Want to see a few pictures from the American Dance evening? Look here: http://amcorners.ru/news/news2027/ac147/

Also, check out the right hand side of the page for a few pictures. :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Homeward Bound

Entry 23: November 15, 2011

Since coming back from Moscow, my mind has been homeward bound. As much as I will miss the people I have met here and the experiences I've had, there is a large part of my heart that is ready to be done with adventures for a while. Three weeks out of a year is not enough time spent at home. I was preparing for a lecture I'm giving later this week on Tourist Attractions in America, and I stumbled across National Geographic's National Parks of North America and Historical Atlas of the United States, both of which are filled with pictures that reminded me of the vast range of beauty we have in our country and made me glad to know I was going back to it soon. I also have an intense craving for pumpkin pie.

Last Tuesday, a friend of the Brays who lived with them for a few years in Alaska and is now married to an Orthodox priest here in Nizhny Novgorod, Olga, came and paid me a visit at the university. We went down to the cafeteria for some coffee and to talk for a bit, as she wanted to practice her English with me. She had told me that she wanted me to meet her daughter so that her daughter could have the opportunity to talk with a native speaker, but I have not heard from her since last Tuesday.

After my day was over on Wednesday, Jackie and I met up at the Arts and Crafts building on Bolshaya Prokovskaya street to do some souvenir and Christmas shopping. The last time we had been there, there had been practically no one in the store. However, apparently everyone decided that Wednesday night at 5 pm is prime arts and crafts shopping time. I was mildly successful in what I found, and Jackie did much better and found everything she wanted. We stopped into a bookstore afterward, which I should just know not to do. I had decided that I didn't want to buy any Russian novels to take back with me, because I can get them for cheaper on my Kindle and they don't take up space or make my suitcase heavier in such a format. However, I did not anticipate my getting stuck in the children's section of the store. I found several fairytales and short stories there with absolutely beautiful art and was unable to persuade myself away from buying two of them. I've told Jackie I won't go into any more bookstores with her, though. They're just too dangerous for me. We finished off the evening with some warm drinks at Shokolodnitsa and have decided that before we leave we have to try the chocolate and fruit fondue there.

No one showed for the Idioms club this week, but it didn't bother me. As I hadn't been there the previous week, I expected a low attendance, and I also knew that there were free Chinese lessons given at the same time. I was also raking my brain for a topic for the following week and had been unsuccessful in coming up with something clever. Therefore, I can just use the same material for the final meeting on the 17th. I hung out with Aliza Thursday evening, and we showed each other pictures from Moscow and other excursions here in Russia. Apparently, there is an American student in her group of foreign students, and he lives on the floor above me. I'm not sure how long he's been here, but I'm surprised no one mentioned it before.

On Friday I had a short meeting with Ludmila Mikhailovna, for whom I would be subbing in the following week while she was away. I would be teaching 5 classes for her, but at the same time as one of the classes on Monday, Margarita Sergeevna wanted me to lead one of her classes. Therefore, dear Katya, who was a student in the latter course, would be taking over the other course for me while I went to her class. My first official time being a substitute, and I already had a substitute. I spent six hours straight on Friday working on lesson plans for the following week. Luckily, two of the lectures topics I would be using with two different groups so I only had to prepare for five different topics total. I'll explain a little more in a moment.
On Saturday, Jackie and I met up for a day of homework and fun. We met at our halfway point, and headed back to my dorm. I forgot to mention that on the previous Thursday, my internet payment was due, but when Aliza and I went to pay for the next month, the machine told us to “seek a higher payment service”....which naturally greatly confused us, especially as her other roommates always used the machine that was so blatantly refusing us to pay their internet every month. However the internet still worked all of Friday. Saturday morning, however, it promptly ceased working. Thus, I decided to try to pay once more so that Jackie and I could get online if we needed. If it wouldn't let me pay, we were going to take my computer across the street to the cafe with WiFi where we had planned to eat lunch. Luckily, the machine was not snippety with me this time, and I was able to pay for two more weeks of internet.

We worked on our introduction to the book we have been writing for our Capstone project, and then we grabbed lunch at Cafe Caffeine before hopping on a bus back to Lenta to buy large amounts of Russian chocolate to bring home with us. When we got back to my dorm we picked out the pictures we wanted to use in our book and then proceeded to watch some Russian cartoons I had been given.
Sunday was a pretty relaxed day for me. I prepared a little more for the lectures for the coming week, did some reading, and packed one of my suitcases.

