It has been absolutely crazy, in every possible respect. Firstly, there’s the nature of Russia itself; secondly, there’s the not-having-anywhere-to-live; and thirdly, it’s the work.
Walking around the place, it’s impossible to not notice that you’re in Russia. Every few steps down the street you’ll encounter yet another person who is self-conscious in their non-fuck-giving, and is going about whatever destructive or obnoxious habit they prefer. You’ll come across a guy welding metal on the street with no safety mask, walk past a guy having a morning en-route-to-work beer, then see a lady intent upon watching her dog eat grass from beside the rusted fence. On the escalators in the metro, you’ll see guys sitting down for the trip; or on the metro itself, one day there’ll be a blind and arm-less beggar woman, another a man with a piano accordion, another two guys with bongo drums, or another one guy with a bongo drum and one with an electric guitar. Outside the place you’re staying, at night time you’ll see a woman being attacked by men who apparently know her, as she’s screaming “I didn’t know, I didn’t know” in Russian (nobody got hurt). The flat in which you’re staying is part of a Soviet block, exactly like every other – to the point where I’ve stood outside the wrong door twice.
People on the streets here approach me as do people on the streets of any city in any country. They’ll ask directions, or ask me if I’m cold – or yell at me for being cold (seriously, this happens every day), or feel free to comment on my appearance (today a lady said ‘well done’ for being so ‘beautiful and fresh’).
I’ve mentioned before how mindbogglingly different gender relations are here. A couple of nights ago I was in the teachers’ room at one of my schools and said to two of my friends (24 and 25, respectively) that ‘weren’t they a bit old to be unmarried?’. One of them, it turned out, had gotten married at 21 and divorced at 24, but it was okay because she now has a long-term boyfriend and ‘will probably have a new husband soon’. This chic is awesome, uses the word ‘bro’ and fist-bumps me. Which is highly unusual in every respect for a Russian woman. So I asked her how come she got married and why everybody here gets married so early and so many times, and she postulated that it’s for some kind of stability in the maelstrom that is life in Russia. I don’t think that can be the only reason though – all of my Russian teachers have asked why I don’t want to get married, and one went so far as to say that life isn’t interesting alone. I said, ‘maybe not for you, but yes for me’. (It sounds better in Russian, I promise).
Speaking of Russian and language and related things such as literature, after seven months I finally finished reading War and Peace today. Whoohoo!
A quick life update: I’m still homeless so am moving back to a hostel on Sunday. I’m actually looking forward to it, as I’ll be back in the centre of the city and will thereby regain a good hour or two of time every day that is currently lost in travel. I haven’t had time to look for a flat – we ditched Lorenzo due to his sheer sketchiness and I’m unavailable 11am-11pm Monday-Saturday more or less, due partly to uni and mainly to work. Sunday is hereby ‘sleepday’. Basically though, I’m exhausted to the point of frustrated near-hysteria most of the time, I rarely have time to eat, I don’t sleep enough and there is no time for fun. I realised tonight as I was standing outside one of my closed schools at around 10pm, eating my breakfast and watching the rain, that this is not tenable. I’m going to speak to my cool boss on Monday, and after that I’m going to try and quit one of my jobs. I have zero quality of life – it’s just not worth it for 8 hours of uni a week. I’m going to try and stay, but the way I’m doing it at the moment is unsustainable. If I wanted to work long hours for shit pay and have no fun, I hear Maccas is hiring. In any country. Ever. Luckily for me, and distinctly unlike the hundreds of millions of people living in Russia, I have a choice.
I’ll leave you on a slightly more irreverent note – one of my students’ last name is Vagina, and I have another student with first name Semen. Maturity = winning.