Saturday, November 20, 2010
Remember Remember the Month of November
What I didn't realize is that my last entry rather nicely left off pretty much right at the start of November, so hopefully in this entry I can really bite the bullet and get everybody up to speed. November has been a super busy month for me, which has been great for many reasons, including but not limited to the fact that staying busy distracts me from the fact that we're losing daylight here like no ones business (we already have less than eight hours of sunlight a day) and the weather is absolutely atrocious (today marks about the 20th day since I've seen the sun). I'm going to try and start at the beginning of the month and work my way through gradually, but if I remember things later I'm just going to throw them in.
At the start of November (actually the week before, but whatever) I started work at the "Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg", a advocacy group that fights for Russian soldiers who have had their rights violated by the Russian Army, and helps draft age men assert their right to other forms of civil service if they are not draft eligible. The work is hard, and often times mind numbing in terms of the violence and suffering these young men, often times only 17 or 18, have been exposed to. I had originally hoped to volunteer at an orphanage, kick a soccer ball around with some kids for a few hours a week to relieve stress and give something back, but this is definitely better. "Soldiers' Mothers" does really important work (they currently have three cases before the world court) and it's really an honor to contribute in some way.
The first week in November we largely had off. That Wednesday was "National Unity Day", supposedly commemorating the day Kuzma Minin and Prince Pozharsky drove the Poles out of Russia to end the "Time of Troubles" in the mid-1600's. As luck would have it, that was the week my good friend Nicola came to visit. We had a lovely week together, and I think Nicola got to see Russia at its most Russian. One of our more interesting adventures was going bowling. After meeting up with my friend Kelsey and enjoying some of Russia's finer (IE cheaper) and more delicious (Jaguar, the finest "alco-energy drink Russia has to offer) beverages, we made a journey through the metro to Sennaya Ploschad, where we enjoyed another one Russia's favorite pastimes, eating at McDonald's. All along the way we had adventures. While purchasing Jaguars, a random Russian man approached Nicola and Kelsey. Kelsey knew the drill, say anything and everything to get the creeper to go away. As I leave the store and hand out the beverages, our new friend decides to befriend me as well. Rather lovingly holding an umbrella over my head, the man asked if we were Finns. I know the drill too, and launch into a story about how we're Canadian students (not American but close) who don't speak much Russian. What I hadn't realized is that Kelsey had in fact informed this same man that we were English bloggers in Russia writing something about blogs. Our dear friend finally made the connection that we were in fact not Finns, English, Canadians, but people who just wanted him to go away. After informing me that I was an asshole who spoke Russian just fine, our dear friend walked away, never to be seen again.
But that wasn't even close to the end of our adventures. The second bizarre occurence transpired at good Mickey D's. Since Nicola doesn't speak any Russian, she rather intelligently asked for me to order her chicken nuggets for her. I rather politely tell the lady at the counter that I would like a Big Mac, fries, and a drink, as well as Nicola's meal of nuggets, fries, and a coke. After staring at me for about 20 seconds, the girl behind the register simply starts laughing and tells me that I am in fact far too high to order chicken nuggets. This is where I got confused. First off, I was inebriated, not high, and two, WERE I to be high, wouldn't she want me to buy more chicken nuggets? From my experience, you tell a high person they want 100 chicken nuggets and they would probably agree with you. The girl however, didn't seem to understand the fact that beer and jaguar makes you drunk, or the basic rules of making a profit, and I was denied Nicola's chicken nuggets. Kelsey however, who valiantly agreed to try her luck accruing some chickeny goodness, apparently was just high enough, and got the nuggets no problem.
Our last adventure comes at the bowling alley itself. Even on a Wednesday night, the 36 lane bowling alley is completely packed, so we have to wait over an hour for a lane. Nicola and I decide we want to play air hockey as we wait. We turn the table on, but no pucks come out. Rather incensed at the prospect of losing 100 rubles to the air hockey table, I inform one of the bowling alley workers the table is broken, and that I would like him to fix it. After poking around the table rather half-assedly for about 12 seconds the dope looks at me and informs me there is nothing he can do, and walks away. I know that customer service doesn't exist in Russia, but this was too much for even me. I stop him and inform him that if the table doesn't work, than I want my money back. When he tells me he can't do that, I tell him he better get to work fixing the table. Rather flabergasted by this, he returns to the table, and again does nothing. He finally looks to me and tells me that I need to call the air hockey table and get them to fix it, or give my money back. I tell him that he needs to call. After about 20 seconds of this he points to the table and says that I can call using that phone. Now, I might be dumb, but I know that no air hockey table has a phone built into it. We go back and forth again, until he finally begins to walk away once again. This is the scene of my great victory; as he walks away I offer him a few choice phrases about the various things he can do with the male anatomy. Cowed, shocked, or both, he returns and offers Nicola and I a free game on the Nascar simulator. Great success.
And so the night went on. In my first experience with anything other than candle pin bowling, I bowled a rather horrible 22, but a good time was had by all.
The rest of the week was a success as well, we saw bears on leashes, bad Russian driving, and made an excursion out to Vyborg, a city on the Russo-Finish border that was the closest thing to sanity and the real world that I've gotten to in almost three months. Like all things Russia has come to possess however, Vyborg has seen better days. We spent the day climbing on ruins, imitating Russians and their rather preposterous photo shoots. I'm going to post this entry to stop it from being too long, but I will finish it soon!