Archive for October, 2012

October 31, 2012

Success and Awkwardness – The Emotional Rollercoaster That is Living in Moscow

For me, life in Moscow is an emotional roller coaster; a series of ups and downs usually based on my comfort level in a given situation. Most often, my comfort level depends on my command of the Russian language that day – yes, that changes…Every. Day. My comfort level can also be dictated by the amount of confidence I have in the moment. These levels and moments shift quickly. One minute I am so proud of myself for navigating the metro maze, until I ask for directions above ground and realize I went to the completely wrong metro stop. Or the days I am ‘owning’ living in Moscow only to be belittled to nothing by a cashier because I can’t give her a 10 rouble coin to make the change easier (or worse, when I give a coin thinking it will help make change, and I’m totally wrong). As if I purposefully planned to ruin her day by not having the 10 roubles – like I would intentionally put myself into a situation where I have to apologize profusely and wish I could just disappear or fear one of the 45 unnecessarily staffed security guards will shoot me on the spot. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad. (yes…it is).

Yesterday started as a success story. My last post described my disaster of an attempt at making rice krispy treats for my volunteer group. Fortunately, I was able to find American marshmallows and started all over again.

The rice krispy treats were new to everyone and loved by all. I drizzled mine in chocolate which makes them more fun and cool and complicated looking. Right?

…Just say yes.

In my explanations on how I made the rice krispy treats I learned a couple new words for my ever expanding Russian-culinary vocabulary. There were volunteers there that I hadn’t met yet, and since it was obvious I wasn’t from around here it sparked some major interest. One girl was digging my accent. Everyone asked the usual questions: “How do you know Russian?”, “Were you born here and then moved to America?”, “Where is it better – Moscow or America?”, “How is life in America?”, “Are there many Russians there?”, “Are there any 100% Americans who are Orthodox Christian?”, “Does the Orthodox youth get together a lot?”, “Who are you voting for, Obama or Romney?” (I could have an F.A.Q. post for questions we get asked in Russia). A new question last night was if newspapers are really delivered by little boys on bikes.

The evening was ending very successfully. I was interacting with people a lot and making new friends. I also got to spend some quality time with an old volunteer friend over some tea after everyone had left. She’s been super busy and we haven’t had a chance to catch up. Even though I was happy with my previous conversation, it was nice being able to talk more in depth. Not about the usual “Oh cool, you are from America” stuff, but more girl-chat stuff. I left the church (where we cook for the homeless) thinking I was completely in control. That I am totally awesome at living abroad.

It was slurrying outside and totally gross so I decided to try to find a cab/car to take me home. I saw a car stopped at a red light with an orange box thing on its roof. Preferring a legit cab over a gypsy cab I ran up to the guy’s window and started waving. He didn’t see me right away so I started waving more frantically to get his attention before the light turned green. He rolled down the window and I asked him to take me to my apartment on Noviy Arbat. Only I started the sentence weird and then said Noviy Arbat in a total accent. I have an accent, I know, but not nearly as bad as the one that came out. Oh no, here comes the awkward downfall after the successful evening. I can feel it.

The guy was nice enough, but shook his head and shrugged his shoulders and said (in Russian), “There’s a police man behind me.” There was indeed a cop car behind him, but I thought it was weird that he wouldn’t take me. Maybe there’s a rule if you’re stopped at a light. Perhaps he feared the cop would bust him for something made up by letting me in the car. I had no idea, so I just ran back to my friend (who was responsibly waiting to make sure I got into a cab). I told her he said no because of the cop behind him. We started to look out for another cab when the light turned green and the guy pulled up to the curb. “Oh look, he’s going to drive you,” my friend said. So I quickly walked back to the corner and got into his car. Only to realize the policeman was coming up to his window. He didn’t take me because he was in the middle of getting pulled over. And he didn’t drive up to the curb for me. And I was in his car. And now how am I supposed to sneak out of his car without him realizing I got into it??? Giving up on not being noticed I jumped out of his car and started to run like a lunatic. Once you (I) feel awkward, it’s all downhill from there. I caught up to my friend who hadn’t gone far and we tried again to find a cab. Then the pulled over guy started waving me over and said he would in fact take me as soon as the police finished their business. So I got back in the car. And waited. After about 10-15 minutes and after paying off the police 1000 roubles, the cabbie was ready to take me home! I guess I could have just gotten out and tried for another cab that wasn’t pulled over, but it was warm in the car and I was already beyond awkwardness redemption anyway.

The cabbie rightly guessed that I was foreign…duh. Once I said America he guessed California. I would like to think it’s because of my nice smile and wavy hair that he guessed right, but I think California is one of maybe two states people in Russia know. I did tell him that I now live in New Jersey (which is near New York, to reference state 2 of 2 for Russians).

I laughed away my awkwardness the rest of the ride. We chatted about the hurricane on the East Coast , America in general, and the Russian police. And I think I nailed it in the end by saying, “Drive carefully” (in Russian) before jumping out of the cab.

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October 24, 2012

Million Dollar Disaster

The other night I totally Macgyver-ed my Quinoa Pilaf with Cremini Mushrooms. I’m currently back in Moscow, but haven’t met up with Andrei’s cousin to get our bag of stuff. So I don’t have a mesh seive…in other words no way to rinse the quinoa before cooking it so it doesn’t taste bitter. Trying to rinse it in a cup then use my hand as a strainer just created semi-permanent quinoa gloves and elevated blood pressure. So I went with the next thing I could think of which was the french press. It came out well and I was proud of my resourcefulness. This dish is a foolproof dish, by the way, it tastes delicious anytime and anywhere I make it.

