From Boston to Moscow
Four days ago now, I pulled off one of the greatest travel feats in the history of the world. Let's just say I lugged over 100 pounds on a 3 hour journey from a plane landing at 5 am to an apartment located 48 miles from the airport. I took two buses, a tram, four line changes on the subway and a kilometer walk in the pouring rain. Are you ready for the kicker... all during rush hour. The buses and subway cars were so packed I had Russian people screaming at me because I had such big bags. One women was really mean and whacked me with her pocketbook and said some words that I never came across in my textbooks, so I am sure that she did not say "happy travels." The guy she was with tried to hold her back and a bus wide raucous proceeded. The bus driver ultimately pulled over and booted her. The best part is that when he booted her people on the bus started yelling to boot me. What I am most proud of is that I navigated the chaotic public transportation system of Moscow filled with grumpy passengers and employees all on my primitive Russian skills. There was no English! Once I arrived at my friends apartment, I enjoyed a much deserved nap and I must say that though I will never allow myself into a travel situation where I will have to do anything remotely like what I did today, I feel very empowered that this project will take a strong form quickly and further SCHAB's mission of promoting health, wellness, and infrastructural development at schools, and thus help children and communities.
From Moscow to Suzdal
After a day in Moscow where I took care of a handful of important errands for the project, I arrived in Suzdal on Tuesday May 29th! The train station was a mad house. No traffic jam in the United States could have prepared me for the trampling herds of Moscow traffic. I have never encountered mere people traffic as I have in Moscow. Because I was carrying a stuffed backpack and two large suitcases, I was constantly getting bulled through while trying to navigate the various platforms. Finally I found a woman train attendant who greeted me with a smile, the first smile I had encountered in over 24 hours in Moscow! She took my ticket and with big hand gestures communicated to me where my train was. I thanked her in Russian, English, and a gibberish hybrid of the two. I stood waiting at Platform 9 for twenty minutes when my knight in a shining orange vest reading "Service" came running towards me. I greeted the familiar face of my helper with a smile, though she started screaming at me and pointing. She grabbed hold of me and we, in a human game of frogger, navigated the maze of people to where my train was boarding at Platform 3! She pushed me into a train attendant collecting boarding passes and I made my way onto my cart with about three minutes to spare. I regret that I did not have the chance to thank her, but I was so disheveled by almost getting on a train heading Yaroslavl, which is four hours north of my destination, that I parked my self in my seat and just focused on my breathing. The moral of the story is that sometimes in life we all take the role of Blanche DuBois in A Street Car Named Desire and "rely on the kindness of strangers."
A Whole New World
As the train pulled into Vladimir, the city with a train line closest to Suzdal, I was glued to the window. My experiences in Russia had always been limited to the bustling metropolis of Moscow. Moscow's German cars, Mcdonalds, and a New York-esque atmosphere made me completely out of touch with the real Rodina (Motherland). When I got off of the train I felt as though I had gone back in time. Cars were no longer the tinted windowed Mercedes of Moscow. Instead they were brands that I had never seen before and clearly from at least twenty years ago. The buildings were Soviet block style and the change in atmosphere and lack of optimism was tangible. What I can note, however, is that there was a very fortunate change in the demeanor of the people. There were no angry travelers like the pocketbook carrying professional wrestler that I encountered in Moscow. Instead, people were friendly and helpful! In Moscow when I would ask a train attendant for help in my very American accent they would either pretend I was a cloud of vapor and with a wave of their hand I would vanish, or they would grab my ticket scan it over and then point in the most vague possible direction as possible. Here everyone was like my hero in orange that saved me at the Moscow train station. I was greeted outside of the train station by my host mother (Rimma) and a man from her work (Tule), who has a car. The hour drive from Vladimir to Suzdal was what I imagine it would be like to be in the passenger seat of a Russian formula one race car where the pit captain (Rimma sitting in the back) and the driver(Tula) are constantly making impassioned exchanges as Tula makes sure that no matter what truck or pedestrian may come in our way we maintain a speed of at least 100 k/h on the winding back roads. Once in Suzdal I was immediately captivated by my new surroundings. There is so much beuty here but it is mixed in with so much bleakness. The towns population is spread out into clusters between large open beautifully green pastures with grazing cattle surrounded by distant mountains. Scattered about are gorgeous churches and monasteries, some one thousand years old! Some of the houses are a quirky lime green or apple red. Most of the residents live in box Soviet style apartment homes like that of the flat in which I am staying. The cars are mostly at least twenty years old and there are no supermarkets, movie theaters, or restaurants. For example all the vegetables we eat at my host parent's house are grown and harvested from plots in the back yeard. It is clear right off the bat that Suzdal is a community lacking in urban development yet populated by wonderfully kind and warm people. I am very excited to get to work and aquaint myself with as many residents and students as I can here.
As I explained, the houses are very quirky. They are wacky colors and have very interesting moldings. They are all made of wood. Wooden homes are a staple of Suzdal's architecture.