Oct 9, 2007

Моя первая двойка (On school and settling in)

Well, I found the answer to my first question, about the Russians going to space before us. Education here... is a real serious matter. While our astronauts were enjoying nap time in kindergarten, the Russians were still awake playing Math-blaster. And when all the kids in my astronomy 101 class last year ditched, 'cause we wanted to play in the snow, I'm sure some young cosmonaut was already putting on his space-helmet. They really, really don't mess around over here.

Example: (and also, our story this week): I'm taking a class on the history of Siberia. We learned last week about Ermak, bold Cossack warrior/Russian folk hero, who was the first to claim land for the Tsar in Siberia. He braved the Urals in the winter, sailed into unknown lands, conquered the savage mongols, etc etc. Yeah, I hadn't heard of him either. The point is, our professor clearly had a special place in her heart for him. But since this is still the 1500's, not much was actually known about his personal life. And we got an assignment, to 'create a biography' for Ermak, to write about his youth and his time in Siberia.

And so I thought to myself, "Отлично! What an opportunity to make a good first impression!" and got to work on my creative writing project. I pored over the dictionary, invented a whole back-story, and even got into his family issues. I also drew a picture, in the style of the ones in our textbook.

My story went like this: Ermak's brother was a fierce warrior, the size of five men, famous throughout the land, etc. And so the Tsar hired him for the job, and he gathered up forty of his most courageous soldiers. But his overbearing mother had a different idea. See, she never let him travel or conquer without his whiny little brother, Ermak. Ermak was weak and lazy, and spent most of his days cleaning around the fort, and reading and writing stories. A thinker, not a do-er. So anyway, they all set off for Siberia, and had all their great battles and adventures, while Ermak sat in the boat, fishing and writing fictional accounts of his own heroism.

Subtitle: "Ermak hides behind a tree." Those are Mongols with the bows and arrows... the Cossaks are on stick-horses.

And when the Siberian winters and natives killed off the last of the Cossack warriors, Ermak's mom came and picked him up. And then back in Moscow, he turned in all his bogus stories to the Tsar, and went home to sleep.

This is me with my paper. In Russian, a big green"2" means "D." And get this... you don't even get bonus points for illustrations. Sure they got into space first... but I'll bet our astronauts have higher self-esteem, and all know that they're special in their own, unique way.
So as it turns out, the culture here is a little bit different than at home. About a week ago, I had a four or five day period of silence, when I felt like I'd never heard the language before in my life. Spent some time lying around the apartment, listening to good old-fashioned American music, and otherwise felt terrible. But nothing serious, it did pass. After that, I had a period of crazy rapid learning, so again... like every week... things are going according to plan.
And I'm starting to get a sense of how culture gets absorbed, one tiny bit at a time. Every day, I see a handful of things that don't happen at home... and they get filed away in my brain. For instance... Russians make use of stuff that we would consider trash. I guess thats the most obvious of cultural realizations... that Americans are kinda a little bit wasteful. But yeah.. I see Ninel dragging stuff around the garden using ragged old tarps, or Viktor fixing his brick oven with some scrap metal and a hammer, etc. And after an entire year... I can see how the things that appeal to me might seep into my brain. And of course, there are the less pretty things. The neighbors have been doing some real serious fighting, very very often, which is pretty tough to listen to through the walls sometimes. Ninel told me her life story, about the 30's, and the war, and the periods of hunger, and so forth. And so I also get that, a million comments and thoughts and stories, that will eventually build into a good picture of why Russia is the way it is.
It's still a long, long way off... but at the moment, it feels like it should all add up to something pretty new and important, if I make it through the year. And the odds in Vegas are better now than ever. Of course, it all looks different every day, depending on how many times i make a fool of myself trying to talk to people. But at the moment, things are good, I'm learning, and today we had our first snowfall. So the show goes on.

Wanna see my impression of a Russian?

This week's question: I don't really like the 'question' part all that much, and don't think it adds anything, so should I stop doing it?


Natasha said...
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Natasha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Natasha said...

ocя, твая история очeнь интересная, но я боюсь что ты обидел патриотов, что можит объястьнить двойку.

а то что соседи громко ругаются, это часто звучит хужо чем оно есть на самом деле. просто русские любят громко и агресивно разговаривать.

beth said...

wow. you look just like one of those "american taxi" drivers. you know, the white cabs that always had crabby drivers. is there a connection here?