On Monday, the first class I was to teach began at 9:55. I would be watching the film Little Man Tate, which is about an extremely gifted child, with a second year class. I planned to periodically stop the film as we went along to explain certain cultural things. Katya was going to finish the film with them and have them write up discussion questions that they would then discuss as a group while I was giving a different lecture to the fifth year students. However, when I arrived, Yuliya and I discovered we had some technical difficulties. The disk with the film that Ludmila Mikhailovna had given us was not DVD compatible, so it was not readable in the DVD player. Yuliya had downloaded the film onto an external hard drive from the internet, but it was in 10-15 minute clips that I would have to search for, and I didn't want to deal with that. I had the film on my own computer, which I had, of course, left at home for the day. I have left my computer at home two days in the last two months, and both times they have been days when I actually needed it. Thank you, Mr. Murphy. I quickly ran home, grabbed my netbook, and came back to see if everything would work smoothly. Luckily it did.

At 11:35, Katya came and took over the class. My topic with the fifth year students, who are training to be English teachers, was the first three articles of the US Constitution, voting, and any questions they had on contemporary politics or the American system of government. I spent several hours on Friday rereading a large part of the Constitution and Bill of Rights and ended up drawing up a table of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches in addition to two diagram: one that visually represented checks and balances and one that showed the process of how a bill becomes a law. In addition to this we talked about the electoral college, executive orders, Libya, Obamacare, and the upcoming 2012 election. I always enjoy that class because they are very intelligent, knowledgeable, and know how to keep me on my toes with difficult questions. I had hoped to be able to get back to the first class a little before the class time was over, but I was not successful. I found Katya in the American Center, and she gave me an overview of how the class had gone. I have the same group on Friday for another session in which we'll talk about the educational system in the US, major tourist attractions in the US, and how to write a resume or CV. I will also have two sessions with another group of students on Thursday where we will go over these same topics.

Long story short: my last two days at LUNN are going to be rather full. I would like to update this blog once more before I leave in the early morning of the 21st, but depending on how the rest of the week and the weekend goes I may not do so. Hopefully, I will have no reason to post a long saga of the travel home...but from my past experience with international travel, I fear there may end up being a story there. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Operation: MOSCOW

Entry 22: 7 November, 2011

Although I only spent three days in Moscow, I feel like I did a week's worth of activities in that short time. Instead of drowning you in a Moscow novella, I've decided to break the weekend down by topics. All the sections will begin with “Operation: MOSCOW” followed by a dash and a subtopic. Hopefully this will make it easier for you to read at your leisure.

The short summary of my trip is as follows: Moscow never sleeps. Those who visit Moscow hardly sleep either. However, there's just something about Moscow. I think you have to visit the city to be able to try to understand it.

A little background on Moscow: Moscow is the current capital of the Russian Federation. However, it was not always the capital. The city was founded in 1147 by Prince Yuri Dolgoruky. It first became the capital of the Russian lands in 1328 (Kiev, Ukraine was the first capital of the country Rus, the predecessor to Russia). Moscow lost the role of capitol in 1713 to St. Petersburg, 12 years after Peter the Great founded the city. Peter I was fascinated with European culture and built Petersburg accordingly. He required the nobility to move to the new capital and build/live in a particular type of home, the size and design of which was determined by the family's status according to Peter's Table of Ranks. This table was based on merit, not on inheritance and family heritage. During this period Moscow was less prominent.

A great portion of the city was destroyed by fire in 1812. Contrary to popular belief, Tchaikovsky's “1812 Overture” had nothing to do with the American-British war of 1812. Instead, it marked the Napoleonic invasion of Moscow. To this day historians still disagree over whether the French army set the city aflame or whether the Russian patriots did so to prevent Napoleon from having much city to take. Either way, as the structures in the city were nearly all constructed with wood, much of the city was destroyed.

After the 1917 Revolutions which included the assassination of the last Russian tsar Nikolai Romanov II (Anastasia's father for you cartoon or conspiracy theory lovers) and the Bolsheviks' rise to power, Moscow was named the capital of Soviet Russia in 1918. Poor Petersburg lost not only much attention but underwent two name changes before being rechristened St. Petersburg again in 1991 with the disbanding of the SSSR.

