Katie’s Epic Week (Sans Husband) Opus 1 No. 1

2010 August 27
by Katie
So even though we’re posted in Moscow, Ryan actually has to travel
quite a bit for his job. There are few in his position (which is why
we’re always going to be posted in large cities/big embassies—many
advantages to this), but it also means that his skillz are frequently
in demand at the all the smaller consulates out in the boondocks.
He’s already been to St. Petersburg , and this Monday he took off for
Vladivostok. To give you an idea of just how far away this is, it is
shorter distance from D.C. to Moscow than it is from Moscow to
Vladivostok. Yep. You got that right. He’s by the Pacific Ocean.
He’s 7 hours ahead of ME in Moscow (that would be 15 hours ahead of
EST). He’s 50 freakin miles from the border of North Korea. I’m sure
Ryan will have his own blog stories when he returns tomorrow—when I
checked in on him on Tuesday, he had not yet made it to Vlad.—in fact,
he wasn’t quite sure where he was. Apparently some dense fog (not
smoke?) prevented them from landing in Vlad., so Aeroflot landed them
in some little town in the middle of nowhere Siberia probably and put
them up in what he described as a really, really crappy hotel. I am
not sad I didn’t go with him. Really.
However, I had been fairly anxious about being alone this week —having
only been in Moscow for two weeks, I was already pretty culture
shell-shocked even with Ryan around (who, no matter where he is, lets
it all roll off him like water off a duck’s back). Of course he’s
been here much longer—and,unlike me, his job has involved, you know,
actually preparing for all that we’re encountering (not to mention his
3 or 4 months of Russian classes that I did not have the privilege of
taking). He has his regular job and schedule—he’s content with Bagel
Bites from the commissary. I have not and am not. That first week,
it was a major accomplishment for me to buy a few pieces of fruit at
an open market without Ryan, well, doing it all the hard work for me.
Even counting money was difficult at first—it’s still very much a cash
based culture (we can rarely use credit cards), and $1 = 30 rubles.
Things are really expensive here—(i.e. lots of dollars—multiply by
30….when you’re pricing you have to divide by 30…it can be
overwhelming). I know a calculator is an obvious solution, but I think
it’s more emotional than that. I don’t like feeling out of control at
the grocery store, but you find yourself not realizing just how much
you’re spending on the most basic , normally cheap staples).
Thankfully, I quickly learned how to take the metro from our apt.
building to the American Embassy—it’s really quite easy, and so the
first two weeks I really stuck between our cocoon of a shiny new
apartment and “little America” at the embassy compound—even that world
is a new culture largely unfamiliar to me, but at least they speak
English. Well, most of them. The real Moscow that lies in between
and all around my little American hubs is a fairly intimidating,
chaotic, and at first unfriendly place that still makes me a little
nervous—in a healthy cautious sort of way. But this week, without
diplomat husband, I’ve had to face Monster Moscow on my own.
Here was my original plan: to watch as many BBC period dramas as
possible on Netflix on Demand. Another advantage to being married to
your local Security Engineering Officer is that we are most definitely
hooked up with a most excellent wireless entertainment system (even
now before our larger shipment has come). Not only did he figure out
a VPN address for us (this tricks the internet into thinking we’re
actually in New York instead of Moscow—hence we can stream Netflix on
Demand, Hulu, Pandora, etc), but he convinced his parents to purchase
and set up a Slingbox for their cable, allowing us to watch their
cable here. Don’t ask me how it works, but they fact that I STILL
can watch my favorite Food Network stars when I’m homesick and out of
dinner ideas=fantastic. So…..I was pretty pumped for a week of
vegging out. And doing Rosetta Stone Russian. While essentially
avoiding Russia. It can be stressful out there when all you know is
“The cat is on the table” or “ Hello. My name is Katie. How are
Ryan and I met for lunch at the embassy on Monday. He left for the
airport straight from there after lunch. He had some papers for me to
sign and needed me to get some black and white photos made for my
driver’s license to submit some preliminary paperwork (apparently
getting my DL is going to involve an entire afternoon some Wednesday
in a few weeks). He handed me some other forms (which included my
shot record) and informed me that I needed to report to the Med Unit
for the official briefing at 3 pm on Wednesday. Cool. I figured that
would inspire me to go to the gym (also in embassy) and provide just a
bit of structure to week of vegging. He left, and I went to the
embassy salon (yes, we have a salon—employed by an “English speking”
staff, so they advertise). They don’t really speak or spek much
English…but I got a decent hair trim for a “Moscow decent price.” (
I am learning that one’s standards for many aspects of life become
increasingly relative when abroad). I thought about working out
while I was there, but, as I always say, why ruin a good hair day?
