Friday, June 29, 2012

Now for an unbiased post on the best topic in the world: Language

You know I've been waiting to talk about this one! Oh, and apologies for the delay in my posting. Lately, during my breaks instead of writing blogposts (like I used to) I've been napping with Pechorin the cat. Look how happy we are!

Well, back to business. If you know me, you know that certain things make me the happiest person in the world--i.e., playing with kittens, eating bagels, and playing computer games with my best friend--and the other day I got to combine two of my favorites: cartoons and language. For some reason, I just can't get enough of languages with really tough grammar. I mean why else would I choose to study Russian? And then, well my love of cartoons is beyond logic or explanation. Anyway, a few days ago we had a family movie night, and everyone gathered around to watch How to Train Your Dragon together... in Russian! I was in heaven. And it got me thinking about how sometimes you don't have to completely understand the language to enjoy the activity. So I came up with this list.

Things that need no language: 
    1. Sports
        Living in an idyllic Russian village certainly has its perks. Almost every night at 8pm the kids all gather to play football (soccer), although here we're playing with the frisbee that I brought.
  2. Games 
      Uno, Stratego, and Crocodile (a strange Russian version of Charades) have become staple activities during breaks... in addition to tea, of course.
  3. Music
      Everyone loves music here. As previously mentioned, all Russians play guitar, and coincidentally the ones who play guitar can also sing. And then others join in and sing in harmony. It's really amazing. 
  4. Mac Photobooth
      Requires no explanation. My laptop has been a hit with the kids!

I love this list (even sports!) because I don't need to be an expert in Russian to have fun with the kids and community. Plus, I've found that these four things are the best way to teach the students English as well! I've been giving a few English lessons, and songs are definitely the most effective tool for new vocabulary. I think because the kids are learning English right now, they better understand how I must feel living here trying to learn Russian. They are typically much more patient with me than most of the adults, and they are excellent at repeating themselves and explaining what some of the different terms mean. So it might not be easy living here without knowing very much Russian, I might get headaches from concentrating so hard on understanding the conversation at tea, I might be more apt to study the intriquite patterns of verb formation rather than actually speaking it.   But an experience like this is irreplaceable, and I can't wait to continue learning as I go. 

Our first English lesson! "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" was definitely essential to learning the body parts in English.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Cats of Kitezh are checking you out...

Preface: When I asked fellow American volunteer Alen for his photos of cats for this blogpost, he said, "You would find the one thing that is completely useless to blog about." And maybe he's right... but I don't care! I think it's funny, and I'm doing it anyway.  (Also, this is based on this fabulous piece of internet genius.)

This cat thinks you're a great catch.

 This cat wants to know what your sign is.

This kitten thinks you could be the one.

This cat has been dreaming about you all day.

This cat has two tickets to the opera, if you're interested. 

This kitten is playing hard to get... is it working?

Having fun in the Summer sun

First let me start by saying I have a new favorite word in russian: веснушки (veznooshki). Guess what it means... freckles!!! It comes from the word for Spring, весна (vesna). How cute is that?

Now, to the fun stuff. This weekend we went to the lake! Even the drive was fun, two vans packed full of kids riding down a bumpy road. Oh, and with a broken speedometer. The lake we came to was very clean, a little chilly, and mostly secluded. Something I found funny--the boys all swim in their underwear. I guess now that I think about it, bathing suits aren't really that necessary. Anyway, we were there for an hour or so, splashing away and having a good time. It was really nice to see everyone (adults and volunteers included) just acting like kids. Everyone in Kiteh is very busy in preparation for the games and has been working a lot, so it was great to see them totally stress-free, if only for a little while. Please enjoy the photos. (Photo credit goes to Irina and Alen, thanks guys!)

Two photos of our intense splashing wars. 

Model shots!

Me and Irina, another volunteer, show off our green.

Gorsha and Nellie rock the matching towels. 

Kolya getting some sweet air. 

In front of the lake (and repping Walton Film Club!) 

Our beautiful group!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Journey to the center of the Russian church

I know you're shocked about the title, but it's true. I, Natalie Feingold, went into a church. In Russia. On our free day Nikita took me to the top of the church to ring the bells; apparently now they only ring them when they have Easter service. I guess Russian Orthodoxy has become more like modern Christianity in America than previously thought.

Actually, I've been having a lot of interesting conversations about religion here. Over a few glasses of wine (naturally), some of the men started a discussion about religion. Misha, a Kitezhian, said that here religion is something you do on your own. There are some people here that are actually quite religious but you'd never really know. And there are a lot of people that just don't give religion very much attention in their daily lives. Bill, a long-time returning volunteer from France, started speaking very passionately about his own atheism. At first I was surprised that he was so confident talking a subject that is largely taboo in America, but most of the other people at the table ended up agreeing with him, or at least having a lighthearted debate. Honestly, I never realized what little role religion played in Russia, though considering the history of communism, which disavowed all religion, it really makes sense. Misha even ended up showing us clips from the Bill Maher movie Religulous, which makes fun of all religions. It's a great movie, and I was happy to be shown it from a native Russian.

