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And Then I Try Not to Cry…

20 Jun

While I really do have tons of fun living here in Russia, it’s not all international travel and exciting adventures. There are days like today, days when I am completely exhausted and only want to sleep for a week, but, instead, I find myself sitting outside of a bank on the verge of tears in the middle of Moscow.

A few weeks ago, while I was back in the States for a long weekend, a news story hit that the bank in which Ben’s pay is deposited (and has been for almost three years) would begin phasing out service to clients who are U.S. citizens. Despite multiple inquiries and expressions of concerns from American employees, his employer has insisted that this will not be a problem for us in the immediate future.

We decided not to risk it and to get as much of our savings out of there now, allowing us the peace of mind to enter July with our money secure either way. After successfully transferring a small amount back to the States, we learned that in order to transfer more we had to sign a form. (Note: we only learned this because we have friends who went through the process, there was no indication on the website about it.) We went to the bank today to sign this form only to be turned away because Ben does not have a notarized translation of his passport. He has had multiple interactions with this bank without needing one, so this was a big surprise. We were annoyed, but there was absolutely nothing that could be done, so we gave up for the day.

On our way out, we stopped by the ATM to get cash. The first ATM said the operation could not be completed, but a man in front of us also had trouble, so we switched lines to another machine. The next two ATM’s gave the same message and spit out the card.

This is the point when we began to get really nervous.

Ben went back inside to find our friend (who speaks Russian) to follow up with him, while I sat down outside and put every bit of energy I had left into not crying.

The end result is that a block was put on our account in response to resent charges. We never would have been able to figure this out on our own. This could not even be taken care of in the branch, Ben was sent away to call and take care of it over the phone.

So. Freaking. Frustrating.

We are so lucky to have awesome friends willing to translate notes and show up in person to translate for us. Navigating this system would be impossible without them. I understand that we do not speak the language of the country, but we were brought here knowing that this is the case. We never expected to have so much trouble with things that we consider to be so simple.

I often think about sharing my frustrations like this one, but usually never end up posting them. The reality is that life here is both amazing and so, so hard. It’s not all sunshine and roses; sometimes, it’s grey skies and smelly metro cars.

So, I cry. I process. Then, we figure out how to deal with whatever it is that is happening. At the end of the day, living here is worth dealing with situations like the one today. As long as we feel this way, that the positives outweigh the negatives, we will continue to support each other and get through the frustrations.

до свидания!

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Checking In

13 Apr

Hi there. It’s been awhile, huh? Despite my desire to use this blog as a way to stop and appreciate the amazing city that I am living in, I continue to find myself so caught up in just living that I don’t bother to post often. Also, I felt like every thing that I wanted to post about was related to travel and this is not exclusively a travel blog. The fact that I have been able to see amazing places is certainly one of the perks of living over here, but I felt like it had become all there was to share. I will try again to commit myself to noticing and sharing the experience of living in Moscow. With any luck, I will bring myself to post more, even if it is just about my travel adventures.

Hanging out at the top of the Eiffel tower

Hanging out at the top of the Eiffel tower

The past few months have included some great times. I saw my sister and brother-in-law in Paris. I attended an amazing conference in Boston that happened to be run in part by one of my besties. We have spent time with friends eating, drinking, and enjoying the community that we are building for ourselves here in Moscow. And, recently, the snow defrosted and spring is finally settling in. 

The past few months have also been a little stressful, though, and, in truth, this may be one of the major reasons I haven’t posted much.

I am a planner. More specifically, I am an ADVANCED planner. I like to plan vacations the moment we decide to take them. I like to put dinners and parties on my calendar as soon as possible. And, most of all, I like to know for sure where we will be living next year.

Unfortunately, Ben’s employer (our visa sponsor) does not take my desire to plan into account. So, we are still waiting for confirmation that his contract renewal has been approved. We are hopeful and have reason to be confident, but the fact that our visas expire in just over four months makes me a little twitchy.

The good news is that I have an amazing partner in Ben who I have been able to talk to about all of this since August when we began our final year on the current contract. Shortly before we moved to Moscow, I had a bit of a break down and admitted how terrified I was about what we were about to do. I never would have made it through the last few weeks in California without Ben. Knowing that he is here with me is what reminds me that no matter what happens, we will get through it.

In case you were wondering, we are both really, really happy here. We are working in jobs that are in the specific fields in which we pursued graduate degrees, we have made amazing friends that we would be happy to know regardless of where we lived, and we have been having  a lot of fun experiencing something that neither of us ever dreamed of. And we do have a safety net, just in case, so don’t worry about us!

After two and a half years, there is no doubt that Moscow is our home. It will take some work to step back and figure out which parts of our daily life are worth sharing, but I will try. I apologize if this at times seems like it is simply a place for me to share travel stories, but 2014 does seem to be a year of travel, so…

до свидания!

El Ten Eleven in Moscow

12 Nov

Music is pretty important to Ben and me, both individually and as a couple.  It even played a big role in how we first met many years ago.  We still listen to music at home all of the time, but we don’t go out to see live shows like we used to.

When I found out that El Ten Eleven were going to be finishing up their European tour in Moscow, I knew that we had to be there.  We saw them play many, many times in California, but never expected to see them over here.  Their music is fantastic recorded, but it is beyond amazing to see it created live.

2013-11-09 23.09.25

The venue, Masterskaya, was a very small bar/cafe/club that was located on the second floor of a building very close to Red Square.  The building contains quite the collection of establishments: first floor has a cafe that apparently turns into a dance club late at night, third floor has a hotel, and fourth floor yet another club.

2013-11-09 23.11.05

It was so nice to get out there and enjoy something that used to be such a big part of our lives.  I don’t know how often we’ll go see live music while we are here, but I do hope that it can be at least an occasional occurrence.