They don’t come that often…clearly I’ve got a lot of mullet sporting
Russians to impress. I went home…very excited about starting
Masterpiece Theatre’s version of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and
, and perfunctorily checked my email. I had one from the totally awesome world-renowned
international school for most of Moscow’s English speaking (or
speking) diplomat’s kids. And rich Russian kids. And some Koreans. HR
lady asked if I was still interested in substituting and/or teaching—I
responded by eagerly with a big yes—and at the time was actually
grateful that they contacted me simply because it saved me the trouble
of doing so myself. I could continue in my lazy passivity. She
responded to me immediately saying that they had a pretty urgent need
for a long term sub for middle school humanities (combo English and
Social Studies)….it would last through the first quarter at LEAST.
Hmmm….middle schoolers. Of course I said yes. They wanted to
interview me ASAP. Of course I said yes.
We’ve known for a long time that the school is kind of in the far suburbs of
Moscow (as opposed to the embassy and especially our apt—which is in
the heart of the city). There’s actually a lovely community of
beautiful, spacious town homes that it is literally on the same
property as the school—we could have lived there, with all the
British, Canadian, and American dip families who have 2.5 kids and a
dog . That’s where most families with school aged kids prefer to
live…but many people in our DINK stage of life have expressed feeling
Pleasantville/Suburbia creepy vibes (actually, I doubt I’d mind that
as much as some people. I am pretty turned on by large fields of green
grass, especially when they are maintained by someone else). The real
deal breaker was that it would be an awful commute to the embassy for
Ryan, and because he’s often “on call” and has to get there ASAP at
all hours, it just wouldn’t work. Still…when Ryan and I took a long
metro ride and long walk through the woods to school and I realized
that we could have lived in this beautiful recluse by the woods (I’m
sure it’s gorgeous in the snow), anda lovely view the city in the
distance….on the same campus as my likely place of employment…well….I
might have been slightly envious of these people. I’m kind of hoping
one of these families might adopt me for weeks when Ryan’s gone.
As it stood, the middle school principal wanted to interview me at
4pm on Wednesday. Of course, I had only one solitary scheduled event
for the week entire week, and she has to suggest the same day and time
for the interview (or close enough to where both would be utterly
impossible). I hesitated about what to do—I knew the Med brief was
important so I would know what to do in case of emergency, (it is NOT,
in fact, to dial 911, by the way) as well as how to order
prescriptions online through insurance which DPO or APO address to
use, where to go to the dentist/eye doctor,recognizing sketchy Russian
over the counter drugs and other things to avoid…but….at the same
time…here was a coveted job opportunity. I did not want to miss it.
Of course Ryan was up in the air at the time I got this email. I have
been able to text him and email him, but I can’t always get quick
responses due to time difference and his work schedule. The school
told me to go to my Med briefing and rescheduled my interview for
Thursday at 4pm. Next item of business—how the heck to get there.
The metro only takes you so far. Actually, you can technically walk
there from a few metro stops, but it’s a 25-30 minute schlep through
the woods—totally fun on a sunny Saturday with your husband when you
have nothing else to do—not ideal before a job interview. And not
like I could possibly figure out the winding path myself—Ryan was
using his Iphone GPS map, of course. We do not yet have our car (it
should arrive in a week or two—knock on wood…not that I could have
possibly driven there on my own at this point), and although AAS’s
website instructed one to take the marshrutnoye taxi #12 or #462 from
the Sokol metro, the HR lady instructed me to NOT take this as the
embassy does not recommend this…and that she doesn’t either.
(Actually, Ryan and I took one from the school back to the metro last
Saturday, and while it did the job, I can see why the AE might not put
them on approved lists of public transportation. If you’re curious as
to what these marshrutnoye taxis are, Wikipedia them). Rather, she
suggested I take a regular taxi from the embassy (which would cost me
between 300-500 rubles). She said that I should NOT take a regular
taxi from the Sokol metro (the closest station from the school) as
taxi drivers know the demand and purposely jack up the prices to AAS.