In 2006, Moscow became the most expensive city to live in on the face of the planet. Moscow seems to have gone crazy with its pricing. A pair of boots we could get for $20 in the states could be well over $200 in Moscow, simply because expensive is better. I was told a joke this weekend about the Muscovite perspective on what things cost. It goes as follows:

On man goes over to his neighbor to show him his newest purchase. He proudly declares to his neighbor, “I paid $50 for this.” His neighbor gives a barking laugh and responds, “You fool. I paid $60 for the same thing!”

Granted this is an over-generalization and does not mean everyone in Moscow is obsessed with materialism, but the sentiment does exist in the city.  

Operation: MOSCOW – TRAINS!

Entry 22: 7 November, 2011

On Thursday afternoon, I hopped on a bus around 3 pm to head to the Mosckovsky Train Station. I'm not quite sure why the Nizhny Novgorod train station's namesake is Moscow, but, as Brenda Bray reminded me this week, when things do not make sense in Russia, it is often better just not to ask questions. Katya and I arrived at the station nearly exactly at the same time. We had a half hour or so to wait before we could board the train. Katya and I would be traveling to Moscow together, but she would be staying a day longer than I, so I would be returning on my own.

(Fun side note: The word in Russian for a train station is “вокзал” (pronounced vak-ZAL). Say that aloud and see if it sounds like anything else familiar to you that you associate with trains. If your first instinct was the Vauxhall Station in London, you would be absolutely correct. When I was writing my course paper in the spring on foreign borrowings into Russian, I learned that Russian borrowed the word “vauxhall” and extended it to mean all train stations. I'm guessing this was probably the result of a misunderstanding between the name of the station and what a station is actually called. Language is so fascinating!)

There are four different classes on a typical Russian train. First class means you get a compartment to yourself. Second class means you have a compartment for four with a door. You may share this with a different party. Third class is just like second class except without the door and there are additional bunks on the other side of the hallway. I'm going to try to attempt a depiction here using words.

                                               L-L-L-L-L-L     K-K-K-K
TABLE-TABLE                       W-W-W-W-     B-B-B-B
TABLE-TABLE                       A-A-A-A-A      U-U-U-U
                                               Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-    N-N-N-N

The section in bold on the bunk to the right side of the hallway was the part of the bed the flipped up to be a table. There was also an upper bunk on that side, but there were not enough people on the train to have to use it. Both times I had a lower bunk in the more compartment-like area. When I had asked Katya what the difference was between 2nd and 3rd class she said the only real difference was the door and that she actually preferred third class so that you are shut into a little room with people you've never met before.

The train left Nizhny exactly on the dot at 16:10 (or 4:10 pm, if you prefer). Katya and I had an upper and lower bunk. The two other compartment-like bunks were taken by other young people, and we had a third at the bunch on the other side of the small hallway. The other girl hopped up on the top bunk and slept/dozed for nearly the whole trip. Katya decided to lay down for awhile on the other top bunk while I did some reading. The two guys played on their computer and phone......for hours. One of the guys, who we later learned was named Vadik, really loved rock music. He loved it so much he decided to share it with the rest of us...for hours. I like rock music as much as the next guy, but I also like to chose what sort I listen to and when. That young man is going to go completely deaf by age thirty if he does not become highly acquainted with the volume control on his electronic music devices. After a few hours, Katya and I ate some food she had brought. We had cheese, bread, bananas and crackers. I also had kefir for the first time. If you've seen kefir in the organic section at your local grocer's, I have it on Katya's authority that it's nothing like Russian kefir. The best I can describe it is that it has the consistency of drinkable yogurt and tastes somewhat like a plain vanilla yogurt with a tanginess to it. I'm not sure how I feel about it. It is definitely quite different from anything we have back home in the good ol' U.S. of A.

A bit after this, the other young man, not the one blasting ACDC, came back to sit on his bunk with a book that looked old and was falling apart at the seems. Katya asked what he was reading, and it was an anatomy textbook. We came to learn that he, Dima, and his buddy, Vadik, were students at the Medical University in Nizhny Novgorod and were going into Moscow to stay with Dima's family. We talked about the concept of “friend for an hour” which you meet when on an airplane or train. Vadik finally decided to turn off the rock and unglued his eyes from his iPhone for a while to be social. We talked and joked with them for an hour or so, and then they went out for a smoke. In the meanwhile, someone Katya knew walked by, and he went to grab his girlfriend to meet us. When Dima and Vadik came back, we had a small conversation party going in wagon number 4.

