The Moscow Zoo

As an Omaha native, I know a good zoo when I see one. Although the Moscow Zoopark, as it is more accurately translated, isn’t quite as impressive as our very own Henry Doorly Zoo back home, it is good nonetheless, if only for its high entertainment value. I had a whole day to hang out in Moscow after my parents and brother left, so my friend Estelle (who is doing an internship there for the summer) and I decided to check it out. I was a little burned by the early afternoon, but it was worth it to see all the weird animals and the weirder human beings.

The impressive entrance - kind of like a Hobbit house


A clever choice for the first animal you see upon entering: strangely lovable (like Russia) and just weird enough to pique your curiosity and keep going...

Estelle and I heard a woman say “Krasavitsa!” when she saw this, which is basically like “Oh how pretty!” We just cracked up laughing.


Saddest looking camels on the planet

Estelle described them as old Soviet camels..I wouldn't be surprised if they were left over from Stalin's days...


You can pet anything with hooves basically...


...but signs all over warn "BE CAREFUL! THE ANIMALS BITE!"....


...and the billy goats seem chill but are weirdly agressive.

Not from the zoo, but a cool picture all the same


Что Американцы делают в России…

I feel terrible for abandoning my bloggerly duties for such a long time, but I really did not have time to write while my parents and brother were here. Now that they are gone and I have had a day to unwind, I finally feel up for a nice post about their trip.

People keep asking me what my family thought of Russia, and the simple answer is they loved it. It’s also the safest. But the long response is more complicated. It’s extremely interesting to observe other people, especially people so similar to me, going through the culture shock I experienced in such a truncated time frame. I think in a lot of ways my mom, dad, and James barely had time to react and were on the receiving end of sensory overload. I also think it must have been hard for them to give up control, not only because I was the only one who spoke Russian and was thus usually left to plan most of our activities, but also because Russia (as my faithful followers must know by now) is a place where giving up control is simply not a choice. One of the things that I first learned here is that you absolutely cannot control anything fully and most things not at all. Sure it can be frustrating, and there were some things that can be mentally and physically tiring, but it’s also something that has changed my character and temperament for the better.

The visit started with two days in Ufa, which included both a long evening at the banya with some of my closest friends preceded by a dinner at my house, a kind of giant tea party with my students, and another get-together at my house the night before we left. It was really important for my parents to meet the people with whom I’ve been spending all my time, both professionally and informally. To my surprise, all of them tried kumis (fermented horse milk), and unsurprisingly, they all loved the banya and finally understood why I always speak so highly of Bashkirian honey.

James and Maria at the banya

Tea party in my classroom at the hospital

After checking out sights around Ufa (the Salavat Yulaev horse statue and the Tulip Mosque) in the morning, we set off for Saint Petersburg. Although I consider myself to be pretty familiar with Moscow by now after spending almost 3 weeks there collectively, I had never been to Saint Petersburg and so I was able to share in a completely new experience with my parents and James. We all immediately fell in love with the city, and like my yoga instructor was saying today, it has a very Italian feel to it. There aren’t as many canals as in Venice, but everyone says the two cities are similar, although Saint Petersburg is much younger.

Three and a half days isn’t certainly not enough time to experience SPB in full, but we did as much as we could including a midnight boat tour of the opening of the bridges (with Roman, my SPB-born friend from Boston College), seeing the Nutcracker at the Mariinksy Theater, a trip to Petergoff (Peter the Great’s answer to Versailles), a long visit to the Hermitage, and a lot of walking around Old Saint Petersburg. My oldest brother’s friend used to live there and he still owns an apartment, so he lent us the keys, and we had a beautiful place to stay completely free of charge, which was a huge perk.

Kazan Cathedral

I think this might be my favorite picture from Russia

Petergoff Palace

At the Hermitage

Old men talking, smoking, drinking vodka, and toasting -- VERY RUSSIAN

Carlo Rossi Street - the street of perfect proportions

People always compare Moscow and New York, and although I think comparisons like this are always tenuous, I can at least say my relationship to both cities is similar: I didn’t really like them the first few times I was there and then after each visit, I found them more and more pleasant and navigable. As I’ve written before, it also helps to be in Moscow when the weather is nice. People are much friendlier, and the city’s many parks are breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve also been there enough times that I’ve started to feel very comfortable moving around on the Metro or on foot. Like many old cities (Boston is like this), it’s actually surprisingly easy to cover a lot of ground on foot – the subway deceives you into thinking different places are great distances apart.

Our hotel was perfect, and the room James and I shared looked right out over Red Square. It was easily the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in, more like an apartment – it had a piano and a doorbell.

