"A Week Like Any Other..."
Trip Start Jun 03, 2010
47Trip End Aug 27, 2010
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With that out the way, on to a day in the life. I'm living with a fairly average family in a fairly average building in a fairly average neighbourhood. How we live is not what a tourist usually sees, or is even aware of. Most tourists to Russia, I've noticed, fall into 2 categories - the package groups or cruise tourists, and the backpackers, neither of whom tend to speak much, if any, Russian. This ignorance, in effect, shields them. I can't pretend to "know"Russia, or even understand it most of the time. In fact yesterday I was saying that the day I understand this country is the day I stop coming here, and I can see myself travelling here for a long while yet. However, both of my study trips have afforded me a chance to mingle with people and try and understand just a tiny slice of life.
I wake up, usually around 7 am, although I will have woken up several times in the night (jet lag is a pain, to say nothing of White Nights), and get out of bed, glancing back at the immense carpet that covers the entire wall behind me, hiding the wrinkly wallpaper. I walk, or shuffle rather, in my oversized slippers down the hall to the room with the toilet, trying not to slip on the cheap laminate covering. The toilet is housed in a room no bigger than an airplane bathroom. The toilet paper doesn't often get disposed of in one solitary flush - perhaps that speaks to a failing on the part of the toilet, or perhaps to the fact that the paper has the consistency of sandpaper. I go next door to wash my hands in a room that houses a washer (no dryer - that's what my balcony is for, except for when it's raining like today, which is when you're out of luck. Another student has an old wringer'-washer style contraption.), bath/shower complete with black wear marks, and a sink. The washer is piled high with aftershave, shampoo and the like - there is only one small cupboard above the sink. Like other Soviet-esque flats I've been in, the sink and bathtub share one fawcett with a moveable spout that you push back and forth depending on need. The grouting around the sink is blackened and the room looks dingy in the weak light, with its worn hospital-blue paint.
Next door is the kitchen, essentially the heart of this small flat. I sit down at the table on a divan that doubles as a couch, and try to watch the TV, but it's not working this morning. Mila already has my breakfast sitting out, complete with a cup of coffee with sugar added and a piece of bread with Nutella spread generously on top. We drink tea made from water boiled from a Brita filter - it's not safe to drink unboiled due to parasites. Speaking of water, the hot water will be turned off soon for 2 weeks, a real miracle, since last time it was 4. There are few cupboards here, and the oven under the gas range is filled with pots and pans. When you want to use the oven, everything is brought out and sits aimlessly on the floor. There is literally no counter space, and one of the doors on the cupboard doesn't close properly. As it is, we don't even have room to put the tea cup I use, and it sits on the table or microwave. In the morning, it is just Mila and I - Sasha has already left for work and won't be back for another 10-11 hours. When he comes home, he goes to his computer and doesn't move for quite a while - I think he has no energy left.
When I leave the building, I get lost before I can get outside. Like other Communist-era buildings, this is a veritable warren of hallways and doors, all with their own keys and pass buttons. Even the address hints at the size of this apartment - not only do I have a flat number and a building number, but also a "korpus"number, which indicates what building exactly I live in. At #36 Ship Builders'Street, there are multiple apartment blocks. I eventually find the tiny elevator - it says "Max 4 persons'" but I doubt 3 could fit comfortably - and make my way downstairs and out the crumbling concrete staircase into a run-down courtyard. People sit, children play and men walk their fuzzy wire fox terriers that look more like teddy bears than dogs.
Later in the evening, Sasha gets home, and then Mila around 8. I can eat earlier, but I wait for Mila the first night and we talk over dinner. She works in a store not far from home. "I ask the girls to save me something fresh,"she explains. "Paranoia!" Not undue paranoia either - just before I left Canada, I read an article about chicken in Russia that shouldn't have been sold, but it had chicken make-up applied to make it look fresh. As it is, the meat was cooked and sat out for a bit, but the three of us ate it, and no ill effects as of yet. Sometimes I think we're too safety conscious in Canada.
My first day at school, the room on my schedule had changed, and nobody knew where I was supposed to be (not surprising). I eventually asked another student who was in my group and who knew, otherwise I'd still be looking. That was after standing on a trolley pressed up against a group of policemen, all the while trying to emanate an air of "don't talk to me nor ask me for my papers".