I gave the Brays a call when I was about 20 minutes out. The station I went into was only one metro stop away from the Brays' apartment. When Katya and I got off the train we were greeted by her friend Airat, who works as an English tour guide in Moscow, giving free walking tours. At the end of the platform I found Phil and Brenda. At the metro station I said goodbye and good luck to Katya, as she was not quite sure where the place she was to be staying was. Airat invited us to a walking tour beginning at 10 the following morning. As my train arrived just before midnight, we were all pretty tired when we got back to the apartment. I got a quick tour of the Brays' nice apartment, took a shower, and went to bed.

On my return to Nizhny Novgorod, I was going out of a different station in a different part of the city at midnight. This is too late to take the metro and be able to return to the apartment, and the Bray's neighbor Mario graciously drove us to the station. Apparently, due to construction, there is an underground path or “perihod” which one must take to get from the metro to the station, and it is frequented by many drunks and drug addicts. Thus, it was a double blessing that Mario was willing to drive Phil and I there. Mario, who I mention more in “Operation: MOSCOW – Peoples of Moscow,” is a black belt and used to be a cop in Frankfurt, Germany. I have never felt so safe while in Russia before.

Phil and Mario walked me to my wagon, and I bid them farewell and jumped aboard...literally. The only other trains I have been on have been on the West Coast in America. Usually the wagon hangs a bit over the platform so you can climb aboard using a few steps either built into the wagon or placed there by railway staff at every stop. Not so in Russia. There are no steps. Instead there is a little distance between you on the platform and the train. Usually this isn't too bad, but the largest gap was about a foot. Luckily I just had carry-on luggage. I believe a suitcase would complicate things. Upon entering I noticed this train was much older than the one I had arrived on. The train Katya and I took together was very clean, new seeming, and the bunks were nicely cushioned. There was nothing underneath the bottom bunk on that train so you could just slide your things beneath the seat. I had laid down to read for a bit on the first train and had found it ever so comfortable. Unfortunately, this second train was not so nice.

The bunk was basically a metal bench with a leather covering. Your posterior would fall asleep within ten minutes of sitting on it. I did not anticipate much sleep coming from that bunk, and my assumption, unfortunately, came to fruition. Everyone got a very thin futon-like mattress, that helped a little. Everyone who paid for them (which I assume was everyone) got a package of linens including a pillowcase and two sheets which were sealed in plastic so that you knew they were clean. I grabbed a wool blanket (you know, one of those itchy-scratchy ones that you know is a good blanket because it will be very warm, but you also hate them because they are so itchy and you try to avoid any contact with said blanket) and made up my bed.

The one thing I did like about this train more than the other is that the bottom bunks lifted up and beneath was a closed storage place. Thus I could put my things under the bed, which no one could access while I slept. Thus I wouldn't have to worry about anything happening to them. Granted everyone was sleeping or attempting to sleep the whole time, but an extra precaution never hurts. No one had the bunk above me, and the bunks adjacent to me were occupied by a married couple that was pretty quiet.

As I anticipated sleep would be elusive I was going to try to read for a while, but all of the lights were turned off, eliminating that as an option. Therefore I tried to sleep. I think I probably got two or three hours of fitful sleep total. The train pulled into Nizhny around six in the morning. I then took a bus back to the dorm. I know I couldn't have been outside for two long, not more than 15-20 minutes, but it seemed like forever because it was bitter cold. I was wearing my long down jacket, gloves, a hat, and scarf, but I was still chilly. I sent a text message to the Brays so that they would know I had made it back safely. I got to the dorm around 6:30. I could remember when it opened, but the doors were open and the security guard just waved me by. I had left my key for my room with the hostess in the off-chance something happened when I was away and there would be a need to get into my room. However, when I got to my floor, all the lights were off. I didn't want to knock on the hostess's door and wake her up, so I settled down on the couch to wait the half-hour or so until she was up. However, she heard me and got up anyway. Thus I was able to go to my room, take a quick shower, and lay down for an hour and a half before I needed to get up to go to the university.  

