Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Day I Kicked the Dog

Two years ago, I vocally criticized the statue of a quietly resting dog in the Mendeleevskaya Metro Station. I was quickly told the legend of a stray dog that once quietly also lay in that same spot, until his frame became an obstacle for an umbrella-toting babushka. Apparently, in her fury at being upheld, she raised her umbrella, and with a single stroke, she pierced the poor, sleeping dog's skull. In their shock and anger, the people of Moscow placed this simple memorial statue in the very place it happened.


My morning started with a plastic bag. What's inside the plastic bag, you might ask? A banana, a tupperware of the leftovers from the previous night's rice dish, and a breakfast roll. Little did I know that this small grocery store bag carrying my breakfast and lunch would put me in such a position as it was about to.

As I do every day, I rode my small marshrutka van to work. I looked at my watch. Plenty of time, no need to rush. I strolled peacefully, listening to Mumford & Sons on my ipod, enjoying the beautiful, slightly chilly morning. Approaching the underground passage, I pulled my jacket and scarf just a bit closer, and briskly walked down the steps.

There he was. The dog. Staring at me--almost laughing at me, it seemed. I looked at his dusty, yellow fur matted down with city dirt. He is one of many happy stray dogs in this huge city. They roam around in packs or alone looking for food and warmth. They ride the metro, knowing full-well where they are going, thinking this is their city. On this day, this unsuspecting mutt learned who I was--a short, little Amerikanka with no patience for his shenanigans.

Our eyes met, and he smiled. Then there was the smell. My little plastic bag was emitting smells of deliciousness, and the mutt strolled toward me, still seemingly laughing.

Now usually for me, these stray dogs are like unwanted men. I am able to avoid their advances with a demeaning glance and cold body language, but this dog was the Pride and Prejudice Mr. Collins of all dogs. Persistently, he ran after me, and jumped on my arm. I pushed him away and continued walking with an unamused, cold stare. Catching the scent of the goods in my bag once more, he bit at my groceries.

"No! Bad dog!"

Undeterred, he jumped on my arm once more, lightly and playfully gnawing on my arm. This was unsettling. I know all too well that when a dog initially nibbles on your arm and you refuse him, the next bite will be more fierce. After another push, his clench became a little firmer.

That's when I kicked him.

My only thought being of holes in my favorite and only Fall coat, I felt my foot rise off the floor and lightly meet his body. As he yelped and released his grip and ran away, it was then that I realized I had kicked him in his "secret regions". Oops?

I also quickly walked away, afraid of further attempts. While I continued to walk, now sure that the mutt had not followed me, I saw an old woman outside in the park in her pajamas. She was unexpressedly enjoying being surrounded by a huge pack of dogs, feeding them her leftovers as they playfully nipped and licked at her.

How is she possibly enjoying that? They're filthy and STRAYS, no less! I thought.

When I reached the school, I was laughing with shock (because that's the generally inappropriate response I have when I get nervous), and I anxiously told my Russian assistants the story.

Their response was barely what I--although probably exactly I should have--expected.

"Oh Shannon! Poor dog! How could you??"

I'm sorry? A dirty, disease-ridden dog starts to nibble on my tender arm and you feel bad for him???

I of the Mendeelevskaya dog statue came flooding into my mind, along with fellow images of old babushki spending time in the parks to affectionately watch the strays eat their leftovers.

That's when I realized:

This city does belong to them. I stand corrected.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Toothbrush

Here's a story about a day of absolute horror that I experienced a few months ago. Yes, I am just now writing about it.

Earlier that week, I had purchased a beautiful, new toothbrush from the local supermarket, and I was so excited to use it. It had all sorts of special things about it--fading bristles that let you know when it was time to buy a new one, special grips for maximum tooth-brushing comfort, soft bristles. It was going to be the best toothbrush ever.

So, I began enthusiastically brushing my teeth, in of course the same amount of time I had previously, just with more rigor.

A few weeks later at the kindergarten, I could feel my throat starting to feel absolutely terrible. As usual, it was the beginning of a sickness, and my tonsils felt like they were on fire. So I did something totally normal. I went home, and I opened and ate an entire carton of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. It was the only thing that came close to soothing my throat, and in my newfound comfort, I fell asleep with the spoon still in my hand.

When I woke up, the lingering ice cream taste in my mouth was no longer so delicious and sweet, so I ran to my toothbrush! Now, just prior to that, my roommate had been walking around the house getting ready to leave, and I could hear him moving things around in the bathroom. I paid no attention to this.

I stood up to get to my toothbrush, and as always, when I picked it up, I thumbed the bristles. I don't know why I do this. I just always do. To my shock, the bristles were wet. Wet? How could this be? Why would MY toothbrush be wet? Maybe they fell down and someone washed them off? I thought, so I thumbed the other toothbrushes. Not wet. Then it donned on me.


I quickly ran to my phone, and sent my roommate a text message.

"Um...which toothbrush have you been using?"

The answer came shortly after.

