Secret Santa ’16

December 2016

Today, unexpected I got one of my favourite things. A present.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, because I had dropped my name in the Secret Santa box which was expertly placed in our faculty building and advertized. I participated as a way of being a good sport.

I don’t look forward to gifts in general and especially not from acquaintances. I consider gifts to be very personal, emotional manifestations of one’s feeling towards another. This however is restricted to the act and not the thing. The act never feels the same when done by someone who is not a close friend or family. They are never as personal, or as warm.

But today, as the fair-skinned blue-eyed class monitor made his way down the row of desks, decidedly coming towards me my heart did something which I can’t explain, and my mind went blank. I did not know what was happening. Why was this beautiful boy walking towards ‘me’? He looked so pleasant. This would not be class-related…or would it? Was he in that good of a mood?

He had something in his hand.

It was from my Secret Santa and he was the delivery man. I don’t remember what he said. I don’t remember how the gift came to be in my hands. But when I looked down there it was. A beautiful thing. It was a bag, a pouch. It was a pouch for a card. The pouch itself was beautiful, and that would have been enough. The fabric was gold and transparent a pattern of tiny flowers.  It reminded me of the type of expensive cloths reserved for special things like wedding dresses. I sat staring at it for some time. I ran my fingers over it gently. I was enthralled.

I turned it around. There was a card inside. It looked…Wow! I was anxious to run my fingers over it to feel the texture of the paper and the small Christmas tree on the front. I could see and feel it through the pouch. But that wasn’t enough. I tried pulling the card out…The space was a bit tight in the pouch. Hm, I would have to be careful. I slowed my actions. There was something else inside!

There was a book inside. A small book with a dark brown cover with the word ‘Tomsk’ written on the front in white. Inside the book were light blue pages. The pages were empty. There were no lines, marks, or drawings of any kind. It was perfect. And for the first time I cried in public. I was so overwhelmed.

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What Inspired Me To Write?

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October 15, 2015
I don’t write because I am inspired to write. I do it because I am inspired to make a difference and this is the talent I feel attached to the most, the talent which is the most polished.

December 06, 2017
I felt guilty reading the above seconds ago. I have’t written in so long. Not because I haven’t been inspired to write but because I feel trapped in a way. I’m playing this game where I can’t be myself and I’m just pushing to get through to make it to the end and I know that I can make it to the end, and so I’m pushing. I’m pushing without heart, and I’m just using every skill I’ve acquired, no talent, or the talent that is most reachable. I’m faking it….I’m so tired of holding my breath, but when I try to breath others get hurt, and so I need a space? A space of my own to breathe and scream, and write, and throw all of my emotions out without that gentle hand at my chest keeping my safe, with my back to the wall.

The first time I wrote it created in me a feeling of absoluteness, and there was no fear, no traps, no restrictions, and I was me. That’s all I’ve ever needed.

Writing inspired me to write.

How to Cope with Missing the Holidays…

So I’m depressed about missing Christmas, not so much spending it at home as much as spending it with people who want to spend it celebrating and truly enjoying the company of friends present. But no one here with whom I’m ‘close’ is interested in Christmas. So I’ve been shedding tears here and there as I try to finish assignments for tomorrow.

(Cried twice about missing Independence day this year and last.) But Christmas is bigger, and this is my first year missing it. Last year, I spent it with a few missionaries, and friends who were interested in the cultural exchange. But I don’t feel as though I have that sort of connection with anyone here. I’m friendly with people, but I don’t dish out the confirmed status of friend to any Joe so…

Without Christmas (25 December) New Year’s is irrelevant. Celebrating it on another day is….like celebrating a birthday on the wrong date. (I only celebrate on the day, never a minute before or after). Anyway the point is, having googled how to get over missing a holiday, I found this post. Firstly, I’m pleased that I’m not the only one who gets sad about missing holidays. And secondly, the tips are helpful…I’m exactly on this journey…different country…language…..major….but the same course of life. I don’t feel 100% better but good enough to continue my tasks dry-eyed.