I served the pilaf with some veal tenderloin and the whole dinner was a beauty. I was so happy because my week long grace period since arriving should really be over and I need to start making more creative and less boring meals. Maybe I’ll say I should do this once a week just so I don’t raise the bar too high. Anyway, as may be evident, I was super confident in myself after this meal and was ready to tackle the next thing -bringing something awesome and new for my volunteer group. I did a lot of repeats last time so I wanted to bring them something I hadn’t made yet. If I could find the ingredients I thought maybe rice krispy treats drizzled with chocolate would be just the thing.

In one of the fancy grocery stores on our street I found the cereal. Actual Rice Krispies. For $12 a box. But have you ever noticed how when you are outside your own country money really feels more like Monopoly money…like, fake.

The next challenge was the marshmallows. I knew I wouldn’t find them anywhere near me because I had never seen them before in this area. There are aparently grocery stores that sell lots of American items, but would they have marshmallows, who knows. Plus I don’t know where those stores are anyway. So I went for the Russian marshmallow look alike – zephyr.

It feels, smells, and basically tastes like a marshmallow.

If it looks like a duck…right?

NOPE.

It melted into a clumpy mess. A light cloud of vanilla scent hung over the apartment, but I guess all the good smells left the actual sticky mess in the bowl. That did not smell as appetizing. I didn’t want to represent my exotic-ness (ok, ok…American-ness) by harming people with radioactive rice krispy treats so I dumped the bizarre mixture.

With only a couple hours left before my group met, I tried desperately to think of something else to do with the $12 box (worth $4 max back home 😉 ) of Rice Krispies. On their website I found a recipe using sweetened condensed milk. I ran to the store (for like the 5th time that day) and got the rest of the ingredients needed (well, I skipped the coconut and the nuts).

I’ve made a similar dessert before (my Gooey Bars) which are always pretty popular so I figured this would be a great last minute fix.

NOPE.

Disaster number 2 of the day ensued. Maybe I did something wrong, but the sticky mixture would not harden correctly and I could not take it off the foil. Foil doesn’t really taste that great, so I brought nothing to the volunteers this time. Except promises for something amazing the following week. Which now I have to come up with.

That recipe is called Lunchbox Coconut Surprise. As in, “SURPRISE – this recipe sucks!”

I’m irked by the word “Surprise” in recipe names. Same goes for “Magic”. For some reason those words always apply to recipes with sweetened condensed milk.

The whole time I was subconsciously aware that Kellog’s is on the “No-Buy GMO List”. Perhaps that’s why nothing worked out for me. I can hear my mom and sister cringing back home. As am I. Russia band GMOs (which is AWESOME), but they may have forgotten about some of their imports.

(side note: if you are in California, please VOTE YES on PROP 37. Google it. It could really start to make a difference nationwide. The rest of us are counting on YOU).

There is a girl in the group that started baking things too; especially while I was gone. I’d like to pat myself on the back for being her inspiration, but then where would my humility be? She is now inspiring me to get back on the ball before my reputation is replaced altogether. How silly that I feel threatened by the new cookies and cakes on the block…

October 15, 2012

F.A.Q.

1. What’s it like living in Moscow?

It’s interesting, difficult, exhilirating, spiritually uplifting, frightening, fun, and frustrating all at the same time. We’ve been having a good time.

2. It must be so cold

The winter is freezing beyond my comprehension of freezing. Not the whole time, but a lot of the time. We walked one time on one of the coldest days and I was pretty sure that my legs had gone permanently numb – although at the same time I could feel the ice cold wind cutting through my legs like knives.

3. What is the food like?

The Russian food (so regular food) and Caucaus & Georgian food is very good and the bakeries are also pretty delicious. Almost every Italian restaurant has a sushi menu. Don’t ask me why. Almost every sushi roll has cream cheese in it. Again, don’t ask me why. We have not found the perfect buffalo wings in any restaurant or American chain, but we have come close…sort of. I feel like many dishes in international cuisine restaurants are either exaggerated stereotypes (if that makes sense) or bizarre interpretations. I wish I could get a job fixing menu translations (I’ve seen salmon spelled simon and backed instead of baked)

Ordering at a restaurant makes me feel like I am role-playing in a language class (every time)

4. What are the people like?

For the most part the people are fine. I have met so many nice people and made several dear friends that I always miss when I’m gone. Some people you will encounter seem to have a bad day every day and they take it out on you – especially if you are clueless, helpless, or pleasant.

5. Do you have an apartment there?

No. We jump around different apartments within the same company, although we have stayed in the same apartment for separate trips. They are furnished (mostly by Ikea) and are run like a hotel. They are in real apartment buildings where other Russians live.

6. What do you do there?

I don’t really know. I try to discover new things, restaurants and secrets in Moscow. I’ve been volunteering and hope to add one more project to my current one.

7. You’re Russian must be getting so good

Not really.

8. Have you gone to the theater?

Not as much as we would like. It’s on the goals list.

9. How long are you going to be traveling there?

We don’t really have a definite answer for this. It kind of depends on Andrei’s project. If it gets delayed, we keep coming to Moscow.

10. Do you prefer living in Moscow over the United States?

Sometimes.

 

Updates most likely will be added as more FAQs come my way…