Leaving

“Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday Miss Catherine! Happy Birthday to you!” I was sitting at the table, made of desks pushed together, honey cake in front of me with two other teachers and our students sitting around and singing to me. Next came the toasts, well wishes for my future life: many children, a local husband, friends and good luck in my future year in Petropavlovsk. I had only been in Petropavlovsk for two months, but the teachers and students there had made the 2nd Gymnasium school a new and loving home.
The only trouble was, it was not my birthday. I knew this, and my co-teacher knew this, but we were the only two holding that secret. It was Friday and my birthday was actually to be next Thursday, Thanksgiving day. But I wasn’t going to be there for that, nor was I going to be there to make the friends I was being wished, or meet that future local husband. On Wednesday I had gotten the same call as every PCV in Kazakhstan: the program in Kazakhstan is being suspended, you will be evacuated next week, don’t tell anyone, we’ll contact your counter-part tomorrow.
After the call, I sat on a bench in the snow on old Lenin Street and watched the thick flakes fall down and people going past. My Peace Corps service hadn’t always been easy or without plenty of times I’d wished myself home, but now, in my second year, really all the locals I’d met had done it for me, Petropavlovsk felt like a place that was becoming home, warm with people who cared. Now I watched men and women walking to and fro in their long winter coats—I had attached the fur to my hood yesterday—and the small children trailing behind, pulled by mom on miniature sleighs. The flakes kept falling and I got up to walk around. The bag of clothing in my hand—old sweaters given me by Olga Ivanovna to tide me through the winter—would never be worn. The new schedule I had been working on would never be enacted. The Children’s Club at the library I had had in mind to start wouldn’t ever take place. This was it. We were leaving next week.
* * *
The following days brought a variety of ways and events to note our leaving. First, the three of us PCVs in Petro met for discussion and support. Next everyone at the library decided to make the last club also a good-bye party. Each of us had to begin the packing process and tell our host families or landlords. I had to make a trip to Schuchinsk to say good-bye. And on the final day of our weekend, an English student took Susana and I around Petropavlovsk to see all the historical sites we had missed in our short stay and purchase souvenirs for home.
Susana’s school had a concert for her, Anneliese’s university told her to stop teaching early, my school decided not to tell the students. Each school handled our leaving in their own way and mine didn’t want the rumor mill started any earlier than it needed, so my co-teacher decided to announce my birthday early. That way I could have my birthday celebration, and in our secret knowledge it would be a good-bye party. Every class gave me chocolates, the teachers gave me hugs, and all the thanks and well wishes I could want.
* * *
Our train left Petropavlovsk on Monday and that day Susana came to my school to say good-bye to my counter-part and see my lessons. For my last lesson I had chosen to do a song and teach about American history, two things I enjoyed.
“That was a good lesson Catherine, but, aren’t you going to tell your students? Some of them must have heard it on the news and you’ll regret it if you don’t.” Susana told me. I didn’t know how to break the news. It was when Ivan Petrovich told me in the hallway that he had heard on the news and told his students that I realized the secrecy was over, and Susana was right, I would regret leaving without everything being out on the table. I went back into the room after my lesson.
“Who knows my news?” blank stares. “Okay, who knows I’m leaving? I’m leaving tonight. This was my last lesson, and I really don’t know what else to say. And if I keep talking I will cry.” I stopped. Students got up to wish me the best. Some of the girls gave me hugs, and by the end of the day, everyone knew. The rest of the school day was full of good-byes as I made preparations for my leaving: organizing the books and supplies I would leave and downloading my materials onto the computer.
* * *
At 10 pm on Monday the 21st all the volunteers from Petropavlovsk and the surrounding villages met at the train station for our final train ride. On Wednesday all 110 volunteers in the country met in Almaty for an early COS conference. And on the 28th all the volunteers in the country were officially released from contract, and we began to head our separate ways.
There’s a lot I could write about my last days there, there’s a lot I could say about the reasons for leaving. Hopefully I’ll talk to many of you when I get back to the states. Right now I’ll leave you with a link to a news article on the topic, and the knowledge that,to have a little time to think about Kazakhstan and plan for my future, I am visiting my friend’s Peace Corps site in Africa for a couple months and then I’ll be home in early February. See you then.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204517204577045833015475546.html