The view from our room - AMAZING

Part of the Qatari Cultural Festival going on outside Tretyekovskaya Gallery

Our time in Moscow was even short, just under two days, but the weather was perfect and as in Petersburg, we did a lot of walking around. I completely botched our attempt to see Lenin’s preserved body (sorry JB!!) and the line outside the Pushkin Museum was at least a few hours long, so we did fewer museums and typical sight seeing in Moscow, but I think James and my parents still got a good feel for the city and saw a lot of my favorite places there. I think the trip overall was just long enough to allow them to get a good experience of the country, but short enough not to be extremely tiring. Even so, I think everybody was ready for a break by the time Sunday rolled around. In other words, it was time for another banya, but the schedule did not permit it.

After taking my parents and James to the airport shuttle train in the morning, I took a nap and met up with my friend Estelle to go to the zoo and spend the rest of the day hanging out until my 1:00 am flight (which turned into a 2:00 am flight). I’ll write about that tomorrow, because the Moscow Zoo definitely deserves its own post…

Overall, I’m very proud of James and my parents for making the journey. It’s not easy to survive in Russia, and they had to navigate the Moscow Metro for a whole day before coming to see me in Ufa. I think it was a great experience for them to see everything directly and to meet the people who have made my year here so successful, and it was very important for me to show them the places and friends that have so deeply affected my life. A lot of my students and friends have already been asking about their NEXT trip to Russia, and although it might be awhile (or forever) before my parents return, I know James’s curiosity has been piqued and I wouldn’t be surprised if he came back next summer to continue his research of Russian music and history. Russia has its fair share of difficulties and frustrations, but glazing over all the cracks in the foundation is an irresistible, mystic attraction that draws people in time and time again. With just nine days left to go in the Mother Land, my emotions are a mix of excitement to get my feet back on American soil, a dull aching sadness to leave behind my wonderful friends and their strange and fascinating country, and a firm resolution to come back…preferably in the summer months.

William Blake/Waiting for the Family

I continued with English poetry and taught Blake’s London and Holy Thursday in class today. He was a great choice, because he uses fairly simple words but in very inventive, beautiful, and often horrific ways. I only had two students show up for my advanced class, and one of them was struggling with some of the vocabulary. Even so, I think both of them understood some of the ways Blake plays with words (…and mark in every face I meet/ Marks of weakness, marks of woe” to give just one simple example from London). One of the English teachers from the International Department stopped by towards the end of class just to sit and observe, and she came in handy for some quick translations and seemed to enjoy herself immensely.

My parents and little brother get to Ufa tomorrow at 5 am, and when I mentioned this to her as we were talking after class, she went ahead and booked a taxi for me at a discounted price. James just messaged me on Gchat, and it sounds like they are surviving in Moscow. They got to the hotel, which means they navigated the subway and train from the airport okay. Moscow is enough to intimidate anyone, even Ufans who know Russian fluently, so we’ll see how they feel tomorrow. I am slightly worried…

Either way, it’s bound to be an adventure. I am proud of them already for making it this far, and I am excited to see them and show them around this crazy country.

TOMSK/PIH’s TB Project

The whole reason I went to Tomsk was to visit Partners in Health’s tuberculosis treatment operation to find out a little bit about how the operation is run on the ground level and to meet doctors with whom I might be able to work in the future. Since the visit was related to my medical side project, after writing a semi-formal proposal to the Russian Fulbright Office, I received funding for the plane ticket and for the hotel stay.

My little single room in Sibir-Forum Hotel, right in the center of Tomsk

The bathroom with the shower in the corner to save room = wet socks

The beautiful view from my room

I landed in Tomsk around 6 in the morning. I was told in an email that the PIH people ordered a cab for me, and when I found it, I was surprised to find that Oksana Ivanovna, the Director of PIH Russia was sitting in it waiting for me. She had been on the same flight, although I don’t remember having seen her. It was cool getting a chance to talk to her right away and to explain in person what I was doing there and why I was interested in the Tomsk project. It was also pretty amazing to be chatting with a friend and colleague of Dr. Farmer, especially one who was so friendly and spoke such clear Russian that I didn’t feel lost. I think my conversation with Oksana was the last time in Tomsk that my Russian held up, because for the remainder of the trip it seemed to abandon me. My Russian is like that – it can be so fickle.