Every Student Has A Story

Rockefeller_Center_Tree

I am the epitome of Christmas-lover.

 I start listening to Christmas music by early October, I watch as many Christmas movies as possible, (unless I am at school), I partake in my family’s tree-decorating tradition (also, started by me) and invite my family/friends over to help decorate the beautiful evergreen the sits in my living room. I love to drink warm, holiday-spice tea while watching the snow fall to the ground. Christmas calls for more quality-family time, and my family, steps aside from their busy schedules, to cook, bake, watch Christmas movies, and wrap presents.

 Can you say Crazy Christmas Girl? I think so…

I do not think anyone could have imagined me being away from home and missing/skipping Christmas. Well, this year I kind-of-am…

I get home from Israel on January 8, 2015, which means I missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Honestly, I can deal with…

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Getting a Dorm: The Russian Leg

So I’d flown across the Atlantic Ocean from Antigua, landed in London at Gatwick Airport, bussed to Heathrow and flew out of London after 10 hours. After 4 hours I was in Moscow where I waited another 6 hours before flying to Krasnoyarsk.

Krasnoyarsk

The city of Krasnoyarsk at 7pm in mid-October wasn’t to me it’s lovely self that I came to know during the 8 months I lived there. I stepped into the night and descended the flight of stairs. As my foot fell on the earth, I surveyed it. The buildings were far in the distance and I was unsure if I was required to walk the stretch.

A bus stood before me. Was it for the VIPs? Or could I pile on with the other humans? I just didn’t know. It was cold. I couldn’t just stand there trying to figure this out. I got onto the little bus, sat, and waited to be told to remove myself from the vehicle. I wasn’t disturbed. More humans piled in, the doors closed. And we were taken to the building and offloaded.

As I had learned to do so well I followed the human breadcrumbs through baggage collection and out into the parking lot.I wasn’t sure if I should’ve been standing in the parking lot or waiting inside. But I hadn’t seen anyone who looked like they were waiting for me. So I continued walking in the cold, ignoring the looks of taxi drivers trying to silently ply their trade.

I had stared at the image of the gal who would be collecting me from the airport for quite some time. But I still couldn’t conjure a decent image of her to which I could compare the faces parading before me. I searched the eyes of my fellow space sharers. None were too interested in me. They all had their own business, and went about doing them. I arrived at the curb of a road  and stood. She was walking along the sidewalk beckoning to me. Eagerly I put the last efforts I had into pulling the large, heavy luggage behind me as I balanced my coats and laptop bag. Moments before the weight had been insignificant, but now it was weighing on my arms.

I followed the Russian girl, Nina, to her car. It felt like forever, but finally we there and stuffing ourselves and my bags into it. The car was warm and welcoming. We sat silently with the purring engine as it shook us with its warm hug. Within seconds it would be become apparent that our ability to communicate was restricted. But for the moment we enjoyed the heat and, shelter from the cold.

And then she began.

Nina wanted to know where I was going, and where I would be staying, and if I knew who I would be meeting. At this point I don’t know how I understood half of what I understood. But nonetheless let’s just insert “Thank God!” right here because what follows is nothing short of a miracle.

At home, I had been informed that a fellow Antiguan would meet Tiffany, the other student with whom I had been travelling, in Moscow. However, I would have to find my way on my own. I had been told that the workers in and around the airport spoke English. Hence I wouldn’t have any problems. But I worry as a way of keeping calm. So I asked, and asked so’more, and then asked if the guy in Moscow might know someone in Krasnoyarsk.

Hallejuyah! Thank You, Jesus! He knew someone!

Now, if we are to get into the dynamics of “knowing”someone this could get complicated. In the simplest of words they were online acquaintances, not friends, acquaintances. But this young lady decided that she would assist by picking me up from the airport after 7pm mid-October.

She knew the least amount of English words, and the same could be said for me as well. I had tried to learn sentences in Russian like: I’m hungry; and Where’s the toilet? You know…survival stuff. 😉 But I didn’t need either in this situation. The only important bit that was certain was that I was headed to Siberian Federal University to study. So Nina pulled the car unto the road and headed in that direction. At that time I didn’t know this, and it took some time for it to be communicated.

