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The Most Impressive Thing Ever

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Red Square is a grenade, pushing away Moscow and leaving a crater. There’s a casual disregard for prime real estate. The square is large and inviting, and it’s easy to forget that you’re downtown in a city of twelve million, a pistol shot away from six-lane highways and the most fascinating metro system ever built. The people, the rough stones, the buildings.

The State Historical Museum

The best way to experience it is to walk past the statue of Georgy Zhukov and through the stone arches. Welcome to Red Square! Several football fields in front of you is St. Basil’s. At your back is the bristling, blood-colored State Historical Museum. To the left is the small Kazan Cathedral. Then there’s that building.. You know, the one you’re always hearing about?

Glance to your right, anywhere on your right, and you’ll be looking at the architecturally unknown, but orally famous, Kremlin. You won’t be able to see inside though, a high wall obstructs inspection. But you’ll know it’s back there. You’ll know that several hundred feet away men are drafting plans that will affect your children, and have made decisions that affected your life, and your parents as well. You’ll never know everything that’s gone on behind the burnt-red exterior, the truth is stranger than fiction.

St. Basil’s Cathedral

Returning to your walk you’ll hear cameras and foreign languages, but with so much space you won’t feel boxed in. Walk for thirty seconds, look left and you’ll be staring at the GUM Shopping Mall. A conspicuous sign of capitalism, it’s blind windows stare at the Kremlin’s ballrooms where Stalin and Lenin grew communism. On the right you can still see the embalmed corpse of Lenin, if you don’t mind waiting in line.

Walking the length of Red Square takes several minutes. However, you’ll probably stop multiple times along the way. It’s not uncommon to spend fifteen minutes in the square before you reach the exit: a graded slope five tanks wide. Descend, with St. Basil’s on your left, and you’ll be back in Moscow. Chaos compliments of battered buses and wealthy men driving modern Mercedes. Back at it, пробка и людей. But Red Square, as always, remains.

The Easiest Way to Learn Russian

Captain JackIf you’re thinking about learning Russian the first thing I would ask is this. How dedicated are you? In Pirates of the Caribbean there’s a scene I like.

“How far are you willing to go to save her?” Captain Jack Sparrow ask Will.

“I’d die for her!” Says the enraptured son of Bootstrap Bill Turner.

Well ask yourself, how far are you willing to go to learn Russian? You’re not going to have to kill yourself, but you are going to have to dedicate a significant amount of time to reach a basic level of fluency. Something like studying an hour a day, every day, for more than a year. Are you willing to put in that kind of effort? Because while there are easy and effective ways to learn Russian, they still take time. With that in mind, in this article I’ll tell you about how to learn Russian effectively without spending thousands of dollars on university courses.

Preply

Preply is a Ukrainian based company and they specialize in finding language tutors. If you want to take Russian lessons with a native speaker, this is the simplest and most cost effective way to do it. Some Russian teachers charge as little as $5 per hour-long Skype lesson. That means you can have 5 hours of class every week for less than it costs to go out for a Russian style night of drinking.

What’s great about Preply is that you’ll get to hear a native speaker, you’ll be speaking right from the beginning, and your classes will be one-on-one. Questions, don’t understand something? You can ask for an explanation immediately. When I was studying with a teacher on Preply I would often bring lists of questions that would take up our whole hour. That made the lessons fun for me and easy for her. We both won!

Naturally, there are some disadvantages. The first is that all of the lessons take place on Skype. Sometimes your teacher will be hard to hear or the connection may drop. Another disadvantage is that many of the tutors you find on Preply are not actual teachers. Instead their native speakers who may, or may not, have some teaching experience. That means difficult grammar questions often go unanswered.

That being said, I think that the pros heavily outweigh the cons. Think about this. A single semester of a college Russian class could run you $500. If that’s a 101 class you’ll be in there with fifteen other people and you’ll rarely, if ever, get individual attention. For the same $500 you can get one-hundred one-on-one Russian language lessons on Preply. Which one do you think is going to be more effective?

Michel Thomas Tapes

These tapes are genius. I haven’t used them for Russian, but I’m using them for German and I’m very impressed. After a few weeks I learned more than 100 words and was able to create logical sentences that my German grandmother understood. When learning how to speak Russian in University, I made it to that same level after two years of study. Let me say that again..

Michel Thomas tapes, three weeks to form sentences and be understood.

Russian class at my university, two years..

Now Russian is hard and I’m a bad student, but it’s not that hard and I’m not that bad of a student. The problem with university classes is that you don’t learn to speak Russian, you study grammar. Grammar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That can feel overwhelming and only in a minority of the cases does it actually produce a person who becomes fluent in the language.

That’s why I recommend the tapes. They get you speaking immediately and Michel does an excellent job of explaining the Russian language. You can get a trial lesson for about $10 and if you like it you can buy the rest of the series at a large discount on eBay.