I was terrified. True confessions: I have never called, hailed, or
in any way procured a taxi by myself. Even when I arrived at the bus
station in Oxford this summer and needed a taxi to Lincoln College, I
connived an Oxford student with a mobile to call one for me. I don’t
mind taking them, paying them, or telling them where to go (in
English, that is), but I have a real phobia of tracking one down.
Actually, in Russia I have a fear of all the aforementioned parts of
the process. (Oh, that’s right…nyeh pawnee my-oo parooskee—I don’t
understand Russian). In such a situation, I am always worried I’m
going to be charged like 30,000 rubles by some mafia guy, or I get a
driver who doesn’t know where the school is….or who doesn’t
understand the English name of the school…all these things. ( I know,
I know –I could have written the address on a piece of a paper…but I’d
have to write in Cyrillic to guarantee taxi driver would
understand….and what if I get a Georgian driver who doesn’t even
speak/read Russian? Crazier things have happened.) But I assured HR
lady that I would “figure it out” somehow. I texted Ryan in a panic
and he told me to contact the CLO. The CLO, or “Community Liason
Office” is supposed to be available to help pathetic family members
like me do things like find taxis. I keep forgetting they exist.
(*Cough* Probably because they’re fairly useless—and never returned my
several phone calls made in DC about teaching jobs *COUGH). Ryan
encouraged me to introduce myself to them the first day he took me to
the embassy, but I was exhausted, grumpy, and vulnerable and just
didn’t feel like it. Gaaaaawsh. I genuinely did go by the CLO the
other week when running various errands…no one was ever around.
Government workers. Typical. At any rate, I was planning on going to
see the CLO before my Med Briefing on Wednesday at 3pm.
Lady from HR had emailed me bright and early Wednesday morning with
yet another plan—there are nice, dependable school  sanctioned shuttles
which run between Sokol (metro stop, remember?) and the school several
times a day—but only in the early morning and mid-late afternoon,
obviously. She said she could reschedule my interview with the middle
school principal and the high school principal (what??) for 9am
Thursday morning, allowing me to take the safe, free, and direct
shuttles from Sokol to school. She even said she could arrange for a
driver to take me back to the embassy compound at 10 am (because she
still thought I lived there), but that was fine—I can always take the
metro from there. Now….to get to Sokol.
See the metro map below? I know you probably can’t see all the
details (though, you could google it online if you really have nothing
better to do), but, as you can see, it’s vast. We live very close to
the Dobreynskaya metro on the Circle Line (in a leather brown color).
Do you see it? Now, I had to get to Sokol (on the dark green
line—extending North of the City. Just like all underground systems,
there are various lines, and at certain stations, these lines
intersect. Unlike other systems I’m familiar with (namely DC ), the
Moscow lines do not share rails at any given point (I don’t think).
Rather, if you want to change lines (let’s say, for example, you are
on the circle line, and want to get to the dark green line like I
did), you have to take the circle line one stop (counterclockwise) to
Paveletsky, and then you have to take a long underground pathway
(called a “perehod”) to access the other line. (“Perehod” is also an
underground walkway that allows you to “cross the
street”underground—very useful considering Moscow weather and crazy
drivers. I actually like this system because it takes a lot of the
confusion out of the metro. Wherever you are, if there are trains on
either side of you, it’s the same line just going in opposite
directions. There is no real danger (like in DC) of jumping on what
you think is the blue line and 3 stops later you realize it’s the
yellow line (and that you’ve majorly delayed yourself). However,
several of the Moscow metro’s perehod’s are currently closed for
construction/remodeling (who knows?) for the time being. Ryan and I
ran into this problem on Saturday when we went out to the school, so
we had to back track and do an entirely different route (plus, we
weren’t going to Sokol—we were going to the Oktyabrskoe metro to walk
(so decided Ryan and his iphone). Apparently he knew that the perehod
connecting Belgrusaya from the brown circle line to the green line
was closed as well, but I wasn’t thinking about this when did my test
run onWednesday. I left the house about 12:30 pm (I know, I haven’t
been getting up and at ‘em very quickly these days when I don’t have
to) and went ahead and packed my bag for the gym and got my
documentation for the Med briefing at the 3 (at Embassy). I took the
circle line to Belorusskaya in order to change lines to the dark
green, but of course, the perehod was closed. There was a big metal
box completely engulfing the staircase with a big poster that said
(among other Russian words that were mysterious to me): “Zagreet.”
