Saturday, June 30, 2012

A funny story about miscommunication.....

I have been in Kazan now for a month and when I first arrived, my babyshka told me (or so I thought) that the washing machine didn't work) so I have been washing my clothes by hand since I arrived. My babyshka tried to take a pile of clothes from me earlier in the week thinking I was going to wash them when instead I was going to take a shower...which forced me to learn the verbs for both functions (so I guess it was a good lesson to learn)! I wasn't going to have a 60 year old woman washing all my clothes by hand so I decided to do laundry this weekend while she was gone. This is not a small task and usually takes entire weekend with five different loads of different laundry in order to get everything clean. Then it takes another couple of days for everything to dry. Below is a picture of what our bathroom looked like after round 1 of laundry on Friday night. 

Since I start with underwear and smaller things, those usually dry by the end of the next day when I can move on to the bigger things which I washed all by hand tonight. My babyshka came home from the Dacha tonight and I told her I did laundry. She went in to look at everything sopping wet including my jeans which are the roughest to wash by hand and she said why didn't you let me use the machine to wash them. I said well I thought the machine was broken and she said no she is just the only who can work it properly because the machine is old and there are some glitches that only she can fix to make it work correctly. I felt so stupid and she was probably thinking I was such an idiot because I spent hours washing my laundry by hand. So the moral of the story is don't assume anything and always ask questions! Thankfully this story has a happy ending because I won't have to spend any more Friday and Saturday nights in Kazan doing my laundry!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Pictures from Kazan

We had a really busy with homework and tests so I didn't have much time to go out and explore the city this week. I thought I would take the time to post some random pictures of things around the city I have seen but haven't posted since I got here! 

The obligatory statue of Lenin in Freedom Square. Behind him is the building for the Parliament of the Republic of Tatarstan.

This is the Tatar State Humanitarian-Pedagogical University with a statue of  Salikh Saidashev, a Tatar composer.

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral which is right down the street from my institute but I haven't had a chance to go inside yet!
The banks of Lake Kuban 

A statue of Pushkin and bust of Tolstoy....only the latter actually lived in Kazan!

The picture on the left is signifying a manhole which is a "luk" in Russian...and the graffiti underneath it says "I am your father"! So wonderful to see Star Wars references on the street in Kazan! The picture on the right is for a showing of a Film that was made based off of the Paris, Je t'aime and New York, I love you sister loves those movies so I thought I would post something on it! I am going to try and see it while I am here!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Russians are a very superstitious people and any blog on this region has to include a post about this because they are constantly offering foreigners helpful advice on how to survive Russia. Here is a list I have been compiling of the many things you can do to avoid getting scolded and the most common reasoning behind the advice! If you commit any of these offenses you should stop doing that action immediately and spit three times over your left shoulder (the Russian equivalent of knocking on wood).

Never leave the house with wet hair=this means you will get hypothermia and die even when it is 90 degrees out!

Never sit by or in an air conditioned room=this means you will get sick. One of the students in our class was sick and the teacher said it was because he sat close to the air conditioner!

Never drink cold water=means you will get sick. Even in hot weather a good Russian always drinkings boiling hot tea!

Never open a window on a crowded bus or a stuffy room=this leads to cross winds which mean you will get sick...gusts of air scare the average Russian!

Never sit on the floor= this means that your ovaries will dry up! Although I have also heard them say this to men but I am not sure exactly what reproductive organ is targeted! The director of the NGO told me on Friday that a couple of men who are in the office next store were concerned that someone (me) was sitting on the floor outside of their office the week before (I was waiting for one of my colleagues to come and open the office). Didn't that person know it was bad for them to sit on the cold dirty floor? Then she told them that that was her American volunteer and they said she is American oh then the rules don't apply to I guess all of the advice above doesn't apply to me after all! I bet that won't stop lots of people from mentioning it to me throughout the rest of my trip!

Saturday, June 23, 2012


We had our first day long excursion today to Yelabuga which is a town on the other side of the Republic of Tatarstan. We spent three hours on the bus going there and another three hours coming back so it was a long day! Plus the roads were mostly one lane so there was a lot of passing and jerking back and forth because the bus was an automatic! We arrived and had a welcome party complete with folk costumes and traditional singing and dancing!

They also had samples of Chak-Chak, a traditional Tatar dessert which is like Rice Crispies dipped in honey. This is a photo of the bus and all of us enjoying the music! After the music and dancing we enjoyed a traditional Tatar meal which first consisted of a toast with horseradish vodka. They call it "The Fly" which is part of the traditional hospitality in this region and is a small glass of liquor which they bring to costumers before they order. The glass is pictured below. After that we were entertained with local folk songs by a man playing the smallest accordion I have ever seen! For lunch we were served a potato and meat dish in a fun looking pot!

Yelabuga is a traditional country town in Tatarstan with churches and mosques. This is a picture of one of the side streets. 
We climbed to the top of that church to get a view of the town. Since it was an Orthodox church women have to cover their heads....which is why I am wearing that scarf and look like a babyshka!
Russians have a wedding tradition of locking locks with their names and wedding date on them to bridges and throwing away the key. Here is one of the bridges in that town.