According to the usual proceeding in a case such as mine, the receiving university would be notified of the arrival time, send someone to pick up the student and deliver them to their room. That sounds so simple and perfect. I didn’t receive simple, because the university administration hadn’t been informed of when I would be arriving, but thankfully I got the perfect.

Having finally come to the understanding that we were going towards the university, the task of explaining who we would be going to ensued. First their was a worded explanation, which was completely lost on me. Then a mime was added to the explanation and I came to the understanding that we were headed to see Nina’s fiance with whom she was presently in a fight. She managed to explain that he spoke English. He was the only person she knew who spoke English, and so we headed there without calling. If she called, he would ignore it.

Where were we really going?

We were going to the university Nina had implied, but she had also mimed that we were headed to the English-speaking fiance. At the time I didn’t know but they were one and the same. The little lady and her beau were past and present students of the university (respectively), and the latter was still living on-campus. And so on we went.

The drive was a long one, made slightly longer by the extreme traffic jam. Work had ended an hour before so you can imagine the amount of cars lined behind one another simply waiting for a jolt forward by their predecessors. Nina is the friendly type, so as we made our way behind the other mobile snails she told me various things while pantomiming, and driving. It was interesting and taxing at the same time. And I really don’t know how Nina kept it going while maintaining her chipper disposition. But all in all her positivity kept me feeling rather optimistic.

After some time the lines of traffic dissipated and we were cruising. The road was massive. I had had this thought earlier as we were pantomiming but now in the silence and the lack of vehicles I could see it more clearly….and the buildings! They were so big, so tall, towering. I felt as though I was on a magnificent evening tour…like a kid in a shop with really big, beautiful candy that had never been seen before. I didn’t want to eat them, but simply to stare at them in awe forever. My eyes bounced from left to right as I tried to consume everything.

Siberian Federal University Campus

We turned off the main road into a darker section sparsely filled with tall buildings.  We wound around a few buildings, jumped out the car, and climbed the steps into one of the dorms.

Nina spoke to the guard for a short while. She referred to my presence by turning towards me so that the elderly man could get a view then they continue their parley. She for my passport as she gave an ID of hers to the guard. We were let through, and the guard removed himself from his small office and made his way with us to the dorm of the lad.

Nina knocked on the door several times. There was no answer. We became uncertain about if it was the right room. And at that moment the door was opened. The English-speaking fiance, who was actually a former boyfriend, a Nigerian, stepped out speaking Russian as he greeted the guard and to Nina in an irritated tone.

The breakup had apparently been tumultuous to the point where they were not on speaking terms. Both had informed me that Jeremiah would not have picked up if Nina had called. They both seemed like alright human beings in their own right. But you know, love/romance changes things.

I was extremely gratefully that neither had allowed their broken relationship to hinder their ability to assist a complete stranger. At the time, the bizarreness of the situation didn’t register but looking back I can’t help but think: How many people would go to the extent of going to an exes home for a stranger; How many persons would solicit the help of acquaintances to help a stranger and despised ex? It would be a tad difficult for me on either side. But these two did it with open hearts and in earnest.

Jeremiah greeted me with an open smile.

My story was relayed to him, and he began the act of finding whether I should be there, and finding the necessary individual to assist in my situation. To find this individual, or rather the number of the individual, the help of other foreign students was enlisted as doors opened to find the reason for the noise in their hall.

Finally, a Chinese student, Qi, produce the number after asking several friends online. The call was made. Jeremiah translated as he asked questions and relayed my information back to the administrator on the phone. He asked for my documents which stated that I should be there, relayed his findings to the administrator, then we waited.

is post. Nina stood to the side staring out the night. I stood in the hall hungry, a bit anxious,and feeling a bit filthy as I conversed first with Qi, and Jeremiah. Finally, Jeremiah’s phone rang, and he was given instructions about where I should go. Nina, her ex, and I made our way out of the building and to her car. I collected my things, and we said our goodbyes.