That would be “closed.” Crappity. (Actually I just learned that
“bleen” is the Russian equivalent of darn or crap—like “blini.” I
learned that another variation of this word is the worst of the worst
Russian wordy dirds. ) So..I my only option was the take the circle
line all the way back to Paveletsky (another 20 minutes), take the
perehod, and then take the dark green line all 9 stops or whatever to
Sokol. I thought the metro would be relatively empty at 2pm on a
weekday—especially going out so far of the city. Not a chance. In
fact, the metro is always packed—at 7 am, at 11am, 3pm, 12:30 am…it
doesn’t appear to be any worse at “rush hour” than any other time.
Moscow never sleeps, and the metro keeps them running at least 20
hours a day. Sometimes the metro is really hot even when the
temperature is very pleasant (or -30) outside. Russians have a much
smaller “box” of personal space than Americans, and the protocol is to
cram up against other people (even if the car isn’t that crowded) in
order to make as much space for others as possible. Even if a seat is
available, I almost prefer to stand, just because I have a higher
chance of not having anyone’s hips/side touch me. However…I am
starting to get over this. Along with the b. o. But you rarely have
to wait more than 30 seconds on a train to come, and it moves. And
it’s cheap.
I finally arrived at Sokol around 2 pm. Thankfully, the HR lady gave me explicit instructions
of which way to exit the metro(there are often may options which can put you out at various
streets—so if you don’t really know your way around, a wrong choicecan really mess you up—Ryan and I have often had this problem). Iknew to go right, right, and right and to find the Maxima Pizza
restaurant, because the white Toyota van (with Dip plates) would pull
up right by it. Got it. I was supposed to catch the 8:30am shuttle
the next morning. HR suggested getting there at 8:15 just in case a
long line of staff had queued up (it’s first come first serve so long
as you’ve got your embassy or school badge). This metro journey had
taken me an hour and half. Crappity. Obviously if I had done it
right the first time, it wouldn’t have taken me nearly as long, but I
didn’t have a really accurate way of knowing. Plus, I couldn’t go directly home at
this point, because I had to get back to embassy for my Med briefing.
And because I could not take the perehod at Belorusskaya, I had to go
the most indirect way imaginable (all the way back to Paveletskaya ,
through the perehod, and back on the circle line for 5 more stops). I
had heard the woman running the Med brief has no patience for
tardiness, so I was a bit anxious. I arrived at the Med Unit 15
minutes early, just in time to fill out a bunch of paperwork. I can
never remember my blood type. Afterwards, I did work out at the gym
and ran two miles on the treadmill without stopping or walking. I
was pretty proud of myself. Mostly I was trying to wear down my nerves
so I would calm down and sleep well for my very early morning.
Last Friday at the CLO icecream social Ryan introduced to Logan and
Molly, a really nice couple about my age whose apt. building is right
behind ours. They’ve been here about a year and half and are leaving
for Tanzania sometime in late Winter. Knowing I would be on my own
this week, they had kindly invited me over for dinner that evening.
(By the way, another skill I’ve worked on this week is my ability to
operate Ryan’s old Blackberry, which is now mine. Now that a handful
of people like Logan and Molly know my #, it is useful if I can
actually send texts back. Until now I’ve avoided cell phones which did
anything more than receive calls from or calls other people). She
texted me that their place was called “Dom 5” (House 5), but I still
wasn’t really sure which one that was. There are several apt.
buildings behind ours (think Crystal City). So, I called her and told
her I was approaching a gate near them, and she said to keep on
walking and she’d meet me down there. I saw an open gate (where cars
can enter), so I just walked right in. Naturally, a small old man
emerged from the guard gate and start going hysterical in Russian.
Oops. So…I backed out. He seemed to be signaling me to take another
pedestrian gate (which was closed). I rang the doorbell-like button,
but nothing happened. He was still going on and on, and I was smiling
stupidly. I was just thinking how my linguistic ignorance is
sometimes a blessing to my self esteem. I could tell the general
message: “No, crazy stupid woman—you can’t go in that way,” which, had
this been in my native tongue and culture, I’d be quite offended and
possibly verbally defensive. But, I found it all funny. I didn’t
even try stop his diatribe—just smiled. After he paused, I calmly
said “Ne pawneemyoo pa rooske.” Even more frustrated, he began
gesticulating wildly, pointing to his phone, pointing to the apt.