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64566

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Petropavlovsk: Russian Club

**Pre-note: Because of political complications in my previous Oblast (like Kazakhstani version of a state), I have been moved to Petropavlovsk. Here’s a little about my new city:
Petropavlovsk is in the northern most corner of Kazakhstan, surrounded on three sides by Russia. The train station is set to Moscow time—Moscow, by the way, observes daylight savings time, Kazakhstan, does not—many of the young people go to University in Russia, and everyone else is going to Omsk for the weekend to visit their daughter, son, mother, father, or whoever else lives there.
My site-mates and I can’t cross the border because the Russian’s want three hundred dollars, a letter of invitation, our blood and probably the third toe on our left foot too—the first three are true. So, instead, we partake in attending Russian culture club. Russian club is located in the “Dom Druzhbi” on old Lenin street, now Constitution Street. Every Sunday afternoon we meet to watch a film produced in the Soviet Union, or a documentary about WWII and Soviet involvement.
“What’s the purpose of this club again?” I asked.
“To teach me about Russian culture.” Annelise answered. Victor Ivanovich, his daughter, her friend, and English student Vlad, all meet in the room four times a month to watch Soviet films, and simultaneously translate them for Annelise. All with the goal of bringing Americans to a better understanding of Russian history, meaning, the Soviet Union.
“Count me in.”
Annelise and I arrived at the dome and waited for Vlad or Victor to come with the key. Vlad came first and began filling in a reporter on his experiences at the recent Russian Youth Leadership Camp. Vlad went through the photos “…and he was there because he makes videos of WWII veterans and puts them on youtube.”
“And what did you do to qualify Vlad?” I put in.
“I was chosen by the embassy to represent Kazakhstani youth, thereby bringing Russian youth outside of Russia together.”
“Oh.”
The reporter took notes as we were told that “…after breakfast, we went to lectures. For breakfast we had oatmeal, pancakes….” I learned that the food in any camp in the world was suspicious. “…and for supper…” I began to make a list of new Russian words for Annelise and I.
“And what about Putin?” Victor asked after the part about the girls taking more than their fair portion of the best meal of the week.
“Putin came, and here is a picture of the hay bales they set out for us to sit on at his outdoor lecture.” Vlad had his laptop computer out. “And here is our picnic at the lake.”
As Vlad was explaining to us that the belts they wore were connected to floor mats for sitting on the ground, “And where’s Putin?!”
“I’m getting to that. Here’s the camp toilet, can you believe how clean it is?”
“Putin!”
“We weren’t allowed to photograph that.” Vlad continued to tell the reporter about the lake, as Victor explained to me that Russia’s former president, Putin, practices Judo. By asking carefully guiding questions Annelise and I learned that Russia’s youth are starting citizens’ groups for good causes. Soon the Kazakhstani Russian population will be informed of it, in addition to the menu of the week and quality of the water at the camp.
We took a break, and then Vlad set-up the DVD player for our documentary on Soviet use of American machinery in WWII. I took this time to ask Victor about the line of portraits on the wall. “Here is Pushkin, and here, Pavlov, writer, writer, poet, scientist, general, writer, writer, he was a traitor, writer, queen…” and so on. If the explanation were more than one word Victor looked at his daughter, “Peerivode! translate!” and Natalia proceeded to repeat the words we had just heard into English. Tea and cookies were ready and passed out, with the bulk of the cookies being pushed my way as guest, and I’m not so good at resisting hospitality.
The film started and we all gathered around Vlad’s laptop to watch. “The Americans were fighting for the well paid job of being a soldier,” we were informed, “while the Soviets were invested in protecting the homeland.” Veterans gave their accounts, and the film was stopped every three to five minutes to translate the information for us. Victor would explain the concepts to us in slow simple Russian, or, if it was too much, Natalia would go into her high school level English to tell us “the American cars were better than the soviet cars, but the tanks were not good in the winter.” Then we went back to watching the images as the technical terms and Ukrainian accents went over our heads.
The film ended, “Next week we’ll watch an art film.” Victor informed me. Translated, apparently this means any typical film with a plot and actors.
“If I’m here I’ll certainly come.” Natalia and friend were sent to clean the dishes, Annelise and I tried to help, failed, and headed out the door. Victor made sure I knew that the children’s paintings in the hallway were to celebrate the first man in space, Soviet cosmonat. And we headed home.
The answer to the question, “How many Kazkahstanis does it take to teach one American Soviet history, seems to fluctuate at somewhere around four. One passionate man, two high school translators, and one hopeful future professor ready to right the wrongs historians have done to Stalin’s image. I went away with more of a sense of the pride that still exists here for all things Russian, a better understanding of the general culture, and an appreciation for the people I met who helped me discover along the way, through what they said, or didn’t say.

