28 December 2008


I have internet at home!

This makes me much, much less glum.

But, I have this all typed out and saved...and it is true...so I'll post it. But don't worry.

New posts soon! I just have a million and four e-mails to wade through and general life to get on with first.


A lengthy dissertation on the state of glum

I am not one to dwell on misery. (Let other pens do that, right Jane?) But sometimes you have to really dig through the dung heap to find the beetles…or some such metaphor. Though why you’d want beetles, I’m not sure… And lately even those beetles have been few and far between. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been blogging. When I was a youth group leader and was constantly looking for everyday examples to illustrate my lessons, I saw them everywhere. Maybe blogging with a positive spin—because d2b will read this one day—helps keep my positivity at the fore. But right now, I’m not feeling very positive. I'm a little glum.

I also think I may be misleading you about life here. I get e-mails from people who have adopted saying they want to come and live in Russia—that they loved it here and want to move back. While I do not doubt the sincerity of these desires, I am going to humbly suggest that this might be like buying a t-shirt at a concert. It's not that you particularly want or need another t-shirt. But, you know—you go to a great concert (or play) and have an amazing experience and want to capture that emotional high. So you buy a t-shirt.

Living in Russia is different from visiting Russia. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been here too long. This is a "hardship posting" for the diplomats. It's a very nice hardship post, but is a hardship post nonetheless. At first I thought that it was ludicrous to categorize life here that way. Now, I'm beginning to understand. I find, and the other ex-pats here find, living in Russia, well, foreign and difficult. It could be limited to the life I have in this city. I can only say, from my experience, that a four-year tee shirt is too expensive and won’t wash well.

Try this for a week:

Use no internet. Don’t blog, e-mail, shop, pay bills, research, or download movies. Don’t watch any television.

Don’t use your home telephone because all you hear is static. Use your mobile, but only outside of your house.

Don’t drive anywhere. Walk or ask colleagues for rides everywhere you need to go.

Don’t use your ATM card (I’m cardless right now). And, be prepared for your credit card to be refused with no warning as a result of over-vigilant anti-fraud measures. Even though you’ve TOLD them repeatedly that you live. in. Russia. When credit card is refused, abandon all purchases and call it a day.

Accomplish no more than one errand per day—but take all day to accomplish that one.

Some variables cannot be replicated in your week-long experiment. You are going to be surrounded by people who smile. You will not be stared at maliciously for simply being American. (I’m quiet and don't speak English on the streets but I will wear my American boots and coat. That’s enough to get me looks of death. I used to apologetically smile and look away. Now, I stare back until they look away. These stare-offs last an uncomfortably long time. But I’m sick of it!)

You won’t be thrown under the bus-literally. Let’s say there’s a path cleared that’s two-persons wide. You and a friend are walking side by side. Another person is approaching. I’m willing to bet that without even THINKING about it, you and your friend will drop to single file so that the approaching person will be able to pass. That doesn’t happen here. The twosome (or threesome or foursome) will continue to muscle through. The single approacher can either step off the cleared path into the muck, or lower her shoulder and body check the inside man. Guess what I’ve been doing lately? Yep. Thank goodness for college football. This non-sharing happens when groups meet groups on the streets, too. It’s like living in West Side Story.

If you were actually here, courtesies I consider common would vanish. No one would hold a door for the person behind them. I live in the courtyard of a building. There is a big, iron gate through which you must pass to enter. Countless times, I’ve slowed my progress and waited to hold the door open for someone approaching behind me only to watch them let the door slam shut in the face of the person behind them. No one takes notice of the fact that someone’s arms are full of shopping and just HELPS. (Now, I’ve heard that this changes for people with young children and babushkas. I hope to experience that first exception, but not the second!)

These little things are wearing. There is a combative feeling on the streets. It’s not fun. And it’s worse in winter.

While you’re doing this week-long experiment, do it by yourself—no spouse, no friends (friendly colleagues are allowed to an extent, but no one to whom you would share more than pleasantries). Surround yourself with people who do not share your beliefs and world-view.