Learn More

If you’d like to discover even more about learning Russian you can download my creatively titled free eBook: How to Learn RussianHowever, if you just want to get started now, and you want to apply a Tim Ferriss, 80/20 analysis, go to Preply and find a tutor today. It’s the fastest way to learn Russian and it’s reasonably priced. You can’t go wrong.

Good luck, let me know how it goes!

Teaching ESL In a Russian Public School (Photos)

I realize that I already wrote about this subject in an earlier post: What the Hell is a Russian State School? However, the thing is that I wrote about it, I didn’t show it. So in this post I’d like to include some images from my time teaching ESL in the Russian public school system. If you want to hear a bit of background about Russian public schools, read one. If you just want to check out the photos, scroll on down.

Where else could I possibly start, except to stay that Russian public schools are crazy! Kids run wildly in the halls, they slam doors, they yell and scream. There is very little, if any, order. As an American this was surprising. When we were kids, if we ran in the hall we got yelled at. I think we even had to walk in lines sometimes. Order was the name of the game.

Who is to Blame?

Man, when I was teaching English in Moscow class would end, and those kids would bolt out of there faster then if I was chasing them with a machete. Not that this bolting behavior was restricted to the end of class either. I had a couple of particularly difficult classes where the kids would run out during the middle of class. When that happened I would have to chase them down. Or just ignore it and let them come back. Sometimes I locked the door to keep them in, sometimes I didn’t care. Their parents were paying a lot of money (by Russian standards) for lessons from a native speaking American. If the kids didn’t have the discipline to stay in the classroom, I felt that the parents shared at least half the blame.

Moving on to the classrooms themselves. That’s a tricky question. I taught in two different schools (#11 and #8). The former looked like it had been around since Stalin, and the latter looked like it had been finished about six months before I arrived in Russia. However, that’s not to say it’s destined to stay that way. Even at the brand new school, chairs were beginning to fall apart, and trim was coming off the doors. The window blinds were a mess and there was never enough chalk. That’s just a Russian school for you. It’s the facade of something brand new, but when you look underneath the surface you see that it’s actually quite poorly done.

The Experience of Teaching ESL in Russia

My experience teaching was perplexing till the last. I never knew whether I was a terrible ESL teacher, or whether I literally scored the worst possible teaching situations known to man, and I should have received the medal of honor for my efforts. Perhaps a bit of both. That’s enough of that though.

Despite the conditions, I still made the best of it. I got to meet some cool students, study the language, learn about a new culture, and find a bit more of my missing personality. Also, teaching in Russia was my jumping off point for travelling the world. I’ve traveled to more than half a dozen countries since then, and I wouldn’t change anything for the world. If you’d like to do the same, you can check out my book, Try the Borsch, where I go deep into how to find the best possible ESL job in Russia. Ok, to the pictures!

 

I loathed this piano. Keeping the kids from playing it was half my job at school #11.

Seating at the Older Russian Public School

This was my “office” along with two other teachers. The seat of the chair came off and sometimes my kids stole my water. 

My office at a Russian public school

An empty hall (a rare site) at school #11. My room was just down the hall and on the right. 

A hall at a Russian public state school

The real question you should ask yourself is: where the hell is the toilet paper?

A picture of the bathrooms in a Russian public school

 

Everything was nicer at school #8, but appearances can be deceiving.

Desks at a new Russian Public School

This was my “office” at school #8. Everyday, pack up the CD player and bring it back home.

My desk where I worked at a Russian public school

It’s not that I hate chalk (I do) it’s that we always ran out of the stuff! Also the erasers sucked. 

A blackboard at a Russian public school

Even though I loathe chalk, it was still better than this tiny little whiteboard in school #11.

A piano in a Russian public school classroom

 

5 Things I Love About Russian Culture

I lived on the outskirts of Moscow for eight months. To be brutally honest, it was a low point in my life. Most of the blame fell on my job. I hated falling asleep at night because I knew that in the morning I would have to wake up and work. That’s no way to live. Despite this, I learned a tremendous amount about myself, and about the world. It was the first time that I was immersed in a foreign culture and the experience was a positive one. Here’s why.

1. Russian Food is Delicious

ОливьеOf all the unexpected surprises in Russia, this was the biggest one. I ended up falling in love with almost everything I ate. The key was to not to stray too far from the beaten path. I saw a few things in Russia that made my stomach do a somersault. On the other hand, Russians (Babooshkas in particular) really know how to cook some amazing food.

Borsch, Oliva, Caviar (so, so cheap in Russia) and Blini are classic dishes that I still enjoy eating to this day. There’s also this delicious wrap made with raw salmon and mayonnaise that I don’t know the name for. Wash it all down with some Kefir or Kvas and you’ve got a hearty Russian meal that will shut up any skeptic.