Jeremiah, helped me with my language, and we made our way up the slope and into the dorm I would be living in for the next several months. He exchanged words with an elderly lady who had been waiting for us. She escorted us to the room. Jeremiah gave me a tour of the two-room dorm, asked about what I’d like to eat for dinner, so that he could get it for me. Then left me to myself.

I was tired, and besides the cup of orange juice I’d been offered by him some time earlier I hadn’t eaten an actual meal (excluding airplane food) since I left home. However, the feeling that pervaded my very being was one of filth. Everything felt strange, and I felt to dirty to actually be there.  The only thing I could really think of doing was taking a bath.So I did.

THAT CANNOT BE THE END OF THE STORY! It’s not but you’ll have to wait for next week for another installation…

The Writer is Here: The Russian Leg

I’m still here.

You’d think I’d disappeared. But I’m still here, offline but here. I’ve been existing majorly in the real world and enjoying to some extent the pleasure of interacting, of being busy with other human beings: sailing; hiking; learning to cook Russian dishes; going on excursions. But I am returning.

I haven’t written anything in along while and I have a lot to say. I could tell my stories to folks around, or keep them to myself. But writing to you always makes me feel better, as if I the big old world got help from an insignificant being such as I. Also I’ve began to miss the online world of the freedom I came to know at 15 years old.

 

I’ll be here.

I’ll be here with stories from Russia for the next 4 years. Because the world is too small for you not to know what’s happening…NO I will not be writing any sort of news, but rather everyday stuff. Like meeting Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, Chinese, Americans, Vietnamese, Norwegians, Slovaks, Brits, Bulgarians, Mongolians in classes, on the street, in hostels, and restaurants, and just about everywhere.

 

Why write about it?

Well, haven’t you been taught that Russia is under the dome? Of secrecy, silence, and hate? Who knows..it might be, right? But why not experience it before using that brush.

 

Why now?

I’ve been in Russia since last October (2015), and I am alive and unharmed, and absolutely no one has tried to harm me in anyway humanly possible. However, when I went looking for stories about blacks in Russia, I found largely the same content I’d found before moving with even more recent uploads by the same naysayers who might have deterred me coming.

For some reason, unknownst to even me, I thought there would be a lot more positivity  or better yet neutrality online, but I haven’t found it.

 

When will I begin?

Tomorrow you will be graced with the story of my first night in Russia. And that’s all for today. You know me…tomorrow’s piece will be a mouthful.

Until tomorrow…

Time to say good bye and спасибо большое!

I felt rather envious of Sarah, and hope that you find this post, and the blog as enticing as I have.

My Siberian story

IMG_5611.JPGComing to Russia as an EVS volunteer was a big challenge for me… I didn’t know the language and was not sure about what to expect exactly. To not make things easier, I didn’t choose to go to Moscow or a city located in the western part of the country, but instead, to go in the middle of Siberia, to KRASNOYARSK! (it took me a while to remember and be able to pronounce the name of my new home!)

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Getting to Russia: London

After writing a few thousand words in what could have been two or three posts it seems I forgot to include the departure and arrival destinations. My editor of course didn’t notice as she’s had to endure the torture of reading everything which could have been a post. I realized that the destination points (yes, plural) had been left out when replying to one of your comments. (Thank you for reading and giving your feedback as well.)

My itinerary looked a bit like this:

Antigua –> London (Gatwick – TN)
Oct 11 2015
2140 – 1030 (0750)

Antigua –> London (Gatwick – TN)
Oct 11 2015
2140 – 1030 (0750)

London (Heathrow – T5) –> Moscow
Oct 12 2015
2150 – 0340 (0350)

Moscow –> Krasnoyarsk
Oct 13 2015
1010 – 0650 (0440)

For the first time in my life I was not in the Caribbean.

I was walking into another airport: Gatwick Airport. And again the air was cold, and the lights were bright and white. The personality of this building was a stiff one. She was icy and unsmiling. As I moved through her hall and into the large cavity of her reception area it became warmer, but never more pleasant. We made our way to the line for non-nationals. We were silent in spirit and it felt as though everyone else was too. Our turn came to approach the counter. It was quick. We answered the questions about if we were together, where we were headed, and what we would be doing there. Then we were sent on our way. We felt our way to the baggage section holding onto the sight of other passengers and signs.