buildings, fake calling …I got it…he was telling me to call my friend
to come down. I had already taken care of this, of course, but I did
not know how to tell him this. I was trying to think back to my
Rosetta Stone lessons—I had at one point indentified the word for
“friend,” but I couldn’t remember it…I knew the word for telephone
(telefonae—not too hard)…but even if I knew these too, I could not
express to him that “I’ve already done this—I’m just waiting.” So, I
said all I knew that seemed relevant which was “Zhaneshena (woman—and
I pointed to apt. building)” and “hareshow” (which means, “good, fine,
okay, sure,etc”). Thankfully, Molly manifested about this time, said
something quickly to the guard in Russian..and we were fine. He
looked baffled. Molly explained to me that if I got off our elevator
at the 2nd level (something we’d never done) we could access the
courtyard that connects our two buildings and not have to deal with
the guard. Also, apparently we can get an access card that gets us in
these gates, but you have to go meet with someone at some
office—something I will definitely not be doing on my own. Or without
a translator. But good to know. I do not think Ryan knew this.
Although they seemed very nice from the get go, I knew immediately
when I walked into L and M’s apt. that I would really like them.
Their place is not as nice, new, and spacious as ours, but it’s
comfortable and cozy, and clearly emphasized their value of things
that Ryan and I value respectively. Their kitchen is large with an
awesome view of the Kremlin (they had requested a large kitchen) with
all sorts of food going on—brats and potato wedges broiling in the
oven, a fantastic looking salad being assembled, a big red kitchen aid
mixer..and things were not perfect and neat. It looked like they
lived there and cooked there. Their living room is stuffed with lots
of books (and cookbooks) that I approved of and Logan’s X-box, Rock
band accoutrements, the Wii, and other electronic toys. Their walls
are a motley mix of random stuff from their travels. I like people
who live like this—it looks like us. They had also invited a new FS
officer named Sophie (she’s single) who lives on the 4th floor of our
building—she just arrived a week ago (also seems about my age) and is
really nice and fun. I really enjoyed getting to know all of them and
am so glad they’re close by (especially when Ryan takes off on trips
for weeks at a time). But I sort of knew this would happen—I knew
that I’d have a great time and want to stay late talking and laughing
(after spending a lot of time alooooone), and that I’d be super sleep
deprived for my interview. Molly had made some dairy-free super
intense chocolate espresso gelato for dessert. It looked so good..I
knew this would deadly to a good night’s sleep as I am very sensitive
to caffeine. But she assured me it only had a little espresso…and so I
had one small scoop (and drank another glass of wine hoping it might
counteract the caffeine). About 10 o clock I started saying I
probably needed to go home…and Sophie and I finally left at midnight
(more my fault than hers).
We tried to go back the way I should have come (through the terrace
and through the second floor back entrance), but neither of our codes
would open the door. She swore it worked fine the other day. I
totally believe her. Russia…..) So, we had to walk all the way
around and to the street level. By the time I got back to my apt. it
was 12:30. It occurred to me that I should probably look over the
curriculum/benchmarks for middle school humanities (posted on the
school’s website) once more before going to my interview and feigning
any expertise on 7th graders (let me assure you—I got nothin). And I
finally went to bed. About 1:15am. I did not sleep. At all. I’m
not a good sleeper anyway—it’s extremely difficult for me to get to
sleep if just the slightest things are altered from my good sleep
hygiene routine and schedule. But sometimes the life I want to live
(and should) interrupts it quite frequently. Even if I had factored
out the late night social event (always gets me very wired), the
caffeine (however small a dose), and the fact that I’d fallen into a
stay-up-late sleep late schedule, I’m sure my racing thoughts about
other things would have kept me up anyway. I kept rehearsing the
metro trip in my head. Every other time I had been to the metro at
Dobreninskaya we always take the 1 line going clockwise (this has
become autopilot by now), and I HAD to remember to take the other
direction, then get off after just one stop, take the perehod, and
switch to the green line. Take it to Sokol, take the right exit, turn
right…wait for shuttle by the Maxima Pizza place. It’s really not
that hard, but it’s all so new to me and I was really worried I would
forget or something. Having not had time to take this correct route
the whole way through on Wednesday, I still didn’t really know how
long it would take. I was allowing for an hour and a half, even though
it was probably more like 40 minutes. If I missed that 8:30am
shuttle, I would have no idea how to get there. I did have the