Oksana got off at the PIH office and I was driven on to my hotel. I got there around 7, so I had a few hours to rest in my room (kindly booked by one of the people in the PIH office) before meeting Nina, one of the TB doctors (in Russian, they use the term phthisilogist for a doctor who specifically works with TB patients). I had asked the PIH people via email to see how the patients in rural areas were treated. Partners in Health uses a treatment program called DOTS which stands for direct observed therapy short course, in which health professionals must personally watch as a patient takes the daily cocktail of TB meds. The medicines, often including an injection right in the booty (can you imagine that? a daily shot in the butt?), are either administered when the patient visits the clinic, hospital, or dispensary, or are delivered personally.

Nina and I drove from the hotel to the dispensary, where we met a nurse, Mariana, and we all clambered into one of the jeeps provided by PIH (with money from the Global Fund) to make navigating Russian “roads” possible. We headed out of the city and drove about an hour to a nearby village of about 1,000. Our first stop was the FAP, which is a Russian abbreviation for first aid/obstetric point, a kind of rural clinic that provides basic primary care. Nina and the nurse who accompanied us had to check on the progress of a few patients before making a few house calls.

The hallway of the FAP

A poster with information about AIDS and HIV

Standing outside the FAP looking like a clown in my baggy pants 🙂

After checking a few things at the FAP, we made our way to a few different patients’ houses to check up on them and give them instructions. A few hadn’t been coming for their medications, one needed to provide some sort of identification (though he had to use his military card because he lost his passport a long time ago), and one had to be given instructions for a lab analysis that needed to be done.

It was cool to see a snapshot of village life. People in the two small towns we visited seem to live without running water and I think without electricity. The trip also made me aware of the many logistical difficulties involved with trying to treat patients who often disappear into the Russian countryside. Even finding their houses can be tricky, because many of the streets and houses aren’t marked. People give directions like “Over there by an old shed sort of by the school” or “on such and such a road, but you have to go around the other way because the road fell apart last winter.” Plus, every other dog seems very angry. This one wasn’t…

After tracking down all the patients, we headed back to Tomsk and I finally lost the will and ability to stay awake and talk to my hosts. Nina saw the tired look on my face and encouraged me to sleep on the way back, and I marveled at how I could sleep like a little baby in the back of a jeep rolling down the jankety roads of Siberia with three people I had met only a few hours before.

Tomsk (like many Russian cities and towns) is full of cool antique buildings like this, painted brightly with really intricate wood work

The one condition for receiving financing for my trip was that I had to speak at the American Center there, so after my morning with Nina, I spent the afternoon at the library of Tomsk State University giving a lecture on health care management in the US. What do I know about health care management? As much as I could get from a little web research, and my notes consisted of the Wiki articles on HMOs, Medicare, Medicaid, and case management in the US. I actually learned a lot, but when it came time for my speech, I didn’t even use my notes and just kind of spoke about what I had understood and my general opinions about health care and how the American system walks the line between providing people with solid care but charging too much for it (although I pointed out that many people go without care). I think the audience was surprised to hear someone criticizing the American system, although there is always that inference that if the American system has so many problems, what state must the Russian system be in. The lady in charge of me had planned for a 30 minute talk, but after I got rolling and people asked questions, a whole hour had gone by.

By the time I got to the PIH office to meet back up with people, only Nina was left and the others had gone on to other work. I sat and had some tea, then went back to my hotel to rest, still only running on a few hours (or probably more like minutes) of sleep here and there. I made plans with the ETA in Tomsk, Madeline. We had a nice dinner at an Uzbek place, where the staff was unusually friendly and even attempted some English when saying goodbye as we left. I had some great grilled steak with vegetables and some pumpkin soup, and after dinner, Madeline and I stopped by a cafe by her dorm for some ice cream. I was lucky once again to have some company, and it turns out she and I are going into a similar situation next year after finishing in Russia: returning to the place where we grew up for grad school (Boston for her).

A crazy Soviet building by Madeline's dorm

The next day, I was back in the jeep disembarking from the dispensary, this time with Nastya, a nurse, to deliver medications to patients throughout the city. Despite the more urban setting, some of the places were much worse than in the country side. We had about 20 different patients on our list, and so that morning, I saw more of Tomsk than of any other Russian city I’ve been in, although probably not the nicest parts as one of the doctors at the dispensary commented to me later. Nastya was a fun person to travel with and a perfect person for the job: cute, perky, yet stern when necessary. It was fun to see the friendly, yet distanced relationship she seems to have developed with these patients who she sees daily. Even she was disturbed by some of the sights and smells we encountered, including about two dozen fish hanging up to dry in a window (strong fish smells at 9 am are never fun) and a plastic sack full of half-rotting meat which Nastya firmly asked be removed from the table before she unpacked the medicines. I was a little worried by the two patients that required us to wear respirator masks, but I did as I was told and put it on correctly before stepping into the houses. Nastya told me you can’t do it too early, otherwise the neighbors get suspicious and start to hassle the patients.