Here is a picture of me and some of the students in my language group (taken by Andrew) at the end of the bridge.

In our literature class we have been learning about the Poet Marina Tsvetaeva who lived in this town after she was ostracized by the Soviet regime. She committed suicide in this house and now they have a memorial museum dedicated to her.

 This is her final home as our instructor put it.

This is Devil's Tower, a tower that stands where the old castle was located and hosts a spectacular view of where the Volga (like the Mississippi of Russia because it cuts through the middle of the country) and Kama rivers join.


Friday, June 22, 2012

The Blue Shawl

One thing I love about Europe is that what seemed like a normal meeting with my tutor can turn into a fun evening at the Tatar theater...the only sad thing is that I didn't bring my camera! I met my tutor on Friday afternoon at the Soviet Lifestyle Museum and we were joined by her in-laws and the American host parents of her husband. He lived in Missouri in high school and his host parents were in town visiting. It was fun to hang out with them and I got to practice my translation skills which is always good! They were headed to the Galiaskar Kamal Tatar Academic Theater that evening and invited me to come along to the last showing of the Blue Shawl. They didn't have an extra ticket so we went to the box office to see if there were any left. Unfortunately, there were none left so my tutor thought maybe someone standing at the front of the theater might be selling extra tickets. She yelled is anyone selling tickets and it turns out a couple of girls had an extra ticket so I bought it for 100 Rubles (which is about $3). The play was in Tatar so I needed to get an ear piece so you can listen to a translation in Russian or English. Once we got in we realized that my ticket that was on the balcony did not have a space for the earpiece so my tutor's father in law who speaks Tatar generously changed seats with me so I could understand the play. The performance was wonderful and was about Sabantuy the midsummer's festival celebrated here in Tatarstan. There was a lot of singing and dancing and the play reminded me a lot of Skroderienas silmačos a Latvian play about Jani, the midsummer's festival there. The big difference was there was a Sultan lots of wives and an Imam because Tatars are Muslim. It was a really wonderful evening! Here is a photo of the performance that was posted on the Kazan tourism page so you can see the beautiful costumes and the blue shawl that the play was based on! 


This is a photo of four of the sultan's many wives and their costumes. People clapped when these women came out so I think they must be famous actresses in Tatarstan.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Second Day at the NGO

Today I went back to the Women's Crisis Center Fatima to discuss what I would be doing to help them out during my stay in Kazan. I basically met the rest of the staff which included an assistant to the director and two psychologists who were very excited to meet an American. There is also another person who answers the crisis hotline and conducts social services with the victims but I haven't met her yet. The NGO is run out of a small one room office so I should get to know them all very well. 

My colleagues told me that the Center was started by an IREX and the US State Department grant which made me proud of all the work the US government has done to combat this crime around the world. During the meeting I found out a ton more about this organization and the programs that they run and I am really excited to work with a number of enthusiastic women (who speak really quickly in Russian but are very passionate about their work)! I am going to help them out with their website and translate it into English. I also will be working on grants for them since that is how non-profits like this keep their doors open. Then there are various projects and trainings I will be helping out with/observing for my research. Between class and all the Russian homework I have I can only go twice a week after class now but maybe the homework will get easier as the program continues and then I can go more!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fatima Crisis Center

I had my first meeting with the Director of the anti-trafficking organization that I will be working with while I am in Kazan. The name of the organization is the Women's Crisis Center "Fatima" or ЖКЦ «Фатима» for short. The office of the organization is one room (and a safehouse at an undisclosed location) but I am excited to see what I can do to help them with their human trafficking programs. The Director is a really nice women who was very excited to meet with me. She told my tutor when we called that she spoke English but when I arrived at the meeting she said my Russian was better than her English and so we spoke in Russian. Luckily I understand the field of human trafficking so the terminology was familiar but I still got about 70 percent of what she was saying. Since Tatarstan is a rich republic they have a lot more social programs than other places in Russia and so the Center provides not only trafficking rehabilitation services but also domestic violence, incest, and other problems faced by women in this region. So it will be very interesting to see what all these programs entail and how the regional and central government provide support without a real legal framework to work with. I am headed back on Wednesday when the real work begins!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Night at the Ballet: Swan Lake

Last night, as one of our cultural excursions, we went to the M. Jalil Opera and Ballet Tatar Academic Theater to see a performance of my favorite ballet Swan Lake by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. I really love the music in this ballet and the costumes were so beautiful. There were even a couple of interesting Tatar adaptations to the costumes with guests at the ball which were fun to see. Here is a picture of the outside and inside of the theater and a couple of the performance. 


Kazan Kremlin

We had our first excursion today to the Kremlin in Kazan which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The earlier post about Kazan shows a picture of the entire Kremlin from across the river. I haven't made it over there yet but these are the up close and personal photos of the most interesting buildings in the Kremlin (some of the buildings are just offices). 

This is the gate to the Kremlin (it is a walled complex) and a view from the Kremlin of the city.

