First day in Moscow.

August 31, 2012

Hello, readers.

I am alive and well in Moscow, attempting to become a Muscovite or an expatriate or something. Maybe I’m partially both of those. Maybe I’m still just surviving. I realize I could/should start a new “Moscow” blog, but I’m quite fond of this one. I don’t expect to find much gardening in like, the coldest place on earth, but if I do, you know I will write about it.

So, here’s where we are with Moscow life: I’ve been here one week exactly. I’ve had a full week of work. I’ve done a bit of sight-seeing. I’ve heard a whole hell of a lot of a language I don’t understand. I’ve learned to say “Спасибо” real well. So much has already happened and my head is kind of all over the place, so there is a lot I could write about. But, I decided that in honor of my first full week, I should write about my first day. And to focus on food because the only thing that really happened to me that day involved food.  And it sort of serves as a transition from gardening. And it’s a basic human need, which is kind of what you focus on when moving halfway around the world. And it’s where I had my first mini “I just moved to Russia” breakdown. Soul baring, here we go.

I arrived super jet-lagged. When you are in the air leaving JFK on your way to Russia, you sort of spend the whole trip wondering what you’re doing with your life. So after riding in a taxi with a driver who only spoke Russian and then trying to get my apartment keys from a girl who didn’t speak English, I took a short nap.

My body/brain were kind of off but I imagine that by this point, it was somewhere around 6:30. So, I ventured out to find food since I hadn’t eaten much except airplane food. Despite what people had told me, very few things are in English here and very few people speak English.

None of the restaurants near my apartment had English menus–and I wasn’t desperate enough for McDonalds–so I decided to cook for myself. The market near my house is small, offering mostly necessities. At this market, everything is behind the counter. So, rather than collecting items myself and then paying for them, I have to ask for each item. The first time I walked into the market, I hovered for about 47 seconds and walked right back out, too intimidated to ask for anything.

I had already upset the cashier at the pharmacy by trying to speak English, so I knew I had to try Russian.  I didn’t want to make the same mistake with the market ladies. I walked in a second time and asked for rice, beans, frozen broccoli, and frozen brussel sprouts in Russian. And when I say “in Russian,” I mean that I said single words (not sentences) and pointed: “Рис,” “Консервированной фасоли,”etc.

The woman at the market smiled at me and said something that sounded like “Italia?”

And I laughed, “No, America.”

And she said “Oh, wow.” And then I slowly counted out the wrong number of rubles and she said “Нет, Нет, Нет” and shook her head, giving me back the extra bills.

I filled the pots from my apartment with water. And I felt really grown up and well adjusted for cooking myself a meal on my first night in Russia. But then I realized I couldn’t cook the food because the stove wouldn’t light. I thought I might need a match but I wasn’t sure and I was afraid of blowing myself up. And I didn’t have any matches anyway.

So I did what anyone would do: I cried to my sister on Skype. And I said I was a failure. And that I was tired. And that the lady at the pharmacy was mean to me. And I asked what was I even doing in Russian anyway since I couldn’t speak the language. And I said was really hungry and I’d bought all this food that I couldn’t eat. And I also said I couldn’t even drink the water because the tap water is dangerous and has to be boiled first and my stove didn’t work.

And Alyssa listened and responded “On my first day in London, I only ate bagels.”

So we devised a plan where I would go back to the market for a third time and at least buy bread, cheese, apples and water.  I went back and I used my travel book to ask for those things. I bought the cheese in the red package because I knew how to say “red,” the loaf of bread in the red plastic, too.  I also bought M&Ms. The ladies smiled at me.

When I said I wanted water, they asked what size and I motioned “big” with my hands. But they wouldn’t let that slide. Instead, they said “пять.” And they made me repeat the word until I said it correctly. And that’s when I realized they liked me, that they wanted to help me learned. So I tried really hard to say”пять” well. I went to that market every day for the first four days, adding a new word or two each time I went.

When I got home, I had a piece of bread and some cheese and an apple. Despite feeling accomplished for being brave at the market, I didn’t feel that great. I cried some. And looked at photos of my friends. And sent emails.

And then I slept 13 hours. I met up with a new American friend from work. We went to a Ukranian restaurant and I had my first real Slavic meal. And he warned me that it would be heavy. We ordered pickled herring and dumplings filled with potatoes and mushrooms. It was delicious and I ate all of it.

This feels like a weird way to start the blog. Like instead, I should tell you that Russia is so great and that I saw Red Square (which I did), bought a babushka shawl (which I also did), ate piroshki (which I do every day) and that I feel really awesome. I mean, that’s the persona we all like to create.

But the first day wasn’t great. It was overwhelming in a number of ways.  I think this experience will be overwhelmingly good and overwhelmingly difficult and overwhelmingly funny and weird. The good parts are really great, and I dread the difficult parts. So when I write about the difficult parts, please don’t worry about me or emergency call me at $4.99 a minute. It’ll get better.

It’s rained almost half the time I’ve been here.  And the days that are considered “sunny” here would be called “overcast” in Kansas. But there are pockets of light.

Now that I’ve gotten sentimental, The Best of the LCGP in Chronological Order, as Told by Kara M. Bollinger. Mostly photos and links, few words. I’ve already written about these things, after all. I’m sure there are more I’ll remember later.

1) Weeding as stress relief. In particular, the spring day I was super pissed about school and life in general and got rid of a huge section of pesky crabgrass. There were many days I got rid of tons of weeds, but this one felt particularly gratifying.

2) Any time friends wanted to visit the garden. The best was when I got to give them food:

Katie W and J Nish during my first Lawrence Garden Tour

The best parties ended at the garden.

3) Winning The Great Corn Debate of 2010 by growing lots of corn.

4) Receiving green beans in the mail.

5) Learning. So much learning. How to cook new vegetables, like swiss chard and collard greens and beets. How to identify edible/delicious weeds (like lamb’s quarters). How to make pickles. How to build a trellis. How to compost most effectively. How to dry and preserve garlic and chamomile and rosemary and all the herbs.

6) My first ever garden mate, Amelia.

7) All the people.

8) Falling in love with peas.

9) Garden Watch Parties

10) Doing things men do, like unloading mulch and/or compost.

11) Ah, spinach.

12) My last spring in the garden.