So there's my brief journey into the religion in Kitezh. And in case you're wondering, I'm just here blogging away as some of the boys play Call Of Duty. (Boys are boys everywhere.) So please, enjoy these pictures from my quick church excursion!

View of the church. It was built by a priest who visits here from time to time and has only been to described to me as "very strange."

Inside the church. It was quite beautiful and way more intricate than I expected from the outside. 

From the roof looking down over the main road through Kitezh. Aw, it's home! 

Nikita ringing those bells!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Russia's Next Top Model

On this episode of RNTM, we're visiting Kitezh, where the kids have been practicing their modeling skills. But who has what it takes to be a Top Model?

Nikita shows us why his posing is the best there is. 

Lida reminds us that she has girl power.

Kolya faces the camera head on.

 Pasha shows off his "perfect body." (Actual quote)

Borya gives us his classic "Shto? (What?)" face.

Sergei keeps it cool while relaxing in-doors.

So which model is on top? You decide! And maybe I'll have photos from more contestants soon! :)

Friday, June 22, 2012

What exactly have I been doing?

Ah, a good question. Glad you asked! Well here in Kitezh, they like to keep as busy as possible. Kids, adults, and volunteers always have work to do. Now (slightly unfortunate from the Westerner point of view) they largely still believe in traditional gender roles. So while the men and boys are outside building houses, riding tractors, and transporting wood and debris, the women (myself included) have a very different work schedule.

So far, my time here has consisted of doing the following:

  • Weeding in the rose garden
  • Rinsing and chopping up all kinds of veggies
  • Washing dishes in the kitchen
  • Serving lunch or dinner in the dining hall
  • Sewing and ironing costumes for the role-playing game
  • Planting in the vegetable garden
  • Daily English lessons with a few of the kids
  • Baking cookies! (Just once though...)
  • Cleaning the house (as in sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, the whole Cinderella special)
Now, naturally, part of me is pretty ticked off that because I'm assigned all my work in the home or in the cafeteria just because I'm a woman. That's offensive right? But then after working in the garden and the greenhouse a few times, I realized that might be enough outside work for me. Basically, it gets really hot during the afternoon, and even worse are the mosquitoes. Five minutes out there and they'll eat you alive. Plus indoors I have the company of my fellow female volunteers as well as the adorable (and trouble-making) younger children. So, for now at least, I won't complain about the division of labor... for now. And although they are pretty traditional here about male vs. female roles, they are still open-minded enough that if someone asks to do work not typical of their gender, they certainly won't stop them.

Oh, and don't get the wrong idea that I'm here only working. It's true a large part of the day is dedicated to doing work, but the evenings (after dinner at 7) and most of the weekend is work-free. We usually play soccer (aka football), basketball, or frisbee (which I brought!) or walk around through the forest or play card games in our free time. Not to mention all the tea breaks, talking, and, for some people, drinking. (Hey, they are Russian after all.) Also, starting next week there will be trips to the lake to go swimming, and I might even get a chance to visit Moscow or the neighboring city Kaluga soon. So really, life's looking good. If only I didn't have to go back to sewing now... 

Here's some pictures from basketball yesterday!

 Borya tries to block the ball!

Sorry for the blurry photo... but just look at our swag. 

Go Lida, go Lida.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

So many Sasha's, so little time

So let me start by saying that just about everyone here is named the same thing. We have 6 Sasha's (short for Alexander or Alexandra), 3 Masha's (Maria), 4 Sergei's, and about a million Vanya's (Ivan). Even I fit into the name game here--they call me Natasha, which is the same name as one of the other women. It's a little fun in a sense, to see how they miraculously know exactly who someone is looking for when they yell out "Sasha! Zdes! (Sasha! Come here!)" But that's just one of the fun things I've encountered here. One of many. 

A couple of interesting things to share about life in the motherland. First, tea is the staple of society. Literally everything that goes on here somehow revolves around tea. They drink it at every meal (never cold drinks, too wimpy), they have it for breaks from working, and they invite people over to drink none other than the extremely sought-after tea. It's beautiful to see how everyone young and old can equally appreciate something so simple and yet essential. So fact two, Russians love Skyrim. You know how in the previous post I discussed the role-playing game they host every summer? Well the one in Kitezh (there's also one in Orion) is for kids aged 10 to 17, and is based on Skyrim! Who knew? And my third fact, all Russians play guitar. As I write this (it's about 9am), I can hear a group of the adults sitting around the table, playing guitar and singing. Basically, if you don't play guitar you better well be trying to learn.

Finally, I'm starting to understand how things work around here, but only just recently. Honestly, it might be a good thing that I hadn't been able to get internet until now, because if I had posted after the first day, it might have looked something like this:

(Literally that on repeat in my head for the first 2 days.) Things are looking up now, though. My understanding the language is getting better (though not great), but more importantly I'm starting to learn that people here actually want me to use my English. All the kids here are learning English, and although it's summer and they aren't necessarily in class, it's still a good idea to help them practice and learn new vocab. And they get to teach me Russian words right back!

