Feb 28, 2011

Человек и Мир (Return to Russia)

Let's play pictionary!  I'm going to tell a story, and you have to fill in the missing words, based on the pictures I upload in their place. 

After my Portland send-off by

I rode the bus to Boston, where United Airlines was kind enough to cancel my flight, pay for my hotel, and thus, help me relax before my trip.  I won't get into the details of the cancelation, but I went in an out of a lot of airport terminals.  I got three of those much-hyped TSA full-body massages, which were nice, but they missed all sorts of tension in my hands, feet and neck.  I figured that a lifetime of studying Russia will radiate me plenty, so I didn't need the extra doses stateside.    I finally got on my Austrian Airlines flight to Dulles, where I learned all about Austrian culture from the screen on the seatback in front of me. They showed me a 20-second film loop that alternated between glamour shots of a 767 flying over the Alps, and footage of a woman in peasant dress hauling huge wheels of cheese into a cellar.  Seems very nice there.

From Dulles, I finally departed from

I fell asleep over Newfoundland with the sun behind us, and woke up over Germany with presumably the same sun right in front of us.  At first I panicked, because the pilot should have known to fly out of the sun, but we somehow still landed safely in

Then I flew my last leg to Krasnodar, and was picked up at the airport by two of the university's students, Katia and Zarema, who accompanied me for the drive from Krasnodar to Maikop. To you, that's about the same distance as a drive from Orёl to Kursk, maybe 100 miles as the MiG flies.  Once we arrived, they showed me to Dormitory 3.  After three days of travel, I had finally arrived in


I won't detail my living conditions here, so just assume that they are opulent.  I will relay one story.  Katia and Zarema, on the drive to Maikop, chatted with me (in very good English) about travel around the Caucasus.  They told me which republics were safe, which were unstable, and which ones I should visit, which oddly enough didn't align perfectly with the first category.  Then, they told me to be prepared - all nine of the floors in my dorm are occupied by students in the "sports" department.  I didn't know that you could major in sports, and I asked what kind of kids they were.  Zarema said, "well, they're all from the republics we just told you not to go to."  And then I asked, "what sports are we talking about?" and Katia said, in English, "fighting."

So I unpacked my things, learned how to open all three ancient locks between me and the fire escape, sparred a little bit with my Chechen neighbor Artur, and fell right asleep.  That's right, fell right asleep.  This is maybe the most importan lesson you'll learn on this blog - I beat jetlag.  I did it with my innovative three-pronged approach (adjusting my sleep schedule ahead of time, staying hydrated, and not being a little pansy), and you can too.  I slept very well the first few nights.


I wrote this entry a week ago.  A lot has happened since.  For example, we celebrated Day of the Defender of the Fatherland, the world's second manliest holiday after Boxing Day.  I spent the entire day coughing and sneezing on the couch, while my professor's mom brought me tea and cookies.  Don't tell any men. 

Actually, in my defense, and in defense of my fatherland, I got really sick.  That's the big story, and the reason this entry is late. I got really, really sick, with flu, and then I had a fever for four days and the disease spread to my everything.  Some terrible combination of factors contributed to a very serious case of it.  One factor was my dorm room.  The university is really forward-thinking, and they have all sorts of green-energy initiatives going on the student dorms - for instance, to save energy, they stopped heating my room.  And to save glass, instead of a double or single pane window, they installed a 9/10 pane window, which hasn't even made it to America yet.  Basically it's a pane of glass, except it only covers 9/10 of the hole in the wall made for it.  Jetlag may have played a role, but I like to think not.  By far the biggest factor, though, was that at some point I came into contact with the flu.  In fact, that's always the biggest factor when people get flu.  So I got flu.  At one point, my fever was so high that every time I closed my eyes, I heard three Turkish men engaging in a conversation about the Qu'ran, only I couldn't make out every word, because I was listening from underwater.  Then I'd open my eyes, orient myself in reality, and decide that was not really happening.  As soon as I closed them, though, I was underwater again, listening to the same Turks have the same conversation about the Qu'ran.  Two hours of that.  My fever was 39.2 degrees celcius, which I converted to Farenheit by hand at the time.  112 degrees.  But things got better.  Much, much better.

At this critical juncture, the wonderful, generous, hospitable parents of Elena Ivanovna, my Russian professor/Russian inspiration, invited me to move to their home to get well.  Elena Ivanovna is from Maikop (that's how I found this job), and her parents, as well as her sister and brother-in-law, live in the city.  I will speak more of her (and definitely more of Maikop) in the future.  Anyway, her parents, risking their own health, took me in, gave me a room, fed me, called the school for me, conversed with me, and otherwise took a terrible situation and made it quite like home.  After 4 days, I still had a fever, so they took me to their doctor, who (get ready for your public shaming, America) saw me for free, and prescribed 6 different antibiotics, anti-virals, throat sprays, etc. which cost a total of $50.  I'm still not 100% back to health, but well on my way.  Everybody thank Elena's parents in the comment section; they took what could have been a real nightmare, and made it very comfortable for me.  I can't express my gratitutde enough, not in English, and certainly not in Russian.

So I'm just going to post this without much review, and write the other entries I've already prepared later.   As for my 'ongoing themes,' the graduate school one has ended.  I got rejected everywhere else.  Harvard sent me a polite form-letter rejection, and I didn't really want to go there anyway, but to save face I'm going to pretend it was an acceptance and politely decline.  If they write back, I'll post the exchange here.  Stay tuned to learn about Maikop and the Adyghe people, Russian economics, and how I almost got my bell rung by a giant chunk of falling ice.  Actually that's the whole story.  Could've easily killed me; didn't. 


Natasha said...

So how was Boston????

Carrie said...

Your camera appears to be doing a good job. Keep the pictures coming, and how about some HD videos too! Glad to hear you're feeling better.

Joanna said...


Kam said...

God, don't you hate how pushy she is with the questions, without actually sharing any personal info of her own? Elena's parents would never do such a thing!

I really liked the couch shot. I really hope that's not from Corbis or something.

Roberta said...

Glad you are feeling better...getting sick abroad is terrible....glad you had someone to take care of you!

beth said...

The bed. Funniest thing ever.

SusannaMMMerrill said...

DZHOSEEEEFFFF, I'm so sorry you were so sick!! That sounds terrible and scary. Way worse than when we were hanging out with that stuffed bear in the hotel lobby in Ulan Ude. Glad you had someone to rescue you; keep the stories coming.