school’s number in my Blackberry (that I had finally kind of figured
out), but it was charging by the computer in the man room. I put a
sticky note on my mirror so I wouldn’t forget my phone (because I
often do). So I kept rehearsing it over and over in my head. I
hadn’t even thought about possible interview questions and how I
might answer them. I didn’t have room in my brain to worry about this
at this point. Honestly, the situation sounded like if I wanted the
job I could have it—because they needed a warm body (preferably a
highly qualified one like me) and fast. I started worrying about the
long commute that would become daily and even earlier
starting…well…on Friday, potentially. I started worrying that,
despite my “qualifications” I really do not know how to effectively
handle middle schoolers while teaching them anything of value
appropriate to their age. That I tend to hate young adult
literature…that I’d rather be reading Dostoevsky with high schoolers,
that I had read about these week long field trips that middle
schoolers take in September to places like Sochi—I assumed I’d be
required to chaperone, and honestly, that kind of sounded like hell. I
realized I’d have to give up the trip to Frankfurt with Ryan in a few
weeks even though we had already purchased the nonrefundable $600
ticket. I thought about how I probably wouldn’t be able to take any
Russian classes any time soon, and I was kind of sad about that. And
I hoped my pant suit pants still fit after a summer of British food
(was glad I thought to pack my suit in our UAB). I had not thought to
try them on again. I think I went to sleep….sort of…around 5am. Both
alarms (I was slightly paranoid I would never wake) went off at 6am.
I finally got up about 6:20, not even bothering to hit any snooze
buttons. I was that exhausted. A shower helped, though I realized my
eyes were too glossy for contacts—that was fine. I figured I’d look
smarter in my glasses anyway. I tried to eat a piece of toast, but
could get down one bite without feeling a bit queasy. I made some hot
green tea in a Styrofoam cup with a plastic lid (leftover from a
coffee house reading I did with my students last year—another good
thing to pack in UAB). The pant suit fit well enough. I was too lazy
to iron a blouse on Wednesday, so I wore one of my favorite blue silk
ones that wasn’t too wrinkled. However, I remembered as I put it on
that, even though it fits fine, one of the buttons near the bust likes
to come undone (I think because of the slippery material—it just slips
out) which can sometimes make for an embarrassing situation. So I
buttoned up my suit jacket, (it was a little cool out that early
anyway) and tried not to worry about it. I left the house at 7:10
looking pretty good for one hour of sleep. Not too bad.
The metro trip was successfully uneventful insofar as connection
making. I did not trip on the escalator in my low heels, though I
don’t think I’ll ever brave the stilettos that most Russian women do
for all occasions. The only slight “delay” involved an abandoned beer
bottle. At one point during my ride on the green line, we made a
stop, some folks boarded, as did a rolling, rogue empty beer bottle
(at 7:20 am, mind you). It just rolled on in. But then it rolled
back, ending up aligning itself dead on the door threshold. I knew
this would be a problem. I was sitting down about 8 feet away. Several
Moscovites were standing right by it. They were staring at it. They
did nothing. So, of course, when the doors closed, ours would not.
It’s just like when your cat lines itself with the descending garage
door. But the metro doesn’t go until the doors are closed. Unlike the
rest of these people, I actually wanted to get going. I gestured
towards the bottle, and just as I got up to get it myself, someone
kicked it out of the way. I sat back down, and the bottle rolled
towards my feet. I stopped it with my cute black heel. I did not want
an empty bottle rolling around the car floor, possibly breaking,
possibly tripping someone (like me, or a little babushka), and I did
not want it to get stuck in the door and no one do anything about it.
So, much to everyone’s bewilderment, I held the bottle with my feet
for the duration of my ride as I sipped my tea in the Sytrofoam cup
with a lid and checked my Blackberry for the time. They all stared at
me at first—what’s this weird American dressed all smartly doing
holding someone else’s trash with her feet? Give a hoot, Russians!
(All the parks here are just terribly littered—it’s really sad. It
makes me look forward the snow burying it all). When we finally
stopped at Sokol, I picked up the empty beer bottle and took it with
me. I scanned the metro for a trashcan, but couldn’t find one. So, I
took the escalor up, empty Styrofoam cup in left hand, empty glass
beer bottle in the other. This made me feel slightly
self-conscious—it was only 7:45 am, but then I realized I was the only
one who would find this odd, embarrassing, or shameful. I did indeed
find a trashcan near the Maxima Pizza place—this is a good thing,
because I really didn’t want to walk into my interview with an empty
beer bottle…at least not that early in the morning.