The bubbling had ceased.

My thoughts were on finding the bags. That was everything. In this moment, it was the most important thing. There was a certain feeling about her, the place, as if one could exist without existing. I didn’t feel anything. I saw a lot but none of it connected with me. It wasn’t cold on the skin, but in heart. The mass of people searching for their own belongings was most potent. They were all doing the same thing some more human than others. Nonetheless the atmosphere possessed the chill of familiarity and distance wherein we only speak to the people we know. Everyone else seems to exist and despite the fact that we see them, we don’t ever see them. This was the same. Finally we saw our luggage making its way towards us on the belt. After surveying the area for trolleys we found them lined and latched. We could use them for about a pence. Unfortunately, we only had USD. For a short moment we considered exchanging currency,but that would have been more trouble that it was worth.

We found an even colder place beyond the doors.

It was icy. Winds slapped our faces quickly and fiercely. Despite the fact that we were willing to join him he didn’t address his rage. He didn’t stop as we walked into his Fury looking for our…not final but intermediate destination. He didn’t stop as we stood in the cold waiting for our bus. He continued to bombard us as we stood with him. This was my first encounter with real cold. (According to the accuweather.com it was between 15 to 8 degrees.) I was 25 year old girl who spent her entire life in Paradise, Land of Sun, Sea, and Sand: http://www.visitantiguabarbuda.com/. It is generally 25 degrees, the sun is generally shining and you have 365 beaches. The winds are generally soft kisses. Paradise this is my home everything that I knew. And to my first encounter my first real encounter my first face-to-face encounter with another country was a chilly one at best.

But that did nothing to dampen my spirits.

The autumn jacket I had pulled on didn’t seem to be doing anything. I was stressed and anxious. I didn’t know if the bus had arrived. I didn’t know if we were at the right spot for our pickup. This was my anxious brain at work. However, you should know the time had not yet arrived for the bus to pickup its passengers and according to the ticket which I held in my hand and the sun which was at the designated spot. I knew I was in the right place, with time before the buses arrival.

The bus arrived on time.

We fished our tickets out and noticed that the crowd had multiplied and was overflowing like a frothing beaker. The majority would miss this bus. We inched our way out of the crowd and made our way around the edge and to the front. Then we stood with our tickets visible. The bus was almost full, and its belly, packed with bags was almost there as well as the driver twisted and turn various bags to arrange, and rearrange so others could fit. The bus conductor took our tickets, noting that we were students, and the bus driver placed our bags into the belly of the bus. We mounted the large beast and sat at his rear.

It was warm, and lovely.

This was the most comfortable experience of the trip. It had been my intention to see as much as I could on the hour-long trip. But after several minutes of the same scenery in addition to the warm comfort we were asleep. I woke intermittently to ensure we got off at the designated spot. After some time the driver made an announcement informing us that we were nearing the drop-off point. I woke Tiffaney. And then we poured out of the bus along with other passengers into a puddle as we waited for our bags to be extracted.

We stood for a short while at our drop point.

Then we made our way into Heathrow Airport after clumsily waking about outside trying to find the entrance. To our redemption, the sitting area was in view as soon as we entered. I logged the airport’s wifi, googled for a map, and located all of the necessaries: bathroom; food; check in points.

We remained there for the next ten hours. Most of the time was spent watching others go back and forth. This was also our first experience shopping (for groceries) in Europe, and we were both shocked that consumers have to pay for their shopping bags. Besides that were was nothing particularly eventful.

We checked in with some talk of over weight luggage, repacking, and payment. Then we were in the departure lounge. We changed a sum of our US to rubles, browsed a bit and then went to the sitting area we were able to board our flight in a relatively quick time, and this time around I was less clumsy in finding my seat.

And then we were in the air heading to Russia.

See you next Tuesday…in Russia. 🙂