Operation: MOSCOW – Walking tour and Tretyakov

Entry 22: 7 November, 2011

I got up at 8 on Friday, as Brenda and I planned to meet up with Airat's walking tour at 10. I was definitely not too rested, but Phil had made coffee, so all was soon remedied. I've been living on instant coffee here, and although Russian instant coffee is definitely better than most instant coffee, it is still a far cry from a good stout drip brew. The tour was to last two hours, and Phil was going to meet up with us when we were done to go to the Tretyakov Gallery.

There were around 8 or 9 of us total for the walking tour. There was an Australian couple who worked in Dubai, my guess is that they work at a bank there, and were on holiday in Moscow. You have to love Australians. Apart from their brilliant accents, they are so adventurous. It seems to me that you can find Australians vacationing in every corner of the world. The rest of the group, excepting Brenda and I, were staff with Circus Ole (or however that is spelled). There are 90 people who travel with the circus: 50 performers and 40 support members. They travel with quite the entourage, including six washers and dryers. Here I thought a fifty-pound suitcase was a pain to lug around.

Airat walked us around the city center, going through Red Square, through the GUM (pronounced “goom,” rhyming with “boom” not like the stuff you chew), through the Alexander Gardens past the Eternal Flame and to the Church of Christ our Savior, the largest church in Moscow. The church was fazed during the Soviet times, and a giant outdoor swimming pool was built in its place which was open year round. The eight of the 8 Stalin highrises was supposed to be built on that spot, but then World War II pulled all the funding. Also, the ground was swampy, and there were difficulties with the foundation. The highrise that was supposed to be built there was going to be the Palace of the Soviets, with a statue of Lenin on top so large that there would have been a several-storied library in Lenin's head alone. Such a behemoth was never built, but I'm sure you would recognize the other 7 highrises which were completed. The Moscow State University (МГУ) is one of the most well-known. The buildings are huge structures topped with a spire displaying the Soviet star.

I think one of my favorite landmarks in Moscow is the giant statue of a giant man standing on a small boat on the Volga river. If you ask a traditional Russian tour guide, they will tell you this is a statue of Peter the Great. However, his armor is distinctly late 15th century Spanish in design and the ship flies the Spanish flag. This is because it was originally built to be a statue of Columbus which was given to the United States as a gift in 1992 (if I remember correctly). The thing is so strange and huge, that the US rejected it. I'm sure that didn't do wonders for Russia-US relations, but I don't know where we would have put the thing. The architect redid the head to be Peter the Great instead of Columbus, and it now stands proudly as an eye-sore to many Moscovites. I, however, have a certain fondness for the poor misunderstood Peterumbus, he's just so ridiculous. Watch out Texas, everything's actually bigger in Russia.

I was the only person in the group, excepting Airat, of course, who spoke Russian, and he asked for my help in translating a few things. His English was marvelous, but it was a little encouraging to see that I'm not the only one who doesn't feel wholly adequate in my language skills. We chatted for a bit in Russian, and I was sad that I didn't have more time to spend with Airat. I find when I get into a whole group of English speakers I get itchy to speak Russian. It's completely nonsensical as, usually when just with Russian speakers, I get all nervous and want to speak English. If my brain would stop freaking out it would save me much anxiety.

After the tour, Brenda and I hoped back on the metro to meet up with Phil and grab some lunch before going to go to the Tretyakov Gallery. Tretyakov was an art collector who accumulated a phenomenal amount of Russian works. If you get the chance to go to Moscow, it is one of the things you must see. The last time I was at the Tretyakov I ran into my good friend Stephanie previously-Tervooren-now-Hopkins whom I had not even known was in Moscow. In a city of 15 million, one's chances of running into a friend from across the world is minimal at best. This time I didn't run into any friends outside the Tretyakov this time. I don't think that sort of occurrence can happen more than once.

After the Tretyakov we grabbed some Asian food and headed back to the flat.  

Operation: MOSCOW – Мульти (multi) and the Orphanage

Entry 22: 7 October, 2011

On Saturday Phil and I were hoping to be able to go to Ismailovna, the best place to buy souvenirs in Moscow, if not all of Russia, but we were not able to do so as I had to meet Nastya at 8:50. Some friends of the Brays were taking them out to their home later in the day, and so I was going to spend the day with Nastya, who I mentioned in my previous entry. All I knew was that we were going to an orphanage and that some sort of celebration was occurring, for which I was encouraged to wear something nice.
The first place we went was to one of the Baptist Church buildings in Moscow. A family from Nastya's church was releasing a Christian multi (sort of like sesame street involving puppets and real people) for children. There was a live show with some of the main characters from the multi and clips were also used from the films themselves. The family apparently won an award for their children's films in Russia, and I may try to buy some when I get back to the states. I was going to buy some there, but we had to leave early, and I spaced.
The main character was named Elya (Эля), and there were two clowns which were her friends. They were fighting over whether girls or boys were better, and of course, they had the kids do different competitions and tasks to try to figure out who was better. Finally, Elya appears and tells them they shouldn't be concerned in who was better. This lead to the watching of one of the short films about the apostles asking Jesus about who would be the greatest among them in heaven.