I saw some Russian speaking ladies line up near the spot where I
thought the shuttle would come. Hmm..I was expecting maybe some
English speakers. But, within the next 10 minutes, a white Toyota
minibus with Dip plates pulled up (I was really glad I didn’t have to
wait for the 8:30 trip). They all boarded, and I grabbed my badge,
showed it to the driver (though no one else did) and asked, “Shkoola”?
Dah. The shuttle is pleasant, well driven 5 minutes to the school. I
was at the front door at 8am sharp. 50 minute door to door trip. Not
terrible. And it only cost me about $1. I walked in the front
office and quickly found a pretty redhead who turned out to be HR lady (actually, she reminds me of Laurie Parsons, except that she’s
from Texas. ) I apologized for being really early (which she
assured me was not a problem), and she sat me down on a couch in the
office for a minute or two. About 10 seconds later, the director of
the school (I recognized his picture from the
internet), knew exactly who I was. He’s extremely nice and also has
a faint Southern drawl. And guess what he wanted to talk to me
about—Bread Loaf. He spent a summer at BL Juneau campus. Get out.
He wanted to hear all about my graduation and congratulated for me for
such a “tremendous accomplishment” and told me that one English
teacher is a BL graduate, and another one just started the program
this summer. Finally….someone cares and understands and doesn’t make
fun of my fake Sugar Loaf Mountain degree! And I only had to move to
Moscow. He explained to me a “change” in situation. He said that they
were originally considering me for a middle school humanities long
term position (unfortunately a teacher has a pituary gland tumor or
something, so they think he’ll be fine, but needs to take a quarter
off for treatment). But, they already found a replacement (??
Internally). However, there was a possible full time high school
English position available—for the entire year. Was I interested?
HECK YES. I was quite honest and said, “Wow, I am so glad I don’t
have to pretend to know what to do with 6th graders.” Maybe I
shouldn’t have said that, but somehow I felt like it would be okay.
Erica showed me the restroom and little lounge and asked me if I’d
like tea, coffee, or water. They had a huge selection of white and
herbal teas and an electric kettle with water already boiling. I
choose the mango white tea, and she gave me (a real) mug. I was
already sold on this place. She took me to her office and said we
could just chat a big before  the high school principal
made her way down. I don’t know if this was really “part of the
interview,” but it really just felt like talking to a friend. She
wanted to know where I was from, where I had taught before—she printed
off a copy of my resume since I don’t have a printer with me yet…she
told me about how she met her Russian husband on an exchange program
in high school and then met him later on in college. HS principal is
equally awesome. She told me the skinny: that she thought they were
fully staffed, but that they really needed a PE teacher and have a
fairly “shallow pool” of applicants, and that one of their English
teachers (who is an excellent coach already and apparently possesses a
great “gym” presence) just yesterday….offered to be the PE teacher.
But wasn’t 100% yet. Therefore, they’d need another English teacher.
And so we had a great interview—I won’t go into all of it (boring
English teacher interview questions-but really good questions), but I
felt so at ease and as if I had already won them over too. I thought I
was going to potentially have a combination of 9th, 10th and IB 11th
graders. Hard work for sure, but awesome, awesome. And I’d have
smaller classes and more prep time. And then Erica went over some
salary and benefits. Wow….the Lyfords would have been SET. I was
pumped. At the end of the interview HS principal told me that, basically,
if the job is available…so long as there weren’t any issues with
reference checking (I was not worried), I had the job. Wow.
They even arranged for one of their drivers to drive me back to
embassy at after my interview (actually, they thought I lived on the
compound—I think had they know n where I lived, they would have had
him drive me home, but I said it was fine and I’d just stop by the
commissary or something and take the metro home). He dropped me off
at a gate I had never been to before (it’s a big compound), so after
some hesitant wandering, I finally figured out where I was. I bought
some ibuprofen and a hot bagel with cream cheese at the commissary (I
had taken my last packed painkiller recently—our big stock is in our
big HHE shipment) and sat down in cafeteria to take a breather. I
kind of enjoyed moseying around the embassy in my suit—I looked like I
worked there, not like a 2nd class citizen unemployed spouse. Plus, I
was about to get a way better job than most of them, anyway. So I
thought to myself.