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I was sitting on my bed, checking the ticket times when Aidana came into the room. “Katrin! What are you doing? What are those?”
“I’m looking at my train tickets.”
“Can I see?” I hand Aidana one, as a sixteen year-old college student, she has less to do than me in the summer, and takes the part of little sister at home. I hand her a ticket to keep her busy.
“One is for Almaty, and the other one is for the ride back.” Almaty is a twenty-four hour ride from my town, and so, a fairly exciting event.
Aidana gets up, “Catherine, you can’t buy a ticket from Almaty to Schuchinsk in Almaty.”
I think this over, somehow, I’m always more convinced of something when it’s told to me in Russian. Then I remember, “Aidana, I already bought the ticket from Almaty to Schuchinsk, in Schuchinsk.” I show her the other. In an effort to make my young roommate useful I add, “Find the bunk number, I have to call my friend and tell her where I am so we can sit together.”
“Catherine, they don’t give you a space when you’re riding in platz-cart.”
I think again, “Aidana, I have ridden in platz-cart before, and they always assign you a spot.” Then I add, “Aidana, have you ever bought a train ticket before?”
“Yes,”
“Where to?”
“Kokshetau.”
Kokshetau is one hour by train from here. “Aidana, did you take the train, or the electri-chka?” The electri-chka runs on the railroad, but as far as tickets etc, operates more like a bus, than an overnight train with bunk beds.
* * *
The next day, the gas tank attaching to our stove was empty, and my roommates were putting off calling for a new one until a friend with a car was available to pick it up. I was tired of Ramon noodles and boiled eggs made with our electric kettle, so I planned to make soup using Aidana and Nurgul’s kepitilnik, or boiler. A kepitilnik is basically an exposed coil with a long chord attached to plug into the wall.
“Aidana, do you like tomato in your soup? And how does this spice smell?” I always try to make sure my recipes are local friendly.
“Good, but Catherine, when you go to the store, don’t but too many vegetables, you can make the recipe in half, and remember, only you me and Nurgul will be eating at home tonight.”
“Aidana, I know this already, why are you telling me this information?”
“Because you need to conserve your tenge.”
That was the last straw, from independent American, to being given constant advice from a sixteen year-old Kazakh girl. “Aidana,” I say, and put a hand on her shoulder, “Aidana, I am twenty-four years old, I have lived on my own before, and I know how to grocery shop, along with many other skills I have.” Buying a train ticket, organizing my room and the list goes on.
“But Catherine…”
“I’m twenty-four, I’ll be fine.”
“okay.”
I made my list using the dictionary, and had Aidana check it, then headed out to the corner stores, all three of them, to collect all the ingredients. Inevitably the first two were out of tomato paste.
At home, Aidana was laying down for a nap. “Catherine,” She called from the bedroom. “You’re able to make this soup yourself?”
“Yes Aidana, I’ll be fine. Sleep well.”
I start the water and beans to boiling. Plug in the plug, put the coil into the water. Looking around there isn’t any shallower pot, so only the rounded end of the coil makes it into the water. I start chopping veggies.
After the onions have made my eyes water, and I have successfully opened the tomato can with a knife and my bare hand, I look into the pot to see how the beans are doing. Boiling, but what is that black liquid on the edge of the pot? That would be plastic, from the part of the kepitilnik that connects the coil to the chord, okay so there are three parts to this mechanism. I look for a switch, or a dial to adjust the temperature. Nothing. This object is still not that complex. And I am not asking Aidana for help. I choose the only other path available to me, ignore it.
After washing the dishes and obtaining the necessary spices from my room, I look into the pot. My soup now consists of beans, vegetables, noodles, swirls of black hardened liquid, and one metal coil, now disconnected from it’s other half, and the middle part of the mechanism no longer in existence.
Now is a perfect time for Aidana to wake up, and that’s just what she did. I tried to explain suicide using charades and some Russian. “And that’s what your kepitilnik did.”
“Catherine, I was going to tell that you needed to use the other pot, but you said you could do it on your own.”
While I have grocery shopped, bought long distance tickets, and lived independently before, the kepitilnik was a new experience. Time to try and figure out how to explain what I do, and don’t need help with. “Aidana,” I’m at a loss for words, I give my roommate a quick hug and laugh. “What am I going to do in this country?”
* * *
After a dinner of Ramon noodles, my parents called, and after that, I went out of my room to read a book on the living room floor matresses. My reading turns to just laying there and staring up at the ceiling, wondering why I’m here and not a bit closer to those people I got done talking with on the phone.
“What are you doing?” Aidana asks, lying down beside me.
“Thinking.”
“What about?”
“About my family.” I answer.
“What is your family doing now? Is anything new at home?”
I give a basic recap of my forty minute conversation.
“And your father, what is he doing for the summer?”
Okay, I forgot to mention that my dad was in a summer show.
“And where are your brothers going to school?”
I was surprised to realize how much I’d left out of my conversation the first time around. “What’s the word for….” By this time it’s occurred to me how much Aidana’s slowing down to converse with me. And that’s when I realize how lucky I am to live with this girl, who not only is genuinely interested in my home life, but patient enough to let me figure out how to say it.

