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Monday, January 14, 2008

it's a hard knocks life for us

Not much has been going on around here lately. In the absence of the numerous holidays (Western Christmas, the New Year, Russian Orthodox Christmas, et. Al) life has quieted down somewhat, settling into a predictable though not unpleasant pattern. We wake up, and the battle against frustration begins.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t like it here. I do. It’s been a long time since I really appreciated where I live, and I like it here. It’s fortunate perhaps that I’m not Russian, so I don’t suffer from the aggravation of being in a place that has been labeled “provincial” by pretty much everyone I know. To me it just seems like Russia—different from St. Pete in size, of course, and civilization perhaps—but essentially as Russian as I’m used to.

The frustration, then, does not stem from where we are in Russia, but from the fact that everything here is just so much harder to accomplish. For example:
If you want to make spaghetti in the States, you would probably just go buy some Bertolli sauce and noodles, and maybe a few things to doctor up the sauce. Here everything must be made from scratch. First you have to walk a few miles to the market, haggle with the gypsy lady with gold teeth over the price of tomatoes, and load up your backpack with a few kilos of the stuff once you’ve got the price down. Then you hunt for parmesan cheese, something that I was surprised they started carrying here—the last time we were in Russia we had to smuggle some in from the states. Then you have to go to the babushka who sells spices to try and find the Italian stuff, which means a lot of guesswork and the likelihood of coming back with some weird Russian herbal cough remedy when you really needed oregano. Finally, when you’re weighed down like a pack mule with your thirty pound backpack, you trudge uphill and homewards. On the way home you’ll probably have to stop at the store to get the things you have to get everyday: milk, eggs, bread, etc., because you can only buy so much when you have two arms and a back instead of the trunk of a car. Finally, you arrive home beaming with pride at the feat you’ve accomplished, unload your treasures, and realize that you forgot noodles.

Another example: let’s say you want to clean your apartment. You sweep the entire place with your crappily engineered Chinese broom, the head of which was designed to be interchangeable with a mop and thus falls off the end of the pole every five seconds. After re-attaching the broom head for the five thousandth time, and trying not to curse our slant-eyed fellow humans, you finally get the dried mud and dust bunnies down to more manageable level of pervasiveness. Then you spent an hour sweating and smearing water all over the floor. Then, when you’re wishing like mad that you had one of those vacuum robots but essentially satisfied with a job well done, you go back to the first room you did and the floor is mysteriously covered, yet again, in dust balls.

The stinking dust balls here multiply like tribbles, I swear.

So, I like it here, but it’s just not easy. It’s not easy for car-spoiled, chubby-legged children to walk everywhere—although they’re getting better. Last night we walked to Ilya and Ira’s for dinner, and then walked back (uphill) several hours past the kid’s bedtime. Ilya whined a little at the end, and Xander had to be carried because he was falling asleep on his feet, but I was pretty impressed. Between going to church and going to the Gromov’s they probably walked five miles yesterday. Personally, I enjoy walking, but I have to admit there are times, like when I’m shopping, that I think back on my shiny new Volvo with a great deal of wistful longing.

But you know, I think life is sort of a trade-off. In Florida we had a technically nice life. Two cars, a decent apartment, and we lived a mile from every imaginable convenience. A life of ease, totally predictable, with things running so smoothly that there was really no need to trust God. I mean, of course we tried not to take things for granted, but there’s a huge difference between saying the occasional “Hey, thanks God” and actually relying on Him every day because you have no idea what is going to happen from one day to the next. Here we have to rely on God, because our existence makes no sense from a worldly perspective. We have no security. No clearly defined purpose. And yet God has blessed us and continues to bless us, and even if I fall into bed every night completely and utterly worn out from a difficult life it’s still LIFE. And I like it.


Heather said...

Ahh yes... Walking uphill... I've almost forgotten what that's like. It makes you realize how much you've taken for granted, living in America.

Btw, I liked the tribbles reference!

Steve0 said...

I hate noodles anyways.

One good thing I can say about your current situation - you're writing is amazing!


By the by, I'm doing a lot of uphill (VERY up) walking now that we're in Arkansas, as well. Only, I'm walking up "Hot Springs Mountain" for the sake of exercise... then I get in my heated car and drive to the office.


I agree with Heather - way to rock the tribbles reference!


Steve0 said...

I just typed "you're" when I meant "your." *sigh*

foldreformer said...

I read your blog on shopping for food, I have to admit that I thought, "Really, you have to go through all that to make a dinner?" On our short trip to Russia we never encountered this problem. I did notice Gypsies selling fish and vegetables, but we did all of our shopping at a market a couple blocks from our Hotel. It had all the conviences of an American suppermarket (only a little smaller); canned goods, meat, vegetables, cokes, and so on. Now while we were in Saratov we were told that this was a "newer" type store and even in Moscow I did not come across one of these kinds of markets. I realize that Saratov is on the otherside of Russia; so I guess I am wondering if you have heard of these type of stores coming your way in the future or if you think Russia will go in that direction? I'm not sure about the stores name, but I have a picture of it and will post it on my blog for you to look at.

By the way, I sort of miss all the walking to get everywhere in the freezing cold. I lost 20lbs from strolling up and down the Volga on a daily basis.