The principal  told me she would let me know one way or the other within 24
hours. I was exhausted, and really excited. I tried to take a nap
but I couldn’t. So I took a long bubble bath and read some of a
book—our hot water finally runs fairly clear (instead of dark rust
orange), so for the time being I can take one without concern of
becoming even dirtier. I remembered that Logan and Molly had
convinced Sophie and me to go to the DCM’s party thing at his
townhouse (the DCM is the guy who is next in line to the ambassador—I
met him last week, and he’s very nice. He’s also chairman of the
board at this school and just MAY have put in a good word for me at the
school.) They said that invitations were sent to newcomers, but it’s
really for everyone and their spouses (who is new)…but that the food
and drink was plentiful and excellent. And free. And Logan, Molly,
and Sophie were going too. I was skeptical, but they said they were
sure Ryan was sent an invite and just didn’t know it or didn’t respond
because he’d be gone. So…I figured…..sure. At least I would know nice
people there. I dressed sort of nice casual (I didn’t know the
attire, but I wasn’t going to wear my suit. ) It sounded pretty
chill—5:30pm at the man’s house. So, I wandered around the embassy
and found Townhouse # 1, but it seemed so quiet. I didn’t see any
movement or shadows through the curtains. There was no flag or
balloon or greeter….I felt strange about knocking on the door…not
being invited, technically..I was just too chicken. Since the
ambassador is out of town somewhere (??), this man is, for all intents
and purposes, the acting ambassador. I’m sure his butler would have
opened the door. But…I just didn’t knock. I did text Molly and let
her know I was self consciously hanging out in his front yard…I asked
if they were there….but I didn’t hear back right away. I was getting
I saw Ryan’s coworker David. (It’s amazing that with over 1000
employees-plus family members-you really do start to see the same
people over and over. Just like high school). I said hello and asked
him if he knew about this DCM shindig. He confirmed that I was indeed
near his house, but he did not know about the party. He expressed no
opinion one way or the other about whether or not I should knock and
see. Just then, my phone rang. I was just sure it was Molly telling me
to come on in the party. But it was the principal who sadly informed me her
English teacher decided not to be the PE teacher…therefore, no
position. She truly sounded as bummed out as me (of course, she loses
me AND a PE teacher and school starts Tuesday!). But she let me know
how impressed she was with our interview and would love, love me to be
“part of their team”—that they would have ample opportunity for me to
short term sub as often as I wanted ($110 a day—not bad), and that
they would contact me as soon as something more long term came along.
And she said—“and if you want, you should go and enjoy Frankfurt with
your husband.” 
Just then, David’s wife Kelly came out the door, sweaty from the
gym, she said, “hey—we were going to go out get pizza near our place.
Wanna come?” They had actually invited us over for dinner a week ago,
but Kelly was sick (sinus infection from the great smokiness, she
thinks). Sure I did. So they drove me to their place (a very cool
location about a mile from the embassy—but, really, really crappy
apartment. Ryan and I REALLY lucked out. And they reminded us of
that as well. ) They’re also really nice, and I enjoyed playing with
their scruffy cat, Speedy and drinking my new favorite (and only
favorite) beer called Redds. It’s Polish and tastes like cider. But
since it’s really beer, you look cooler drinking it. Apparently Kelly
is also quite the foodie and loves to cook, so over good pizza a nice,
new, and “reasonable for Moscow” priced place, she told me all about a
huge open and closed market near their place that has the absolute
freshest and best local food. Although people tell you to avoid meat,
fish, and cheese at these places because they may have not been
refrigerated for many hours, her guidebooks and other people tell her
this place really is ok (especially if you go in the morning), because
they’ve literally just slaughtered the cow or brought out the cheese.
And they sell other stuff like laundry detergent and canned goods for
half the price of the grocery store. They walked me through the place
when they escorted me to the metro. Hopefully I can convince Ryan it
will be a worthy cultural experience so he can help me carry bags on
the metro. 
So, that was my week. I went from knowing almost no one to making
quite a few friends—I was fed several times, I went to the grocery
store by myself, I found the school by myself, I almost a teaching
job…twice, I am on the school’s short list of go-to subs/teachers, and I have
only watched one movie. I’d say it was a pretty good week.

Posted via email from ryanlyford’s posterous

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