This is the Kul Sharif Mosque. We were able to go inside but we couldn't take any pictures. Women had to cover their heads and if your shorts or dress didn't go down to your knee you also had to have a covering for your knees as well. Men who had shorts above the knee also had to cover them! It was the first Mosque I have ever been in and was very beautiful, because they don't have pews there were beautiful rugs on the floor for the men to pray on. Sometimes there is an extra room fro the women to pray in but there was no such room at this mosque which made me kind of sad!  


Above is the Annunciation Cathedral which is an Orthodox church about 100 meters away from the Mosque. It is really interesting how the two religions and cultures have existed together in this city since Ivan the Terrible conquered the Kazan Khanate in 1552. The leaning tower to the right is the Syuyumbike Tower which was built by Ivan the Terrible for the niece of the deposed Khan whom he wanted to marry. Legend has it that she agreed to marry him (he was pretty crazy hence the name) if he built her the highest tower that he had ever seen. When it was finished she threw herself off the tower and fell to her death. The tower leans as you can see from the picture so clearly he didn't put that much thought into the construction but yet it is still standing today!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Russia Day

Interestingly my birthday and Russia Day fall on the same day so the entire country had the day off to celebrate with me! While this day is a holiday, all the Russians I asked could not explain what Russia Day actually was or what they were commemorating. A little bit of internet research revealed that June 12, 1990 was the day the First Congress of People's Deputies of the Russian Federation adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. So basically it is independence day from Soviet Union and is viewed with general apathy in Russia because of the mixed feelings in the country about the fall of the Soviet Union.

This is the celebration on Bauman Street, the central pedestrian street in Kazan.

They let the flag go during the Russian national anthem and it flew over this church. The blue flag in front is the flag of Putin's party United Russia.

At first I thought these were anti-Putin protesters but a little bit more research revealed that they supported the regime which is why they were able to protest even despite a large police presence as evidenced in the pictures below.  The sign on the right says Putin lives.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Victory Park

We each have a language partner who we meet with twice a week to go over homework and go on cultural excursions. My partner's name is Roza and she is Tatar which is fun because we talk a lot about the language policies and I get to compare it Latvia....a possible paper topic in the future! Plus she is my age which is nice! On our first excursion I met her at Victory Park, a monument in the city that built to commemorate all the people who died in World War II. I got really lost and ended up sitting on a marshrutka (small buses which are very popular in the Post-Soviet world) for like an hour. I even went to the end of the line and kept asking the conductor which stop to get off at and he just told me to sit down. I finally made it to the park which was on the other side of the river! The park was similar to the one in Latvia but has a different connotation here. They also have a bunch of tanks and army machinery there to look at.


This is a monument to the mothers of the soldiers which I thought was interesting! All of the memorials were in Tatar and Russian too which I thought was great!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Host Family

While on the program we live with host families, which worried many of the students on the program but since I had such a great experience with my family in Latvia, I was confident the transition would be ok. I live about 20 minutes from the Institute with an older lady who is retired and I call her my Russian babyshka or grandma. I also live with a cat name Toshka. I love cats but unfortunately Matt is allergic to them so we can never get one of I was especially excited to find out that a cat was part of my host family! Her name is Toshka and she is a little grey cat that is about two years old. We live on the first floor so we just leave a window open and Toshka comes and goes as she pleases.  I was excited until 6 am on Sunday morning when she brought home a live mouse to play with in the hallway...I shut my door and when I emerged an hour later the cat and the mouse were gone.

Toshka comes in my room to check out what is going she is sitting on top of the book shelf watching me study!
Like all famous people Toshka doesn't like to have her photo taken!

Friday, June 8, 2012


I arrived in Kazan on Wednesday after three flights and running through the Moscow airport to get through customs and make the flight to Kazan. Kazan is about 500 miles from Moscow on the Volga River in central Russia. Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan and is a city of about 1.2 million people so it is little bit bigger than Riga. The city is approximately 50 percent Russian and 50 percent Muslim Tatar. The street signs are in Russian and Tatar but most of the language you hear on the street is Russian. We spent the first couple days acclimating to our host families and the city and taking language exams at the Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities where we will have our language classes. So far the city is beautiful and below is a picture of the Kremlin which we will visit on Tuesday.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Orientation for CLS

On June 3 I boarded a plane to Washington D.C. for orientation for the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS). This scholarship is a U.S. Department of State Program for the study of languages critical to U.S. foreign policy.  I will spend the next eight weeks in an intensive language institute in Kazan, Russia on this group-based intensive language program with structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to increase language fluency and cultural competency. Orientation will last until the 5th when we will fly together from DC to Frankfurt to Moscow and then finally Kazan. The program comes with a language pledge which means that I can only speak Russian with my fellow students while in class, with my host family, at the institute and on group excursions. I think this is going to be the most challenging part of the program but I know that it will only help me when I continue my research in Ukraine so I am optimistic about it! Plus I hope to volunteer with a local shelter on human trafficking issues so it will help my research in that respect as well!

I also should mention that although I am on a US State Department program the ideas and opinions on my blog are mine alone and do not reflect the thoughts of the US government or State Department in anyway.