"The green one."

My response?

"Oh my gosh. I think we've been sharing a toothbrush."

To my chagrin, my roommate answered, "In some cultures, I think that means we're married. Sorry."

How could he?? How could he confuse our toothbrushes? Doesn't he know which one is his and which one is mine? MINE WAS NEW!! How could he confuse them? That is so disgusting! For the past month, I have been sharing a toothbrush WITH MY ROOMMATE. SICK!!!

The following conversation took place later that evening.

Roommate: Yeah, that's gross. Have you been using my green one?
Me: YOUR green one?? That toothbrush was MINE! Uuuuuugh!
Roommate: No, that one was definitely mine.
Me:No, green is my favorite color. Of course I would buy a green toothbrush.

And then I remembered. I always buy kid toothbrushes because I have small teeth, but the supermarket didn't have any more kid ones, so I DID go for green, but they didn't have any good ones, so then I found a blue one with all the bells and whistles. The blue one (which was now in the trash with all the other toothbrushes that I had tossed in my shock and confusion) had been mine.

It wasn't him that confused anything! It was ME!!! And what was my logic? That green was my favorite color, therefore, I would be the only one in the house with a green toothbrush. Of course!!! What an idiot!!!

I buy pink toothbrushes from now on.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oh dear...

It seems I'm not particularly good at writing blogs. Eek.

There's so much about life that I feel like could improve. I have untapped potential, but I'm not so sure of how I can reach it. It's become clear to me as of late that it is necessary for me to get to this potential and push to my fullest extent. I moved to Russia in the beginning to reach dreams and goals that I had a lot of hope in. I think I've reached some of those goals, but there are still some that sit there like gaping abysses that I have yet to conquer.

It's an overwhelming feeling, really, just knowing that you've got so many things to do until you start doing what you THINK might set you up for vocational satisfaction. I realize now that in leaving, I set myself up in a place where I could potentially be stuck for a very long time, and never attain any of the goals I had. Of course, determination will lead me elsewhere, but how do I get there? I know what to do, but it's like going into a marathon without practicing for years, and specifically without a trainer.

Why do I need a trainer? I've never really been very self-motivated. Always determined, but rarely good at being self-motivated.

I still have not decided exactly what my focus will be for graduate school or exactly where I want to go. I need to study and take the GRE. I need to decide if I'm staying in Russia or moving elsewhere in the interim between Graduate School and where I am now.

Monday, January 25, 2010

When People Leave

Recently, a very dear friend of mine left Russia to move back to Germany. This has left me distraught in the realization that this is the life of an expatriate amongst other expatriates. A life of meeting different, amazing, beautiful people who touch your life and experience things with you that few others can and then they leave. Or maybe you leave. Either way, someone leaves and, assuredly, both feel like a piece of them has been hollowed out with a blunt, discomforting object.

By the time Inessa went home, she and I had grown significantly closer. With her leaving, this terrible realization that my world here is fickle and temporary came flooding into my mind. All of the situations I find myself in here will eventually become fond (or not so fond) memories. Friends will leave and return to their lives, and we will keep in contact and see each other every once in a while if the possibility arises. For so long, I could ignore this, but with Inessa's departure, I had to face it. Already, many of us are planning our great escapes from Russia--where will we go next, what obligations do we have to fill, how long do I have until I have to settle down in a place called "home"? Where is home? Is it here in Russia? Am I meant to stay here forever? We are ready for the next steps in life, but not quite ready for the end of this journey. The excitement is subsiding, and the pain of separation is rearing forth it's ugly head.

I'm not quite ready for any of that, but I know that the world I have created around me seems to be dissolving. I need to begin preparing myself for it. More people will leave to continue a "real life", and soon I will do the same. Where I will be going, I do not know. As cruel a mistress as Russia is, she is difficult to imagine life without.

I once did a "brave" thing in leaving for Russia, but now I need to figure out how to leave her.

Monday, November 16, 2009


It has now been over a year since I moved to this country.

In this past year, I have learned so much about myself, about Russia (and Russians), and about life in general. I know it seems so cliche, but I know so much has changed. I can feel how I have changed. I know I have been forced to reconcile myself with moral and practical issues for the sake of inner peace and the peace of those around me. I have had some INSANE experiences, both good and bad. I have missed home, and I have ached to come back to Russia when I have left her. People have always told me that once you come here, you never want to leave. Something about being here draws you in deeper and deeper, and as much as you disdain some portions of life in Russia, there is always the fervent attachment. I know long after I have moved on, I will always remember and long for my life in Moscow. She molds your heart and your mind in such a way that only people who have felt what you have felt will understand. It's a love-hate relationship that seems like a terrible country song.

It's also strange to be repeating events of when I first arrived. I left California directly after my birthday. I have passed another birthday, and other calendar events when I heavily felt the weight of being so alone have come and gone again, but this time, with the company of dear friends whom I feel I have had for many, many years. It takes a while to make a life in a new place. I remember my mother distraughtly talking to me after the many moves she had made with my stepfather, and at the time, I don't think I fully understood how hard moves like that can be. I probably still don't fully understand, but I can at least sympathize a little bit.

