Monday, April 27, 2009

Don't know what you've got 'til it's gone

I have a wonderful, intermediate student who is teaching me Russian. Overall, it's great practice for both of us. She gets a practical application for her English, and I have a safe environment in which to experiment with Russian (and realize that I know a lot more than I think I do). While we only meet once a week, these lessons have increased my confidence. Usually right after the lesson I am eager to try out my newly discovered skills in the teachers' room. This works until someone says something that is above my beginner level, and then I just start responding in English. There is a down side to my confidence. Sometimes I assume someone is saying something different than they are actually saying. I am able to pick up a few words, so I respond thinking that I understand them when in reality I don't. I have found listening is one of the most difficult skills because while I am trying to understand what was said 5 words ago, new words are piling up, and it's definitely a test of my ability to concentrate.

Living in a foreign country where I don't know the language has really limited my independence, but over the past 7 months I have slowly been reclaiming this independence. The first week I remember not wanting to do anything alone, then I rode the metro and ventured out to the store alone, and now I have no problem going about my daily routine and occasional outings alone. I am still limited when it comes to the phone (I have not yet attempted to make a reservation or order take out). But my reclaimed independence has been great. The saying is really true that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Easter Vigil, Orthodox Style

19 April at midnight, I was standing in the Moscow cold outside a Russian Orthodox Church wishing I had had the foresight to realize I would be standing in the cold for the Easter service. I was wearing my light, spring coat, a calf-length wool skirt, nylons, and yes, high-heels without insulation, and the temperature was below freezing. You would think that a girl who grew up in Idaho would weigh looking fashionable against keeping warm and end up with keeping warm, but you have to keep in mind that it had been around 13 degrees C earlier in the week, and I was crossing my fingers and hoping for spring. Luckily Rachel and I crammed our way into the small church before it started snowing, but I still froze my legs and feet.

Due to the layout of Orthodox churches, they are constructed in the Byzantine style with sections of the church each devoted to a saint and columns obstructing the view of the front of the church, I was unable to see what was going on and because of the cold and overwork was completely exhausted. What I did understand was pretty spectacular. So many people crowded into such a small church, thousands of candles outside the church, a three hour service, incense, and the wish that I had made Rachel brief me on what would happen before I went.

Raised Roman Catholic, I am familiar with tradition, routine, and it all seeming strange to visitors. Regardless, I was still blown away by the amount of repetition and reverence in the Easter Vigil service. The congregation constantly crossed themselves. There was a call and response sounded over and over - in Russian, of course - the priest says, "Christ has Risen" and the response is something like "He has risen indeed." AND people stood for at least 3 hours! Again, I wish I would have known because heels are not the greatest things to stand in for a prolonged period of time. Despite the pain I experienced, perhaps it was my penance, I'm glad I attended the service, if even just for the vast number of people who attended, it was definitely unforgettable.