I have now officially been a year abroad student for a week, and both Russia and I are still standing, please hold your applause until the end. On Thursday, I wanted a slightly more relaxed day than those preceding it so ended up being quite lazy at home here in the flat, catching up on sleep and time to myself. I did, however, go into the university in the afternoon, because a fellow from St Anthony’s College, Oxford had come to speak about Brexit: explaining it for the Russian students who might not fully understand our political system, and what’s been going on recently. She was spot-on with everything she said and it rather made me miss sitting in the kitchen at home with Radio 4 on in the background providing an account of the chaos that is current British politics. The Russian seemed as perplexed about what’s going to happen as we are.
Later in the day, I went to the local football stadium – the team is called Amkar – to sign up for the gym there and try it out. It’s pretty big with loads of machines and weights and a great view over the football pitch in front of the treadmills, so I enjoyed it a lot. However, the endorphins from my run seemed to sabotage my ability to speak Russian, as my following attempts at finding groceries in the nearby supermarket were rather drawn-out. Herbs and spices come in packets here (this took me a LONG time to realise) and it is very hard to find stock as they don’t have it in abundance due to the economic sanctions, so I stood in front of the same aisle for about half an hour attempting to work things out and got a few concerned looks.
I’ve been struggling with the locks on the doors to the flat (I promise I’m not being a total fool: there are a lot of them and they are confusing) so Irina has had to let me in every time so far that I’ve returned (massively important update: today I opened both doors for the first time by myself and turned off the burglar alarm, things are on the up). I was a bit stressed and annoyed with myself by this point so I made myself some mint tea and relaxed by calling home. Irina brought me in some small, sour plum-style fruit to eat. I’m pretty sure they were sloes, but remain uncertain.
On Friday, I had lessons in the morning with my Dutch friend. We learned some Russian tongue-twisters which I’ve promptly forgotten, but was made to write down so I feel like I should try and memorise them again before my next lesson on Tuesday… At the moment, we’re focussing on a really complicated bit of grammar for non-native speakers to do with the various (and I mean about 200) ways of saying “to go” in Russian, depending on how you’re getting there (on foot, in a car etc.), which direction you’re going in and what you’re doing while going (eg. crossing a road, going to a friend’s house etc.) – ALL OF THESE ARE DIFFERENT VERBS AND ALL OF THEM DESTROY MY SOUL BY MAKING SEEMINGLY REALLY SIMPLE SENTENCES THE MOST DIFFICULT THINGS TO SAY IN MY LEXICON (or lack thereof). My friend, Katya, at the university also invited me to go with her and her friends to their dacha (country house) and use the Russian banya (the genuine article this time, not the dodgy motel). Unfortunately, she wanted to go on Saturday and return around 9:30pm, which would have been too late for me to make Alla and Anton’s gathering, more on this later… Hopefully, we will be able to go another time though, as I would really like to try it.
When I returned home (this time enlisting the help of a neighbour to open the bloody doors), Irina was pickling tomatoes in the kitchen in preparation for winter, which is possibly the most Russian thing to happen ever, but was great to see. She informed me that her dog – Maika – has fallen in love with me, and had gone in to check on me in the morning after I’d left for university. Maika and I have since shared many cuddles, which have been lovely when I miss human contact (no disrespect to my Maud dog intended)! I spent the evening making a bolognese ragu, both to eat that night and to freeze the remainder of for future occasions.
I’d agreed to teach one of Alla’s students on Saturday morning. She is 12 and learning English, which she does very well although she struggles with the presence in English of the verb “to be”, which I can understand as I struggled with its absence when I started learning Russian. I’m going to be teaching her weekly, which means her father will call me to arrange timings. This will no doubt be good for my speaking skills eventually, but I can currently think of few things more daunting than speaking Russian on the phone to someone I’ve met once. Still, that is the point of being here!
It was a lovely, warm day so Alla, Irina and I went for a walk into the centre of the city (ok, we may have got the trolleybus for part of it, no judgement please). Alla is very artistic and wanted to create an embroidered decoration for her son, so we went to some art shops to try and find the relevant materials. I needed to get some clothes to suit the different environment here, so I remained in the centre after Irina and Alla went home, to explore the shops. Pull&Bear had a massive orange camper van in the middle of the room, stocked with shoes. I know my boyfriend loves camper vans – particularly orange ones – so I took a photo before being told off by a shop assistant (I still haven’t worked out why as she mistook me for a boy – flattering – and therefore I didn’t realise I was being spoken to until it was too late).
In the evening, Anton picked me up and drove me to his and Alla’s flat, which is about 30 minutes away from Irina’s. Three of their friends came too, and we ate pizza and drank beer and vodka together, while watching a dance reality show on TV. I found my Russian ability improved up to a point with the amount of alcohol I drank and then rapidly plateaued and declined… perhaps I can also blame the vodka on the fact that I performed miserably at a game of (English) Scrabble in comparison to the Russians, but then I’ve always hated that game. It was really nice to see Alla and Anton’s flat and get to know them both even more, as well as become acquainted with some of their friends! One of these – another Irina – drove me home in the early hours of the morning. I am currently trying to work out how to thank someone for a lift, although last night managed something along the lines of “thanks for being my taxi”.
Perm is very proud of its ties to international cities, as it is twinned with many, one of which is Oxford! The university has put together a “WestFest” series of events and activities to celebrate this. Today, I took part in one of them – a “quest” round the city looking at its links with England. My fellow students had told me about it but I’d been late to sign up. Luckily, people are very friendly and I managed to squeeze into an existing group of girls – three lawyers and one linguist. They were all lovely and I enjoyed spending the day with them. The quest itself was good too, although required a fairly extensive knowledge of the city and its landmarks, which I do not yet possess. It was also very hot, and there was a huge amount of walking around with the girls going very quickly indeed and more than our fair share of running, which I personally found unnecessary in my ankle boots… Each time we reached a station of the quest, we had to complete a task, many of which made me doubt my knowledge of my home country. For example, we were told that it was incorrect for me to say that there are no red squirrels in England, only in Scotland… is this true?! If so, mind = blown. The quest meant that we had to skip lunch, so I travelled to a restaurant recommended to me by Alla on my way home, and had a blow-out meal at about 4:30! It’s been a pretty tiring, but good, weekend and I’m looking forward to a full day off tomorrow to recharge and do some cooking/more grocery shopping/sleeping/working out. Do skorogo!