It was a lot like shadowing at regular clinics and hospitals, except the patient visits were more like house calls (the old-fashioned way) and some were extremely brief and business-like. More than anything else, it reminded me of Operation Others, a community service organization I did in high school where we delivered Christmas food packages to people after raising money throughout the year through activities and fundraisers. Even though all we were really doing was riding around in the jeep and stopping into people’s houses, after three hours I was tired from bouncing over so many potholes and I had to admire Nastya and the driver for doing this six days a week.

One of the questions I had about the PIH site here was how they managed to be so successful in a country where the medical system lags behind that of other countries, and the best answer I can come up with is that (besides having American funding), everyone I came into contact with seemed to work American hours. Whether it’s Spain, France, or Russia, everyone seems to have a little bit more free time and a more relaxing work schedule than in the States, but that certainly did not seem to be the case for the PIH people in Tomsk.

After my morning with Nastya, I was dead tired, and since Nina was tied up at the dispensary, I headed back to the hotel to find some lunch along the way and have a little nap. After I woke up, I stopped by the PIH office to meet some of the other colleagues. Salman, a Boston-based doctor who met Paul Farmer through his wife and her work in the slums of Peru, was there on a work visit, and it was fun making his acquaintance and having the chance to speak English. He was with a guy from Novosibirsk, a scientist who is involved with getting internal support for PIH. Oksana Ivanovna encouraged me to sit in on a meeting they were having, and although the Russian was pretty face-paced, I got a general idea of what was going on and it gave me an inside look into some of the details that go into making an operation like this stay afloat.

After that it was a little awkward because I wasn’t sure if they had anything else planned for me, and I was so tired that I had a hard time coming up with good questions. After everyone met in a different room of the office to interview a prospective employee, I thanked everyone, made plans with Oksana for our ride to the airport in the morning, and left.

For the rest of the evening, I walked around Lenin Prospekt and enjoyed the increase in temperature. It was still pretty cold even then, especially after the balmy weather in Moscow. That morning it was in the 40s and even after it warmed up a little bit, I was chilly in the outer shell of my winter coat. In that respect, Siberia did not fail to meet my expectations.

Modern = Friendly to other races? (I didn't think that was the case in Russia)

This is Tom Waits, no?

Overall my trip was a success, although that last lay over in Moscow was a little much and by the time I was on the plane headed back to Ufa with a terrible headache, I was HURTING.

Not only did I get a chance to directly observe how the DOTS program is administered, I got to meet the doctors who make it happen in person. Although I am still not sure what I will do next summer, Oksana Ivanovna made it sound like they were perfectly willing to let me come and do my summer primary care rotation there in Tomsk. At this point, I’m not sure how likely that is, but at least the offer is there.

As a whole I admire what PIH is doing in Tomsk, and I know I only saw a tiny percentage of the total number of patients who receive assistance from the organization and their foreign donors. The work of international non-profits is never simple, however, and any time a program is dependent on foreign aid, one has to question the likelihood of it being sustainable and whether in the long run it benefits the recipient country. Such work in a poor country like Haiti is one thing, but Russia is a different matter altogether. Russia is not a poor country, and walking along the Stoleshnikov Pereulok with its fashionable boutiques and word famous brand name stores is a reminder that Moscow is now home to more billionaires than any other city in the world. Clearly, their money isn’t trickling down to the poor TB-inflicted in Tomsk, which is why organizations like PIH are prompted to do what they can to treat the underserved. One has to wonder, though, that if the money continues to come from the US, whether the members of Russia’s upper class will ever take the initiative to look after their own.

Moscow in the Summer

I decided to split up the story of my trip into two posts, one about Moscow and one about Tomsk. Partly because of limited flights to Siberia and partly because I had to wait to receive financing and wasn’t able to book my ticket until a few weeks before I left, I had to fly through Moscow (and wait for a whole day each way) to get to Tomsk and back. The day I spent on the way there was a lot of fun, but to be honest, on the way back, I was ready to be home.

I couldn’t believe the difference in the city from the last time I was there in January. Moscow is a whole new place when the weather is nice, and it was absolutely perfect when I was there. I didn’t get any sleep the night before my trip, so that first day in Moscow, I was painfully tired and actually ended up sleeping/resting/reading for a few hours in a park before meeting up with Adam, another teacher who is posted in Pushchino (a little town about 2 hours south of Moscow) and who was in Moscow for the weekend. We had a nice lunch of shashliki (meat skewers) and hachipuri (kind of like cheese bread in the shape of a boat with a fried egg on top, a Caucasian dish that I’ve written about before). It was fun to catch up and it was cool having someone to meet up with in Moscow. Adam is great, and he’s the perfect person to meet up with because he is always armed with several good ideas about where to go. He also does this thing called Geo-caching, where you use a GPS to find hidden time capsule objects and leave little trinkets for other people to find and exchange. Before lunch, we found one and signed our names on it and left a little 50 kopeck coin inside.