My contribution to the event was helping blow up balloons (we blew up over 300 by hand), and then Nastya and I were the greeters who handed out numbers to the children for participating in the show. The different tasks sometimes involved picking a number to have someone come and join them on stage. All the volunteers received shirts to wear from the cartoon, so now I have a bright yellow shirt which says in Russian, “I am a friend of Elya Dvornik.”

At 13:30 Nastya and I had to go to meet some people to go to the orphanage. We took a trolleybus to the metro, hopped off the metro to grab some food quickly as we would not be back into town until late in the evening, hopped back on the metro and rode until the end. There we bought tickets for the electric train and rode 20 minutes out of town. There we met another girl, Liza, and an older gentlemen who had brought his guitar. When we got to the orphanage we hung out in the library with a few of the kids. I met a kid named Sasha, who was probably in fifth or sixth grade. He was doing a puzzle from the film Cars, and I asked if I could join him. He was pretty quiet for awhile, but after two puzzles he found a game sort of like a combination of Chutes & Ladders and Candyland. There were some additional pieces with which we didn't know what to do, and there were no instructions. Therefore we sort of made it up as we went along. After hanging out there for a while, Liza, Nastya, and I went to a different part of the grounds. There are 3 or 4 different orphanage buildings in total in the area. It seemed that some of the kids had an aunt, uncle or grandparent, but they did no have anyone to take care of them so they lived in the children's home or the orphanage.
We played with some very young children outside for a while before making our way to another building where Liza and Nastya help students with English lessons. There were three kids to help that day, so we each worked one-on-one with them in the classroom. The girl that I was working with did not want to put in any effort. She would begin to sound something out half-heartedly and then declare she couldn't do it. I tried being encouraging and I tried being stern, but she was just stubbornly not wanting to put in much effort. I think part of it may have been was that she was intimidated because I was an American, and I think that towards the end it got a little better.

We left when it was time for the kids to go to dinner, and went back to where we had been at first. We spent a little more time with a few kids there before leaving. We walked back to the electric train and had to wait quite a bit in the cold, and it was very cold. Even though we were all bundled up, bone-chilling wind is quite persistent.

My phone was not working in Moscow because I was roaming and didn't think it was worth it to buy a new simcard for Moscow. Therefore Phil and Brenda had to call Nastya to get a hold of me. We were heading back around 8pm. When we got back into Moscow proper, we had to pay for our trip back. When you leave you pay before you go, but when you return, you pay to get out. The price had just been tripled, and lots of people were angry. On top of that, the electric ticket stands were not working. There were a lot of cranky people pushing and yelling. We finally managed to get two of the three tickets, and then the ticket lady went to make a phone call. There was a very drunk man behind us telling us how he should be able to go in front of us, and his girlfriend was not being helpful either. Just at that moment, Phil and Brenda called Nastya. She had to quickly say she couldn't talk, mentioned where I would meet them, and turned back to the ticket counter. We finally all paid and got through to the metro. Liza and I were taking a different line than Nastya. When I got back to the stop by Phil and Brenda's apartment, I made the mistake of going out the wrong door. Usually when different lines meet the station has a different name for each of the lines, with the exception of a few, and Phil and Brenda's stop is one of those. Despite the fact that I had been told to take the perihod to the other line, I completely spaced. I had turned my phone off early to save money in case I need to make a quick call. Phil confirmed that yes, I needed to go back into the metro and go to the other line. Thus, I purchased another metro pass, as I had run out, went back down the long escalators and walked to the correct station where Phil was waiting for me. We got back to their apartment around 22:00. It was quite the day, but it was a good day.  