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The train

If you want to understand the Peace Corps experience in Kazakhstan, you need to understand the train. Or maybe I should say, if you want to understand the country itself, you can learn all that you need to know, or almost all of it, from riding the train.
Now I am sitting on the lower bunk, perched at the end of the bed, so that the ticket holder can lay down as he reads the paper. My bunk is on the second self. It is 9:00am, here and most of the passengers got on train 57 yesterday, I was the latest comer in to my set of bunks, getting on at 7:00pm. We arrive at our destination at 8:00pm today, which tells you the first thing about this country, it’s big.
I’m watching the steppe go by, though it is a big country, the landscape is, for the most part defined by the flat grassland that goes on from the mountains at the borders of the country and extending into Russia. I am now traveling along that northern border to get to Aktobe, in the northwest.
In writing this entry, of course I had to take a break to show family photos to the woman on the neighboring bunk.
Last night I sat at our table (“sit! sit!”) and took out my powdered tea with milk and sweet rolls. (“eat! Eat!”) bread? Sausage? Potato flakes? I never can figure out what to bring on the train, or in what amounts. Everyone shares with me, but no matter what I offer, no one ever takes back. What’s wrong with my food? The train provides you with a bunk, sheets, a towel, bathrooms which may or may not be clean, a table for each set of four bunks, and most importantly, hot water. Everyone brings a mug and something to eat with their tea.
This ride I’m with a Kazakh mother and her son, and some other riders who seem to be unattached. Every trip you get to know the personalities in your train car, walking up and down the aisle, to the bathroom, or the hot water dispenser. There’s the babushka (grandmother) wearing a traditional vest over her house dress and headscarf on top, she was counting her prayer beads last night. The young children I don’t need to get up to see. They run up and down the aisles, yesterday playing war with plastic guns that made noises when you pressed the buttons. The man in the side bunk to my right is still snoring, the little boy in the left set is brushing his teeth, as the train continues going west, west, west.
The train stops at all the stations along the way, some large, some small. My favorite stations are the ones with the most venders to sell me meat encased in noodle and boiled, or crepes with sour cream spread on and folded in. The women call out their wares and I walk past the mismatched clothing and cardboard-duct-taped freezers, till I find what it is I want, and tell them how the price should be cheaper. Bargaining is different in different parts of the country, and I still don’t quite get the hang of it all the time. Outside, I stretch my legs, others smoke, we buy food, until some mysterious signal is given and the passengers start making their way back to the cars. If I’m late, the conductors will warn me, if I’m close by. Once I got on the wrong car at the last minute, when I got back to my bunk mates, Kazakh women, all said, “where were you?! We asked each other, where is Catherine?!”
And that’s the most interesting part, getting to know the people in your compartment. Some are surprised to find an American, some just answer with the question, “Are you a volunteer?” I’ve been invited to visit one family’s village once, met and practiced English with kids, shared countless cups of chai, and sometimes just gotten those neighbors who keep to themselves, though not too often.
And so, as the train is still in process of waking up, I’m heading west into another of those everyday adventures.

