Friday, August 18, 2006

greetings from siberia

my friend tara has just posted me from where she describes as hell, and her story is so interesting that i thought i would share it. enjoy

I'm at an internat cafe in Russia now, also known as hell. Siberia lives up to its image. I had a flight cancelled and was a day late for my train from Irkutsk, Russia to Ulanbataar, Mongolia. There were no train tickets for the next two days, so here i am. the hostels were all full so i'm doing a homestay with this lady. i'm feeling better today, but yesterday was horrible. it is bleak and relentlessly ugly here. well, it was until i found a nice garden near this internet cafe. this place is absolutely squalid. rooms are so basic with few frills. the buildings are extremely boxy with massive, stereotypically Soviet utilitarian architecture. the streets have tons of construction work and they seem to dig up even more things befpre they have a chance to repair what they have started. there is dust and dirt everywhere, it moves around in clouds when the wind blows. wild dogs run around, seemingly with no owners. traffic is barely regimented. people drive like they have lost control of the steering wheel, weaving about and threading their way through traffic. they drive on the right side of the road here but not all cars have the steering wheel on the left. In many ways, it is a lot like india with white people. i loved india, completely chaotic and filthy though it was. what i hate about here is the attitude of the people. they are so grim here and unwilling to help. i have asked people so many times where things are and they just shrug and look away. i even had the word for an atm machine written in russian for me. i stopped at a stand in a market and showed the woman the slip of paper. she did the usual shrug. i kept walking to find it not 5 feet away. At the same time, it would not be fair to say all russians are horrible. the woman i am staying with is very nice as was the russian travel agent and a few cab drivers. i was at the moscow airport and in dire need of a plane ticket. i heard a girl, about ten years old, talking to herself in english as she played and i stopped to ask some questions. she was with her father, an immigrant from russia. the two currently live in brooklyn and the girl, mary, said she was going crazy not having anyone to speak to in english. the two of them were wonderful. the father, who also spoke english, let me use his phone and helped me call different travel agencies to ask questions about tickets. i told him all the seats were full on the next flight and he stood up and said, now i'm going to get you a ticket. he walked up to the desk of the airline with me and managed to get me a seat on the next flight. then he decided he was going to see me onto the plane. he walked right past where i was supposed to check in and said 'you check in h ere', and checked me in right where my luggage was screened. he was going to walk past that security desk also to see me basically until i was on the plane but a member of security stopped him. i wonder why people are so removed and wonder how much came about out of fear living under total government control.

For those of you who don't know what the hell i am up to, i just finished a two week long volunteer camp in a tiny village outside rostock, germany. it was disasterously organized and the volunteers were on the edge of mutiny towards the end. nevertheless, i was quite content there doing rennovation and garden work at an old building badly in need of tending. we were basically stuck there in a village of 50 people due to inadequate transportation. i wasn't able to catch up on the news until i got to london. we did manage to get away to rostock for the weekend and went to the baltic sea. rostock was a nice change from berlin, where i had spent a day prior to the volunteer camp. berlin was so planned out and deliberate after being flattened during wwii and lacked the charm of the more traditional rostock. the capital had many public memorials dedicated to the memory of the holocaust, as if asking for forgiveness for this monstrous event. all the volunteers were aged 16 to 24, most of them 16-18. i usually hate young people but i was quite pleased with the ones i met there. there was this french girl i really hated and was glad to get away from her ;)

i then went to london for two days and really took to it, in spite of the ludicrous pricing. people there were also aloof, but not overtly unfriendly. i missed friendly conversation and ended up chatting with a student from poland playing the cello under a bridge for tips. i found a little india in the northeast end. it was definitely a working class area and it was peculiar to be around so many people from this subcontinent who were not in affluent surroundings as this is how it is at home. i went to the museum of london (i wanted to see the tower of london but my in student loan debt self decided to go to this free museum), which was absolutely fasinating. i went through thoroughly from the beginning of life in the area to the end of the middle ages. i was there for probably three hours and needed a few more days to see the whole thing as throroughly as i would have liked. to the fellow americans- we really luck ed out in american history class- there's barely anything to remember. dad, your indian history class must have been a five semester series.

tomorrow evening i catch a train on the trans-siberian railway to ulanbataar, mongolia. it takes a day and a half to reach the desired destination. twenty miles outside of the city i'll be staying in a traditional nomadic dwelling, a ger, with other volunteers. i'll be at another volunteer camp working with orphans aged 12-15. we will be working on a garden. vegetables are a recent addition to the mongolian diet as people living the traditional nomadic lifestyle can't exactly lug a vegetable patch around with them. one of the other young americans staying at the apartment where i am at just came from mongolia and said they even think eating too many vegetables is bad for you. the diet is mostly meat and dairy products. she said it is mutton and beef season now. winter is horse and marmot season, the marmot being a delicacy that is still capable of spreading the bubonic plague to the person who eats it even after being thoroughly cooked. the mongolians brought the black death to europe as they rode a cross asia and europe. they were on the verge of sacking western europe when threy had to turn back. the khan had died and it was required that the possible heirs return and the community participate in a (semi) democratic election. i'll be at the workcamp two days late which totally sucks but i'll get there. i'll also be teaching some english and working on making bracelets that will be sold in japan. the proceeds go to helping stop childhood prostitution.
so far i have not been homesick at all. i think my dream job of being a cultutral anthropologist or writer for national geopgraphic would suit the moment i can't imagine having to go back to school and manufacture more papers. oh well, that's not for another two weeks. the other americans staying at my apartment here are just finishing three years of teaching english in japan. the young woman said a bachelor's degree was the only requirement at her agency and getting a job in the private sector was as simple as saying 'i speak english, it's my native tongue and i want to teach". the pay is decent. there is national health coverage and they make about as much as i will my first few years with a master's degree in social work. she said teaching there was a bit like college. she said the work wasn't very hard and most of the teachers are young people either running away or running to somewhere. she also said b ecause the people are in a transitional phase of their life they don't take life very seriously and spend a lot of time partying. the whole thing sounded pretty good until she said it was like college. it's time for me to be around grown ups.

okay, it's getting dark and i don't fancy walking around alone in pitch blackness. flies really seem to fancy me, they're always on my bag or shoes, and i think i'll look up what attracts them to people before i leave. anyway, i hope everyone is well and mom, just take a nip from your hip flask, you'll be all right.

mathilde- please forward to omega and sophia, i left their addresses at the apartment
molly- please forward or show to iop team. remember, elaine never checks her email


Song of the day: back in the ussr-the beatles


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an experience she is having. Thank you for sharing this.

molly said...

thanks for actually being interested

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