I don’t know if a week would really give you an idea of what this is like. A week with no technology is a vacation. Six weeks—particularly at Christmas--is a nightmare. Three-and-a-half years of this life is feeling like a long time. There is an exponential weariness that comes with living here. Add to that an apartment that is small and DARK. I’m sure things will get better as it gets lighter. And, I think I’ve convinced them to move me next year to an apartment that is roomier and lighter.

It hasn’t been a fun six weeks. I’ve gotten old (more wrinkles and my first sliver hairs—which actually look like my blonder bits but are a different texture. My sister says they’re caused by four-year-olds, so…maybe…). I didn’t go to the school Christmas party (no loss really, I’m decidedly *not* a party girl in any sense) because I was simply bursting into tears every time I opened my mouth. I think I was just feeling completely out of control—I couldn’t get my car or my internet fixed. I couldn’t order my niece and nephew’s birthday presents or anyone’s Christmas presents. New agency just said that I am not registered in any region and that I won’t be until I duplicate my entire hs dossier for a Russian sw to review. Someone I thought was my friend made a disparaging remark about me (I don’t know what it was because it was in fast, quiet Russian—but the jerk of the chin and the accompanying snicker were easily understood) right in front of me to our IMPOSSIBLE, vain, IT-nazi (who won’t listen and is mac incapable). That betrayal made me doubt all the other “friendlyships” I thought I had here. It was clear to me that I am still the outsider.

Oh, and please don’t say, “I could never live like that.” That’s my new pet peeve. I’m just sick of people telling me, “I could never wait as long as you have to adopt.” “I couldn’t live without internet.” because you know what—you could. You just DO. And somehow those statements seem to be blame-filled, as if I’m not doing everything I can to get my internet fixed and d2b home; as if there is an unspoken “I’d xyz and make it happen” on the end. Believe me, I've run the alphabetical gamut of possibilities.

Kind of a grumpy way to come back, huh? (And, I’m typing this into word on Christmas Eve, of all times, to save for when I do have internet. At least if it’s on paper, it might quit rattling around in my head.)

Please come back. I’ve got some amusing esl stories to share…


Melissa said...

Sounds like you need a hug...glad you're feeling better & not-so-glum, now, though. I'm sure the light (and a bit of good news!!) will help as time passes. Can't wait to hear your fun esl stories!

Tami said...


Lauri said...


Merry Christmas

Anonymous said...

Yay! You're back! (But boo to the glum.)

I would NOT do well with no internet. I didn't have access for 3 days and I was cranky - and that was with a functioning phone, car, etc.

My only prescription for the glum is - either a holiday/visit somewhere you have a good friend, or convince a good friend that he/she REALLY needs to visit Russia. Um, in January.

Hope the New Year brings sunshine on many fronts.

Jim said...

Kate - I haven't lived overseas for any extended length of time (the longest was my month in Russia last year). But, I travel extensively for work.

So what? Well, let's put it this way: those who do not travel for work imagine a stimulating life spent experiencing exotic locales, visiting interesting places all day, relaxing in posh hotels and eating sumptuous meals in restaurants every night. They imagine, in effect, what they have experienced when they were on vacation, perhaps, or what they have seen in a movie.

What they don't imagine is the life spent split between home and away, rushing when home to get things done that can't be done when away. What they don't imagine is the endless frustration of constantly being in an unfamiliar place (or in what eventually becomes a familiar, yet decidedly un-interesting, place). What they don't imagine are the countless shabby hotel beds that cause lost sleep, or the bad, cheap food that fits within the company's expense policy, or the fact that one is stuck working for hours on end in a building on the outskirts of town and never sees any of what makes a city famous. I am sure you get the idea-- to someone who lives that way, there is little about the lifestyle that seems attractive.

What I am getting at is that I can empathize with what you wrote. But I also suspect that you are more resilient than your post shows. Nonetheless, I am hoping that your adoption will be complete soon and that you will be able to look forward to returning to a familiar culture before too much more time passes.

Still praying for you!