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New Home

“Katarin! Katarin! It’s time for breakfast!”
“Uh?”
“Breafast!”
I shook the sleep off enough to look at my watch, 00:24 (military time here) and to ask, “Why?”
“I made you breakfast.”
I’ve been here nine months and still some things are still inexplicable, I thought to myself. I pulled myself off of Sultanat’s sofa bed and into the kitchen.
* * *
I’ve known these girls for about six months now. Nurgul and Sulta are teachers at the school where I work. They invited me over several months ago to make Kazakhstani national food, and I had followed up our first visit with several more ghosties, and chalked the rest up to Russian practice. None of the girls has a working knowledge of the English language. “What do you do over there?” My host mom had asked. “We dance a lot.” “Do they speak English?” “No, I think that’s why we dance.”
* * *
In the kitchen Nurgul puts a dish of rice boiled in bullion, I guess is left over from a pack of ramon noodles. “Delicious, yes?”
“yes” I lie.
“Eat” Nurgul tells me. I came to the house yesterday at 6pm. My search for an apartment had proved unsuccessful, and my local friends had invited me to move in with them. Today I had planned to come over to discuss this idea with all of the roommates present. “Asel and Asel will be home soon.” Aidana had told me. “At 9pm is that okay?” she had amended later. At 9:30 Aidana and Nurgul I stopped writing my letters and looked around the apartment to find Nurgul and Aidana sleeping on their matresses on the floor. Who knows, I thought.
Now I sat in the kitchen, to tired and crabby to ask when the prodigals would be home.
“I thought you would smell the delicious food and it would wake you up all happy.” Not exactly, I gave Nurgul a look that said as much. “Asel and Asel get off of work now. They thought they would get off at 9, but then they didn’t.” Really.
“It’s delicious.” I repeat. In my mind I try to put together the details of what I needed to clarify in English, so that I could translate it into my non-grammatical Russian: cost, details, when to move in, when I need to move out.
The door knocks. It’s Asel and Asel, the other roommates. I mentally add ‘key’ to my list of questions. I don’t even try to get up off my stool, to crabby at the moment. One Asel leans up against the window sill, another sits on the stool across from me as Aidana gets up from it to lean up against the non-working half-size fridge, and Nurgul takes up residence in the entry way to the kitchen. The third stool is currently in-use in the bathroom, holding the large taza-bowl with soaking clothes at waste hight for more comfortable hand-washing experience. I offer half my seat to Nurgul. “Ne-nada.” I scooch back on to take up the whole space. “Hello Katarin! How are you?”
“Tired, good.” I add, time to wake up.
“Cultanat moved out on Wednesday, you can have her room.” Curly haired Asel begins.
“Another girl wanted to move into her room, but we said no. We don’t know her. We’ve known you for a long time already.” Tall Asel puts in.
And what a ride that’s been. Do three dance parties, a couple naps, and other miscellaneous activities equal knowing someone well? I wonder. But, we’ve had fun, and I know the general personalities and quirks of each roommate, though Asel and Asel’s personalities often blend together.
I ask some of the questions on my list, not really sure if they’re all there, and which ones got lost in the fuzziness of a brain at two in the morning.
“You’re sure she moved out?” I ask. Nothing is certain in this country, and even more so, in this group of Kazakh women.
“Yes, we’re sure.”
“So I can move in on Saturday?” I specify.
“Yes, you can.” They answer.
“Okay,” I say. “I’ll move in on Saturday.” It’s decided. I bring out my PC moving forms that I will need to turn in. “Catherine, we’re tired, can’t you do them later?” The roommates say as we’ve all moved onto the living room floor mattresses so that Asel and Asel can get some sleep.
“I will sleep better if they’re done.” I explain. Accidentally sitting on curly Asel’s leg.
“Oh, I understand.” Asel says. I get them to put down their names and phone numbers. We laugh and joke about what two girls will sign as they hastily make mistakes on my form, printed in English. We work it out and everyone’s off to their respective floor mattresses, and I open the door to Cultant’s sofa bed. Lucky me her piece of furniture was the bed. I think. As I attempt to drift back to sleep for the night.