My goals for coming here have remained the same. Nothing there has changed at all. I still fully intend to study Russian Literature, and I am still actively taking steps to learn Russian. It often feels like I have made little to no progress, and it is perpetually a discouraging situation to realize how far I still have to go. I can, however, look back on how much I spoke when I first arrived with pride because I know I have come much further than I realize.

Right now, I am happier and more contented that I ever have been with life. I realize these moments are fleeting because there are always improvements to be made--always. But right now, I can look out my window and see the beautiful city that I live in, with the ever-intriguing people that walk her streets, and I know that this is where God wanted me to be and I can see why. a bad country song...sorry, guys. I really hate country.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

More newness...

I had good intentions for today...really I did. I was going to sleep in for as long as possible, take a nice long shower when I woke up, and finish unpacking my room...and then MAYBE clean some parts of the house that I thought needed it. Well, I woke up early, sat around watching episodes of TV on my computer, took the long, much needed shower, and have done everything I can since to avoid cleaning and unpacking. Oh well...

I had a GREAT time traveling Europe for three weeks. I spent the first week in Paris with my brother Andrew and his lovely wife Mary. I saw some sights, ate some really wonderful food, and spent special time with two people I really love. I also met some German girls that I was quite fond of, and one Russian guy who I wasn't really that fond of.

I spent the second week in Barcelona with a Russian friend of mine named Vika (Victoria) that I work with at the Playschool. Barcelona is an artistic city that I wouldn't mind living in someday. It was a whole lot of fun with Vika. I am now madly in love with Gaudi's works.

I spent my last week on an Orthodox pilgrimage in different parts of Ireland, staying mainly in a place called Letterfrack (Connemara). Ireland is greener than anything else I've ever seen, and the people are really great. I kept thinking "Why in heaven's name would my family ever have left this great place?!? I mean...potato famines aside...". Right, I know. Potato famines are a big deal. If they hadn't moved, I probably wouldn't be here today. Anyway it was really interesting to see this place that I had heard so much about, and whose culture I thought I knew so well.

The pilgrimage was really interesting as well because it focused on monasticism in Ireland's early history. We, as Orthodox, learn so much about the Desert Fathers, and the hardships and sacrifices they underwent when they moved out to the wilderness. In that same vein, Ireland is also a place where people have run for monastic settlements. Due to flippant weather and secluded islands, they have great difficulty growing crops, and getting from one island to the next. The hardships one experienced in Ireland were comparable to what our Desert Fathers experienced, just in a much wetter climate.

I was quite fond of the seclusion, finding it a great opportunity to reflect on my own life--especially concerning the last year I've spent in Moscow. Of course, I've lost enthusiasm for different things that used to be more or less important to me, some things that have been better or worse for my soul. There are also habits that I have grown to appreciate and some that I am more remorseful over. As always, there are people that I have lost communication with because of the time difference or lack of ability and convenience. If that's you, I'm sorry. Let's try to get reconnected.

Anyway, now I'm back home in Moscow. I moved into a new apartment in the very center of the city. I have two roommates, one of them being Corie Anastasia Hurley (one of my best friends from CA). I've also cut down on the amount of work and city-travel I usually do to save time for more important things in my life--one of them being my health. I'm still taking Russian lessons, and probably be starting German lessons in October sometime.

My new kids at the school are also really, really great. Some of my kids who had very, very special places in my heart are gone, but now I have their younger siblings, and some new kids that will quickly snuggle their way in. I'll be honest--I often feel that Moscow eats away at my soul, but working with children seems to heal what is taken by big city life. Their sweetness and purity gives me motivation and happiness when I lack the strength to find those things within myself.

Hopefully, I'll get to post pictures soon. My computer is an old man, so it takes ages to load anything.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sunny and Cold...and Mika

Coming from California, I had no idea what affects the weather has on someone's behavior and emotions. It took all of my energy to be peppy and happy in the winter, and now that the sun is coming out more frequently with warmer days, my moods have started to match more effortlessly. When it's a cloudier day, everyone's mood matches it as well. We just don't really have that in Orange County.

School has finished, and we are here now planning for the next year. After a week of planning, I will begin 3 weeks of my school's summer camp program. Then, in August, I will head to France to visit Mary and Andrew! YAY! Then to Barcelona, Spain for my birthday, and then to Ireland for an Orthodox tour of Irish Saints with Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. After I return, I will move (yet again) to another apartment. Hopefully, this will be the last.

I'm beginning to really feel the stress to finish up here and get moving with the rest of my plans. I am planning another year here, and then moving on toward furthering my education. I have so many years ahead of me, filled with so much to accomplish, but I'm ready to get going. I know I'm here to learn Russian, but my life here is so busy that it's almost monotonous. Is that even possible?

I feel the winds of change a-comin'!