Melissa said...

i hope things start to look up for you. are you planning to return to our side of the ocean after you get d2b? Or are you planning to remain in Russia?

Holly said...

Oh Kate. Sending good thoughts.

Sent you a Christmas card. Who knows when it'll get there, but I hope it makes you a little less glum :)

InventingLiz said...

I'm so sorry you're feeling glum, being alone is always hard and I'm sure it is one hundred times harder when everything is so different than what you're used to. I haven't followed your story from the beginning, does your time in Russia have an end date or is this an indefinite thing? I will definitely be coming back for the ESL stories!

Maggie said...

Hey, everybody's life sucks from time to time. And you're experiencing suckiness thousands of miles away from home. You're allowed to be a bit grumpy from time to time. We know that you see the beauty and wonderful things about Russia -- you've told us in countless examples and shown us pictures. The not-so-beautiful things are just the other side of the reality coin.

Thank you for being honest. It's more real and nobody comes here to read false, shiny, happy things.

kim said...

Sending {{{hugs}}} your way (although I guess you will not get them until you have internet. :)

How long do you have to stay in Russia? I was just curious, b/c I guess I never heard.

For what it is worth, you have been missed! Hang in there.

Rachael said...

Yes, I DO want the concert t-shirt! But...no, I don't want to wear it everyday. I do have primarily fond memories of Russia, and I long to visit again. But my time there was pretty much a vacation, AND for most of it, I had my husband with me. On trip #3, when I travelled alone, and went to Moscow with Katya (which seemed so foreign and strange, compared to St. Petersburg, which I'd spent just enough time in to feel familiar), there was a moment when Katya and I (whose communication skills with each other were limited) were deposited in our tiny hotel room, in the midst of this big, unfamiliar, COLD and gray city with six days of WAITING looming and I remember looking at those four walls and for just a moment, I felt them pressing in on me with this horrible, heavy weight of homesickness and loneliness. I imagine that's just a glimmer of what you're feeling now. So sorry you're feeling glum. But, you are in fact, only human, and though, yes, I'd bear it too: I'd have been glum a LONG time ago and probably wouldn't have borne it with such aplomb. So, SO glad you have Internet now though! Yeah! I've missed your posts and your emails. Bring on the esl stuff!

Oh, also, I had an interesting discussion with my friend Olga this week, that you might appreciate and understand. She's Russian, but lived in the U.S. for 7 years now. Her husband is starting to make rumblings about going back to Russia: his parents are aging and he wants to be near them. Olga says NO WAY, she'll NEVER go back. I was really shocked by that. "Things are so much better in Russia now, and aren't you homesick?" I asked. Her answer was that "people are different there." She said that you'd never be able to understand the difference if you hadn't lived there, but they just were different and THAT would never change as long as one lived in Russia. Interesting, huh?

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you posting, my friend. And while I'm sure I COULD live like that, I'm glad I don't have to - and I do admire you.

Tina in CT said...

Can't you look for a teaching job for Sept. '09 and move back when school ends in June?

Jenni said...

Hugs to you Kate. I imagine everything feels so much worse around the holidays, but you're still in a difficult situation, no matter what time of year it is.

I hope things get brighter in the New Year.

Annie said...

Hm.....you poor dear. I can see why you'd feel discouraged....any of those things. Just one might do it.

But I think when people say "I couldn't do it" they are really saying - you are just so strong and brave and wonderful, Kate!

And, I want the t-shirt, too! Because my regular clothes are completely worn out and were uninteresting from the get-go. But, it is a wonderful image and I get the point.

I was AWAKE in Russia. And happy. As you will find, there is no happiness on earth like welcoming a new child into your life. So you'll probably fall in love with Russia all over again....very soon, I hope!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Oh, Kate, I just read the "glum" entry in your blog. I have tears in my eyes. I hope things have improved since the internet is back. I get upset when ours is not working for a day or even when it is slow. How
incredibly frustrating.

What an awesome perspective you have about how this special year with the 3.10 girls wouldn't have happened if d2b were home.

I loved SM in your esl entry. What a doll.

Love, Nif