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Testing

Having troubles using WordPress from KZ. Just testing to see if I can get it to work. Blog post to follow.

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Searching for a New Apartment

The adventures here aren’t so much few and far between, as they are varying in size, or lacking in exoticness, or maybe I’m just getting used to things. What ever it be, I haven’t written for a while. But anyways, I’m writing now.
Living for nine months with three different host families has left me longing for that stability and sense of control that turns most Kazakhstan PCVs to looking for their own apartment. For me, this started out with a session at my tutor’s apartment. “How is your host family?” She asked to begin our warm-up conversation. “I need to move out.” I answered. It’s not that the families here aren’t welcoming or kind, it’s just that at some point in the day, you need off time.
How to search for a new apartment? Mot anyone will tell you: buy a newspaper and go through the ads. Step one: go to the nearest set of food, office supplies, and toiletries stands, and find out which one sells the newspaper, It’s in the set of stands next door. “Uh, hello, what is the best newspaper to purchase if I want to find a new apartment?” “Vot ettee” “Uh, which” “Tam,” “This one?” “No” “This one?” “No” My skills of reading were not up for a quick search through the various names and fonts of newspapers. Finally the woman behind the counter sent another costumer to help me out. I took the two local papers and then was asked where I was from. “America.” Which is always a good conversation starter. I am now on good terms with the proprietor and several of the workers in that shop as I go in two times a week to check out the classifieds. The proprietor’s sister lives in Germany, the boy knows the English teacher at the college, and other odds and ends I discover when I’m in there.
The next day at my tutor’s found us going over the terminology of apartment renting found in my papers. Which meant, ‘for rent,’ ‘for sale,’ and ‘trade you’ and all this over tea and delicious napoleon cake I brought over. Also important terms like, furnished, and central heating verses wood-stove. My home work was to write an ad myself, and to it fix up next session and put it into the paper.
The day we finished the ad was a holiday, so two local papers were closed. That night I slept over my local friend’s apartment and in the morning I headed to the papers. Check and check. I had lost my prewritten ad, and, while I couldn’t remember the word for heated, I explained to each staff that I couldn’t operate a wood stove by myself in -40 degree weather, and what was the word for that? We got it figured out. A week and a half later, my efforts had found one over-priced call. It was time for a new angle: tell anyone who would listen that I needed a new apartment.
My favorite store proprietor, owner of the local office-supplies-toys-book stand–a place I have much need to shop at–gave me a new idea, post a hand-written ad on store fronts. There’s usually lots of homemade for sale and rent signs there. Genius, I thought. And free. “We can write it together.” I went home to get some paper, a list of what I wanted, and some coffee sent from America to give as a thank-you. It was an office supplies stand, she went to the markers section to pick out the best writing utensil and we set to work. I wrote the ten phone-number abs at the bottom. “And we can add that you’ll be clean and pay your rent on time.” sounded good to me. I posted two of these at two different corner shops.
I think maybe one person took a phone tab.
I went to the bazaar this week to buy a t-shirt for a school summer camp. The women outside their stalls were, of course ready to make conversation with the girl with an accent. They weren’t offended that I only bought a shirt from another woman down the row. “Where are you from?” “Where do you work?” “Are you going to marry a Kazakh man and stay here?” “Or you could take him home with you.” “Where do you live?” This is when I put in the fact that I wanted to move, and did anyone have any ideas of where to look.
“The Institute bus stop is just down the road from your school, and there may be some two-room apartments there.” “Okay, I know where that is.” “Just walk to the 5 story building, and there will be a babushka outside, she’ll be able to tell you if any places are available.” “Yes, the babushkas always know.” The other women agreed.
I went to the bus stop in search of some grandmothers sitting outside a five-story apartment building. My second visit got me to a grandfather, and he went through a mental list, and told me who to ask, which apartment, and that the man was leaving the next day so I should make sure to catch him now. No luck.
