Thursday, September 3, 2009

The journey and the arrival

Thankfully, I received my visa 6 days before flying off to Moscow. Holding my passport and looking at the visa was one of the first times that it really sunk in that I was really going. Not only was I going to Russia, I was going to be living in Moscow until December. Тhey translated my name as Кэтлен Мэри, which is as best as it can be as the "th" doesn't transliterate at all. This would be why I go by Катя (Katya) here.

My flight left rather early on Friday the 28th, and packing was incredibly stressful. Normally, I like to pack a week or so in advance, and then reevaluate and take out what I don't need; this, however, did not happen for the trip when this would have been the most useful! In addition to clothes and the like, I wanted to bring what supplies I knew would be difficult to impossible to get in Russia, ie, tylenol and peanut butter!

The best part of the trip was my layover in Chicago, where the lovely Olivia met me on my layover. We even had the run-towards-each-other-and-hug airport greeting. We had Starbucks and chatted about Russia (she just got back from Kazan!) and life in general. She was a dear and even brought me English- language books for fun reading, Russia guidebooks, and her grammar books from her stay. I somehow managed to shove all of them into my computer bag, and went back through security to catch my next flight. The TSA agent enjoyed seeing all my books and we started to have a conversation about literature before his superior told him to let me catch my flight.

This would be my first time out of the country, and thus my first 'long' flight. It was only 10 hours, and it honestly wasn't bad. The beginning was rocky when some Russians began arguing about luggage and overhead storage, and the poor flight attendants and I were trying to explain in broken Russian that it didn't matter which bin your luggage was in, especially when the flight was only 2/3 full! It was a stressful way to begin the trip, and I'll even admit I teared up when we took off. Honestly, what the hell am I doing? Reading, Tucson, or Macon would be much more comfortable. I speak the language and understand the culture. I'm used to packing up my life into two suitcases and leaving, but it hasn't ever been easy. I was even tempted to beg the flight attendant to put me on the next flight in DC.

But I didn't. I filled out the immigration card the flight attendant gave me, and watched the progress of our plane on the map. Dinner was surprisingly delicious: lamb with marionberry jelly, potatoes, and asparagus. They had an in-flight movie, which looked incredibly dumb, but the individual players in the seat had episodes of Mad Men. So many different people have told me that I would enjoy it, but I just have not had the opportunity to watch it. It was a bit difficult to understand as it was three random episodes rather than the first three, but the script, costumes, and cinematography was superb.

The flight was 95% Russians, which isn't unexpected, but I hate standing out as so decidedly American. The stereotype is true: Russian women are incredibly gorgeous. I have never felt uglier in my life. Of all the women on the flight, I was the only one not wearing makeup and not wearing heels. They are certainly fashionable - not fashion I necessarily like- but it is clear they actively think about how they look.

The flight status updater came onto the TV screen, and I realized I was flying over Russia. Our landing was very smooth, and as soon as we landed, health inspectors boarded the plane. Ours were two older women carrying bright blue guns they proceeded to point at everyone's head. I'm assuming the guns read our temperatures, as they seemed upset that mine was too low, but you clearly don't have swine flu if it is too low.

Once off the airplane, I had to get through passport control. The woman didn't speak any English, but she seemed frustrated that I was not Russian, meaning she had more paperwork. She didn't hand it back to me, but told me to go through the gate. Eventually she realized that she hadn't actually returned my documents, and then I got to go through customs. They did scan my bags, but nothing else. I then walked out into the non-scure area and was greeted by a barrage of people. It felt like I was a celebrity at a movie premier, or maybe a celebrity arriving at a funeral?

There were hundreds and hundreds of people behind ropes, holding signs and some were yelling. It was very somber, though. All I knew was that Grint was to meet me, but I didn't know how or where. So I kept walking, and had several people touch me and kept asking if I wanted a taxi. It was really unnerving. Eventually I saw a small man holding a sign with mine and one other American's name on it. I approached him, and introduced myself in Russian. Stupidly, I extended my hand before remembering that only very... forward girls do that here. He didn't reply at all, and then just walked off. I waited, he returned a few minutes later, and then he left again. He came back with another girl who also had luggage, and we left the airport. (I found out later that they can tell you aren't Russian if you don't bring back electronic stuff with you, ie, televisions and computers, and if your bags are not wrapped in saran wrap. Apparently they do that to keep them clean?)

Leaving the airport meant crossing a six lane highway, which didn't seem to phase him, and several staircases. We got to a huge parking lot and eventually he stopped at one car. I started to load our bags, and then asked where I should sit. He just pointed to the car.

Awesome. Way to be helpful. We drove in complete silence except for the Russian pop music playing on the radio. I think Jenny and I were just far too jet lagged and nervous to be able to make conversation. Then Ricky Martin's La Vida Loca came on as we drove through the Russian countryside and past a nuclear power plant. Talk about surreal. We went through the gates of the university, and I immediately fell in love with it. It is designed as a park, and so it is filled with birches and evergreens and twisty walkways. The buildings are painted colours like pale pink, minty green, and a light yellow. Most have huge windows and balconies. The dormitories (there are only two) are rather ugly, though. We pulled up to the dorm, and a man walked out wearing an Ambercrombie and Fitch t-shirt. This was Daniel, our RA of sorts. He spoke Russian well to our driver, but he welcomed us to Russia with a slight Texan drawl.

We said goodbye to our driver, who left without a word. Then we made our way through the security guards, who seemed highly amused at us. Then it was the trip in the tiny elevator up to the ninth floor, and into the apartment. Somehow it already felt homey, though this is probably from seeing photos of it from the other Macon girls. Jenny and I were the first to get to Moscow. We began to unpack our bags, where we felt like we'd brought both too much and not enough.

Daniel handed us bedding, which is so mismatched it is hilarious. I have a fitted sheet of blue plaid with daisies, top sheets of some Native american-looking geometric pattern, a tan and pink throw, and a green and yellow wool blanket. The rooms and apartment are generally quite nice, though. My favorite part is our classy balcony, ie, rusted fire escape.

This is probably it for now, as I have class in the morning. I promise I will I'll post pictures soon, and try to be better about keeping everyone updated. Oh, and the photo at the beginning would be one that Ele snapped of me reading on the fire escape our first night here.