Operation: MOSCOW – Moscow Transit

Entry 22: 7 October, 2011

There are many ways to get around Moscow. One can go by foot, by bus, by trolleybus, by train, by electric train, by metro, and by car. With the exception of a bus, I utilized all of these forms of transportation this weekend and nearly all of them on Saturday alone. My favorite form of transportation in Moscow is, of course, the metro. Every station is different and many of the stations are quite elaborate with marble columns and chandeliers. The Moscow Metro opened 15 May, 1935, and today there are 12 different lines with a total of 187.2 miles of rail, 182 stations, and between 6.5 to 9 million people ride the metro per day. I think I know the secret to how Muscovite women stay so thin. They wear heels and run around the metro. When everyone is sitting or standing on the metro they tend to have blank faces and everyone seems very calm, or at least blank. As the metro starts to slow down, people get up to stand by the doors. Then the doors open, opening the metaphorical floodgates of insanity. Once those doors open you would think there was a hell hound on the metro car that everyone was trying to get away from. Everyone's darting and running and pushing. It's crazy. I must add that Nastya is an excellent metro darter. It's still difficult for me to adopt the “every man for himself” mentality when it comes to mass transit.

The trolleybus in Moscow differs from those in Nizhny Novgorod in that you have to have a trolleybus pass to get through a turnstile on the trolley.
While traveling on the train to Moscow, Katya started making a list of the things that I should make sure to do before I leave Russia. One of the things she mentioned was to ride the Elektrika, the electric train. The train itself is nothing special. Benches face each other so that you could sit comfortably with a group of 4 together. The experience of the electrika does not begin right away when you get on the train. All of a sudden, a woman seemingly appeared out of no where and began holding up small make up bags, mirrors, and other small vanity items, listing off the prices of each. After she did this, she began walking through the cabin. As soon as she reached the end, there was an announcement from the other end of the wagon behind me. A guitar began and four Russian men began singing a song. I wish I could have captured that moment for you somehow. There I sat, looking out the window as industrial centers gave way to beautiful Russian countryside to an acoustic guitar, a traditional Russian song, and the percussion of the train upon the tracks. I felt like it was one of those glimpses into the Russian душа (soul). Unfortunately the moment was broken as then next individual began to hawk his wares.

If I ever found myself living in Moscow I do not think I would be able to drive there. I wouldn't mind someone else driving, but I think the stress would kill me. Everyone drives like they own the road, and there are fewer rules about how to drive, or at least there are fewer followed. Anyone who can drive successfully and safely in Moscow has my immediate respect.  

Operation: MOSCOW – ICF

Entry 22: 7 November, 2011

On Sunday I had the opportunity to go the International Christian Fellowship, the church with which the Brays have been working in Moscow. After over two months of being apart from church family, it was wonderful to be back worshiping with fellow believers. The congregation consists of people from all over the world (Russia, Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Central Africa, the Philippines, America, etc.), some who speak Russian, some who do not. The service is conducted in English with simultaneous translation into Russian. One of the songs sung was “How Great Thou Art” which we sang in English and then Russian. It is one of those songs which I grew up hearing and singing frequently, and despite its beautiful lyrics, it has become rather complacent for me over the last few years. Singing it in Russia really made me pay attention to the words, and it was like a whole new song for me again. Unfortunately we only sang once verse this way. I'm going to have to find all of the lyrics in Russian.

I hadn't realized how much I was missing Christian fellowship and praising God through worship. I found myself having to hold back tears in a lot of the songs because, having been out of the routine of attending church, I was paying more attention to the words of songs and what was being said. One song we sang had the line, “Break my heart for what breaks Yours [Lord].” A week or so ago I found a sermon on youtube about worship and how easy it is for us to be insincere and just sing the words. This line really convicted me, and to be honest, it was hard for me to sing. I don't know if I can find it in my heart to sing that line honestly. I know there is so much in this world that breaks God's heart, and I don't think that my heart could handle all that breaks His. Such a thing is not to be asked for lightly. I sometimes wonder what our worship services would sound like if we were actually incapable of singing something we did not mean and intended whole-heartedly. What would we be left singing? This has been a conviction of mine as of late.

Oleg, who delivered the sermon Sunday, gave a really good message from John 14 about how our home is in God. Oleg's English is flawless and nearly accentless, which was highly impressive. In addition, he is also blind, so I had the privilege of watching a preacher preach using a Braille Bible. I really enjoyed being at church. It is such a comfort that, no matter how far you go from home, you can always find home in the church family. Praise God!