Time to buy more papers, I talked to my friends at the first store again. Friendlier every time. No luck. The babushkas at the bus stop seem to go inside rather earlier than I can get to their apartment building so I couldn’t ask them again. Time to write more ads on printer paper and branch out.
I had heard that Expeditsiya section of town was near my school and a good place to find an apartment, but where was it. If there is a map of my town, I have yet to see it. I took that bus and asked which stop to get off at. The one suggested was only a ten minute walk from where I live now. “Oh.” Well, at least I was taking the bus from the center of town so I didn’t look like an idiot.
I got off at the same bus stop I get off at when I need to go to school from the center, and decided to walk in the direction opposite my current home. eight minutes in the woods found me on the other side, surrounded by apartment buildings, two story, four, and five, duplexes and complexes. Score! Now to find some babushkas and corner stores.
Two matronly babushkee sat on a bench and told me there weren’t any openings they could think of, and the landlord was out, but his relatives lived in the first floor apartment on the right-hand side of the four-story building with blue trimmed windows. “okay.”
Either it was the wrong apartment or the woman had no openings, not quite sure which. Next I ran into some of my students. And some students who were not mine. “I’m looking for a store, so I can write a piece of paper that says that I want a new apartment and put it up somewhere.” You’d think I’d have learned the word for ad in Russian by now, and word for, wall on which to place an ad, but no. I now had an entourage led by one of my seventh grade boys.
We went to the store and I posed my question. “Buy a newspaper.” The proprietor suggested. “I’ve done that already thanks.” He said I could put a sign on the fence. Another word I didn’t know, but my students showed me what he meant. They all watched to see if I could write the Russian. My hand writing was in block lettering, but yeah, I could write. “Thank you,” I said. Then asked for another store. “I’ll show you.” said Rustem. A boy I hadn’t met before. Another store and a gathering crowd of young children.
I had several offers of who could write for me next. The third grade boy was ousted by the fifth grade girl, who began when a seventh grade girl came over and offered her mom to write it for me. Sold to the highest bidder.
Rather than writing the ad, mom told me where to find the nearest land-ladies and sent her daughter as a guide, and a cousin on roller blades, the fifth grader with the nice hand-writing.
No one was home at either place. ‘You can leave a message with us.” The girls told me. “How are you going to get home?” “Where is the bus stop?” I asked, now quite thoroughly turned around. “It’s that way and over there.” They answered. “Want us to go with you. “Yes,” I said, since I wasn’t entirely sure that this was the same bus stop I had arrived at, and I was up for another way to get my bearings. Rooler-blade girl had to hold my hand as she went over the bumpy dirt road, currently in the shape of quickly dried mud.
“Can you teach us some English?” “How old are you?” “Your parents?” “Cane you sing a song in English?” “Are you from Armenia?” Don’t ask me where the last question came from. They waited with me till finally the late night taxis that go the bus route stopped to pick me up for ten cents over bus fare. “Good-bye,” I said, and went home.
Now I’m worn out by the day, and ready to go to bed. We’ll see if the girls get my phone number to the land-ladies, and if the land-ladies have any openings. That will wait till tomorrow though. For now, it’s time to brush my teeth and go to bed. Looking for an apartment proves to be just another of those everyday adventures.

I went back to Expeditsia. Round two yielded four living options, none as of yet ideal. I arrived and, after finding myself turned around, attached myself to the babushka I had met the day before. We made conversation until I got my bearings. Land ladies were home. One apartment was too big, old, and a bit worn out, but in my price range. Apartment number two was old, worn out, the correct size and had all the furniture I needed but no hot water, and the toilet was broken the day I visited, never a good sign. Number three was a woman who lived on her own and wanted to rent me a room. Too much like a host family thanks. Number four seemed promising, the right size, a landlady who seemed on top of things in Russian fashion, but the apartment was not ready to be viewed. All in all I’d say that four hits in one night did better than three ads in the papers. And on to more neighborhoods!

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