The rest of the day before my overnight flight to Tomsk I just kind of wandered around enjoying the nice weather and exploring parts of Moscow I’d never been in before. The Russian capital is truly unique, although if you can compare it to anything, it’s like a lot of other European capitals but Paris in particular, especially with all the parks randomly interspersed with the old buildings and twisted streets.

On the second day I rode into Moscow from the airport with Oksana Ivanovna (see Tomsk post) in the Partners in Health company car. There were some serious traffic jams, and the trip ended up taking us 2 hours (versus 45 minutes in the Aeroexpress train), but I was tired and didn’t really care, and I saved about $11. I walked around a little bit, stopped at a few food stands for pirozhki (like little runzas) and then went to this cool bar (Bar Strelka) by the river just to have a place to read. I got some sweet potato hummus that was INCREDIBLE and spent a few hours there reading on their veranda and enjoying the weather and the river scenery. I headed back to the airport a few hours earlier than I needed, but I was tired. I thought about going to the Pushkin Museum, but I figured I’d wait since I’ll probably end up going there with my parents and brother next weekend. I started to get a raging, gut-wrenching headache for some reason, probably from lack of sleep throughout the entire trip, and it didn’t go away until I landed in Ufa. I think Bashkiria was just calling me back, and I couldn’t be at peace until I got ‘home.’

The view from the tree where I had a nice rest

Moscow's ЦУМ (which stands for Central, Universal, Fashionable - all true!)

I thought this was a cool picture and could be used in one of those cell phone commercials where everything is in the shape of four full bars

Somehow these people make money from letting people take pictures with their reptiles...

The Highwayman Rides to Russia

Over Christmas break, I made a gazillion photocopies at the FedEx Office store to use in class, and one of the things I made handouts of was The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. My mom used to read it to my brothers and me when we were little, and before I taught it today, I don’t think I had read it since those nights gathered together on the big bed in my parents’ room. Even though it was full of incredibly difficult vocabulary, rendering it extremely hard to translate, I had so much fun reading it aloud to my classes and having them guess the story. A few of them managed to discern the love story element, some even the violence of it, and I think all of them at least appreciated how rhythmic and beautiful it sounds when read aloud.

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes (



THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.


He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.


Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—


“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”


He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.



He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
King George’s men came matching, up to the old inn-door.


They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.


They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her.
She heard the dead man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!


She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!


The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain .


Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!


Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.


He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.


Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

*           *           *           *           *           *


And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.


Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Final Rent Payment – PAID

My landlords stopped by tonight to collect my final rent payment. The countdown has begun. We exchanged home phone numbers and email addresses, so I can look them up when I come back and in case their son comes to the States on the Work and Travel Program and needs help with anything.

I leave Ufa exactly one month from today, and it will surely be an action-packed month. Oleg and Gulnara were surprised when I told them I would be in Tomsk next week, as most people are about my random trip 2,000 kilometers East. It feels odd that I’ll be visiting Siberia in the spring/summer, but I am glad I won’t have to wear my fur coat on the plane (although there are jokes that the only difference between how Siberians dress in the winter and summer is that in the summer they can wear their coats unzipped).

I started teaching my little brother a little bit of Russian in preparation for his trip (in two weeks already!), and it reminded me of how much time I’ve actually put into studying the language, especially the grammar. Sometimes I doubt my decision to pursue a relatively obscure language, when I could have spent more time and perhaps achieved better results studying Spanish. But in the end, I truly have no regrets and there was a reason I went on to pursue the path that I did. I tend to be one of those people who always thinks whatever sequence of events that occurs happened for a reason, even if this is just a human deception we embrace to deal with what life throws our way.

Raul and I always talk about how I was sort of meant to come to Ufa, and even though it’s just us bordering on our mystic side, things certainly feel that way sometimes. Anytime you live somewhere for an extended period of time, you start to take a lot for granted, and probably what I take for granted the most is how fortunate I have been to meet such good friends and acquaintances. It won’t be hard to leave some parts of Mother Russia behind, but it’s strange and sad to think in a month I’ll be saying goodbye to so many people without being sure of the next time I’ll see them again. As Russians say, though, the world is round, and my relationships with my Ufans will not be ending so soon.   : )