, "and start asking 'How?'" So I'm not going to ask why anymore - why did I get shafted and sent to camp when other teachers are happily in Moscow, why do Russians call meat and mayonnaise "salad", why is the food so awful, why is Lady Victoria ignoring me...and start asking "how?" How can I make the most of this experience? How can I fit in, make new friends? How can I make this feel like home?

I'm not going to complain right now about the packing up of my things (how have I accumulated so much in nine months?), the sad goodbyes in Mytishi, the long commute from Moscow (it should have taken an hour but lasted four and a half! The joys of traveling during chas pik/rush hour), or that disastrous first night and day at the camp. If you really want to know, well, you can always ask me. But seriously - I'm done being negative, and no one wants to hear that anyways! (Although I have to say, Lady Victoria, the manager at the camp, lives up to her haughty reputation - she even has a man I can only refer to as her footman follow her around all day doing her bidding!)

Onto the positive things: there is another Language Link teacher here! Like a drowning man clings to a floating piece of debris, Evan and I have latched onto each other as the only foreigners here. The fact that he's also a cool guy definitely makes it better! He's from Seattle, is a history major like me, was teaching at a school in Moscow for the past nine months, and taught ESL for half a year in China before that. We've bunked in together after I convinced Lady Victoria there was no way I could share a closet with no lock on the door or room to unpack with two other women who both snore like freight trains.

We're also slowly being accepted by the counselors here, who at first viewed us with some suspicion I think. I went swimming yesterday and one of the counselors shyly approached me in the changeroom and we started speaking in English together. She's from Saratov, about my age, and is really nice. "What's your name?" I asked. "Lady Astra!' She replied in a bubbly voice. ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH...what is up with this bizarre insistence on being called Lord and Lady?! Can I not know her real name? Its a strange thing building a friendship with someone who you know only as Lady Astra. But a friendship is a friendship so...

Another positive thing was yesterday, which was actually a really fun day. Lunch was decent (as in, there were identifiable vitamins in the food selection) and even though dinner wasn't great Evan and I stole- er, kept for later - some bread and then went for a walk around the compound. It really is lovely here, with tall pine trees and clear stretches of blue sky. As we were walking back to our corpus, we heard some music blasting - "Scotty Doesn't Know" from Eurotrip! - and ran into Lady Astra who was just taking her group to the nightly disco. "Come with us!" she invited us, so we traipsed along inside with them.

Once inside the disco, with its pulsing lights that still couldn't disguise the fact that its normally a gym, "Can't Touch This" came on and the crowd of Russians went wild. did I! I danced like a maniac with Lady Astra and all the campers, and eventually Evan joined us even though he said he usually needed more alcohol in him! There's something so freeing about dancing with total abandon - in that moment, jumping up and down to MC Hammer in a hot, sweaty gym, I honestly don't think I could have been happier. It was awesome!

After the disco (or, rather, when the girls realized the boys they were all crushing on weren't going to stop playing football to come dance with them), Evan and I watched "Eastern Promises" which is a really great (but very violent!) movie about the Russian mafia in England. Very cool film though, and lots of interesting details on the history of Russian mafia tattoos. I ate the bread I had smuggled away, drank some lukewarm water, and...all was right with the world. Seriously. Things may not be the greatest here, but it could certainly be worse and I'm determined to make the best of it!

Today I escaped from Alcatraz, albeit briefly, and went for a run where I was chased by killer bees BUT I did find a small cafe and signs of outside life. Then I came back to The Compound and read outside in the sun for awhile. Today is Parents' Day at the camp, so all the kids are eagerly dragging their parents around to show them everything, and a group of them brought their parents over to introduce me. It was really cute! There are these three triplets - Katya, Masha, and Nastya - about nine years old who are adorable and so enthusiastic about learning English.

Well, it's 6:11 here which means dinner is in four minutes and you know, I gotta make sure I don't miss out on kotleti, cold noodles and tepid tea. If I can pick up on a rogue wireless connection later I will keep posting updates here, but if not, at least you know I'm alive - and staying positive - out here in the Russian wilderness!