See below for a mini-gallery of El Ten Eleven rocking out and then go check out their music.

до свидания!

Two Years!

27 Aug

Ben and I have now been living in Moscow for two years.

A year ago, I posted about my hopes that year two would be easier than year one.  I can say without a doubt that this was true.  There were only a handful of things that we had to do for the first time and we were able to really enjoy life here without as much stress as we experienced during the first year.

During year two we took our bikes out, I started getting my haircut at a salon, Ben found a place to workout, we traveled so much that I became a frequent flyer, we had more visitors than I can possibly link to, I went DOG SLEDDING, we visited two of the three Baltic states, we saw tanks and various other military vehicles roll down the street on Victory Day, we survived ten days without any hot water, and so much more.  Basically, we really had the chance to fall in love with Moscow.

We don’t know what year three will be like.  That’s kind of the thing about Moscow: you never know what to expect.  I am, of course, hopeful that the trend continues and we will enjoy living here even more this year.  I am looking forward to sharing another year’s worth of adventures and anecdotes.

до свидания!

Providing Amusement

23 May

While at the grocery store this afternoon, I managed to greatly amuse an older Russian man.

Unlike most people here, he seemed fairly chatty.  Our first encounter was when we both tried to pass through the same space and he cleared the path for me.  I thanked him and heard him say something, but could not make out more than “девушка” (young woman), so I continued on my way.

We later met at the checkout counter.  I was there first, but there was some confusion and we ended up in a similar position of heading for the same spot.  He gestured for me to go ahead and then said something I could not understand, but seemed fairly jovial.  The dialog that followed was:

Me (in Russian): I do not understand. I do not speak Russian.

Him (in German): German?  (in English):  English?

Me: English.

Him: Ah. Okay! Good!

His English wasn’t very good, but he was kind enough to translate when the cashier told me the line was cash only.  He also very slowly, yet very emphatically, indicated how I should count out my 100 ruble notes when I was paying.  While I appreciate the sentiment, it did make me feel a little frustrated when I was trying to find a one ruble coin in my change pocket.  I wanted to shout, “But I know how to do this part!!!”  When he saw that I was able to give her exact change he said, “молодец!” (well done/good job*).

Normally I would appreciate a Russian cheer-leading my small victories, but the exchange then took a weird turn.  As I grabbed my basket, he started excitedly saying something in Russian and laughing.  When I said I didn’t understand, he started using his hand to indicate pulling a trigger and kept on laughing.  I don’t think that is EVER a good sign.

до свидания!

* I learned this one from bowling!

Spring!

16 Apr

Springtime in Moscow

It’s been just over two weeks since our last snowfall and it is FINALLY feeling like spring outside.  I am on spring break this week and it could not have come at a better time.  I am thoroughly enjoying the blue skies and sunshine and can already feel a difference in my overall attitude.  I cannot describe how amazing it feels to leave the house without having to put on boots and a puffy jacket.

This photo was taken this afternoon in a park a few blocks from home.  I had already run my errands for the day, but figured if I was going to spend some time reading I really should take advantage of the weather.  There were so many people out, some with baby strollers, others with friends or significant others, and a few out alone like me.  It really is incredible to see the difference in the neighborhood so quickly.

In case the weather was not enough, another reason to feel confident that it’s finally spring is that the city has started painting!  This morning I noticed the smell of paint coming in through the window and, sure enough, when I left home they had started repainting all of the gates and curbs outside my building.  This is an annual event in which bridges, gates, curbs, and statues citywide are given a fresh coat of paint.  It is a major contributor to how beautiful Moscow looks in the spring.  Click here for an example of the freshly painted gates outside my building.

I hope the weather is equally lovely where ever you happen to be reading this. 🙂

до свидания!

A Moment of Kindness

23 Dec

Russian cashiers are not known for their amazing customer service skills.  I assume the logic is that if you want to buy milk, you will buy milk; it doesn’t matter if they smile and ask how your day is.  They ask if you need a plastic bag and if you have a store card then they tell you your total and badger you for as close to exact change as possible.  The majority of the time, I get through these interactions with no problem and leave with my groceries.

Tonight, I was at the store and saw something that was on my x-mas list for our family.  The display showed that it was supposedly a great deal, so I went for it.  When the cashier began to ring up my items she asked if I had a card and then broke script, saying something that I couldn’t understand.  I admitted (in Russian) that I didn’t speak Russian and didn’t understand.  She continued speaking and pointing at a card with the discounted prices.  I somehow understood from the gestures and concern that in order to get the discount, I had to have *something.*  Before I could respond, she took a sheet of paper with a barcode, showed it to me and then scanned it.  I said, “спасибо большое,” (“thank you very much”) and she looked at me with a little smile, put her fingers to her lips, and said “shhhhh.”  It was such a conspiratorial moment and such kindness on her part that it shocked me.

I sometimes find it difficult to create meaningful blog posts because so many of the things that affect my daily life here are insignificant by American standards.  Does anyone really want to read about a helpful cashier?  Yet, this made me walk home with a skip in my step and a smile on my face.  I feel like every action here takes more work than I am used to: going outside requires layers-upon-layers of clothing and three doors to unlock and relock; buying groceries means decoding labels, determining which stores carry which items, and figuring out what happened to every single container of milk less than 2.5% (where DID they all go?!); and, buying train tickets means navigating a Russian-language site because the English version does not allow you to purchase tickets and the expat site charges over 40% more.  Given this, the positive experiences, no matter how small, really make a difference.

So, thank you to the nice young woman at the grocery store for helping me out tonight!  Not only did you save me lots of money, but you made me feel like we understood each other without even speaking the same language.

до свидания!