Well, here's a photo of someone with a name that's not Sasha. His name is Nikita, and he's quickly becoming one of my favorite kids here (although I must admit they're all pretty adorable). After playing football (aka soccer) on Sunday, Nikita taught me the names of all the objects on the playground. Here he is on the kacheli (swings).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Let me give you an overview

So here's the 411. I'm staying in a village called Kitezh, located 5 hours outside of Moscow. Now this place isn't your run-of-the-mill, old and decrepit soviet village. It's actually an amazing and thriving social experiment. The idea is to create a community of foster families that work together as teachers, farmers, and mentors in order to provide educational therapy for orphaned Russian children. They also believe in complete environmentally friendly living--they grow most of their own food, raise their own animals, and compost nearly everything. Here, everyone works together, makes decisions together, and lives together deep in the Russian countryside. There are 14 houses, a dining hall, a school house, a farm, and a church (that never seems to be used). 

Although somewhat isolated, Kitezh is always busy. Visitors come to see what life here is like. Other children from the sister community called Orion spend time here. Students from Moscow study here during the year due to the excellent education. And volunteers (like me!) are constantly in flux. The belief is that anyone has something to offer to Kitezh, so they're very open to new volunteers from around the world. But don't let that fool you--these guys are strict. If you're going to live here, you're going to work. And you're going to follow all their numerous rules about interactions with the children; for obvious reasons, there are certain topics and behaviors that are completely off limits. 

Oh something completely interesting and unique about Kitezh: every summer (in 2 weeks!) they host a huge role-playing game for children. 150 kids from around Russia, mostly Moscow, will be staying here and participating in quests, battling evil, and fighting for the crown. Pretty much a little kid's dream. The idea is to teach them responsibility, in that they're able to choose exactly what they want to do each day, as well as foster their imagination and belief in the fairytale notions of good overpowering bad. Honestly, I can't wait to see it. Expect lots of pictures! (I hope I'll get to be a princess!)

So there you have it, the basic "what's what" in Kitezh. I'll leave you with this picture of the big Oak (in Russian "Doob"), the meeting place in the very center of the town. Sometimes they have morning exercises here too, oh goodie! 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Two Lists of What Could Possibly Go Wrong:

My list:
  • I'll forget the Russian case system, thus forgetting the very core of the language
  • I'll misuse a verb of motion, thus looking like a complete fool
  • I'll forget to take off my shoes when I enter a home, as is custom
  • The only food they will have will be chicken liver and borscht

My mom's list:
  • Natalie will…
    • Die from drowning in the lake
    • Die from starvation
    • Die from sun poisoning
    • Die from contracting a rare airborne disease
    • Die from malnutrition
    • Die from an allergic reaction after being stung by a bee
    • Die from being bitten by a rabid animal

And yet… she still let me go! That woman must like me a lot or something :) Gotta love Jewish mothers!

These purple flowers grow everyyyywhere!

Ruh roh...

So as you may have noticed... I've been doing an awful, terrible job of keeping up with my blog. And I know what you're all thinking, "Oh that Natalie, she goes to Russia and now she thinks she's too good for us, won't even update us on what's going on." Oh but it's not true, I swear! The problem is I haven't been able to get any internet connection around Kitezh. There's wi-fi all over the place, but my computer can't pick up the network (probably because it's a Mac... grrr.) Anyway, by some magical stroke of luck I've been able to get it to somehow work today, so I'm posting this letting you know that A) I am alive, things are going well here, and B) I have not forgotten you! I'm going to try to post some of the photos and things I have written, but I can't promise it'll work.

If anyone wants to get in touch with me, the best way is through email ( because somehow my "mail" application works even though the browser doesn't. 

And in consolation for my terrible blogging skills, I leave you with this, a photo of me in front of my new home! It's called Bolshoi Dom (meaning "Big House") and acts sort of like a hotel, many volunteers and guests stay here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rushing to Russia

Hello all! I'm finally writing my first blog post... while I'm waiting at the international terminal in the airport in Charlotte with boarding starting in ten minutes. (No, I'm not procrastinating at all...) So, naturally I'm pretty excited as I await my flight to Munich and then fly from Munich to Moscow. I'm sure I won't get lost at either of the airports or anything. What could possibly go wrong?

Well a lot did go wrong getting here. I had lots Visa delays (not fun) and actually had to push my trip back a week to get here in time. And then by the time my Visa for Russia arrived, the flight I wanted was full. (Hence the flying from Atlanta to Charlotte to Munich to Moscow, nobody picks that flight itinerary with a choice not to.) And lastly, just to add to the fun, last night I was suddenly struck with a 102 fever. Ain't nobody got time for that! (In case you don't see the reference, please see this gem as well as the funky fresh remix). 

Well, they're boarding my seat now! So here I am, getting ready to go once and for all. With just my backpack and ticket in hand. Wish me luck!