2. Receptive to Language Mistakes

Russians know that their language is hard. In fact I get the feeling that’s a source of national pride. Maybe that’s why they’re so patient with language learners. In eight months I never had a truly bad experience with someone getting angry at me for my poor Russian. Think about America (if you’re American that is). Imagine some Russian comes in and is butchering English as he tries to order something from the restaurant or bar. I imagine that he would have a much less pleasant experience than I enjoyed in Russia.

Almost everywhere I went I would meet someone who would help me to learn Russian. A verb here, a saying there. Month in and month out that really adds up. The other thing I noticed is how many people complimented me on my Russian, even when I was speaking so horridly it was nearly unintelligible. I can’t think of how a culture could be more supportive of people trying to learn their language.

3. There Will be Order on the Escalators!

МетроThis is admittedly a small point of order, but I think it’s an interesting one. To understand this, you have to understand that everyday the Moscow Metro pulls a double shift. It ferries millions of people across an unbelievably large city. At the same time it’s also a very effective bomb shelter.

In Moscow, most of the older metro stations are buried several hundred feet in the ground. In order to reach them you take a ride on the escalator. This can take minutes. It’s actually a really unique experience when you’re relaxed. If you’re in a rush it’s a nightmare. Thankfully, there is an express lane. On the escalators everyone who is standing stays to the right, allowing others to run past on the left. And if someone is violating this rule, you can yell at them in your gruffest, most cigarette soaked voice and they’ll quickly get out of the way.

4. Russians are Wonderful Hosts

Going over to a Russian’s apartment is always an enjoyable experience. There will be food, tea, entertainment and probably something a bit heavier than tea as well. Even when I was with friends, if he or she didn’t have food for the apartment, we would stop beforehand to get something. Once there, as a guest I wouldn’t be expected to do anything but eat and enjoy myself. In fact, trying to wash the dishes after a meal is borderline rude. Better to relax, and remember that you’re in Russia now.

5. In Russia, Anything Goes

America has so many damn laws it’s mind boggling. There is a fine for breathing incorrectly, a ticket for blowing your nose too loud, and a jail sentence for tying your shoes the wrong way. These laws lead to some of the outlandish lawsuits that we see all the time in America. Are we really living in the land of freedom, when anything you do can get you potentially sued?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It may to surprise you then to hear that in this situation, an average Russian has far more freedom than an average American. In Russia you can be reckless, retarded, annoying, disrespectful, offensive or drunk as hell. People don’t bat an eye and they sure as hell don’t call a lawyer. I saw so many reckless things happen in Russia that it doesn’t have any meaning to me any more.

It’s another Russian person acting entirely irrational, defying the laws of gravity and all of Darwin’s theories. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

I like this because you can join in. Me and some of the other teachers at my old school did some funny stuff that could have gotten us into a lot of trouble in America. In Russia, it’s just another day. Welcome to the land of insanity. Welcome to The Wild Wild East. 

The Quirky Russian Lifestyle (Pt. 2)

7) Roads in Russia are the Real Wild West

Have you ever watched those crazy Russian driving videos? If you haven’t you should, they’re awesome! And I can tell you that they are fairly close to the truth (this video is a good example of what I mean).

The rate of accidents here in Russia is astounding. For my work, I’m shuttled to state schools four times a week and so I end up spending about two hours a week on the road. It’s a madhouse! People make dangerous plays on the road just to gain inches. Mopeds and motorcycles weave through traffic, and every other person is talking on a cell phone.

Hell, I was sitting on a bench in Moscow when a tram drove by. The driver didn’t glance at the road for the entire ten seconds that I watched, she was too busy using her phone.

Finally, one of the most memorable experiences here will be the time me, my girlfriend, and her parents were driving back from the dacha. It was like being on a roller-coaster without tracks. Her father was making potentially life-destroying weaves and maneuvers that would have netted thousands of dollars worth of fines in America.

It was one of the craziest experiences of my life!

8) Just Another Dog

Russians love dogs. I mean, Russians really love dogs. It can seem like everyone has one. Which perhaps accounts for the wild dog population. They run free and wild, sometimes in pairs, sometimes alone. They are everywhere, these wild dogs are pervasive. They run alongside the road, they wait outside shops in case someone feeds them.

They bark, and fight, and growl, and chase things. At this point, it’s not even worth looking twice at them. It’s a way of life, the dogs are everywhere (like in the book Rant, by Chuck Palahniuk).

9) Being Unhealthy on the Train

On the Elektreechka (a short distance train), where you always have the option to ride like a suicide case (see part one), you also have other freedoms. People frequently drink on the train, sitting in their seats, always glancing up to look for cops on the prowl.

What goes great with drinking?

Smoking.

Go to the ends of the carriage, the place where the obscenely loud, compressed air doors violently slam shut, and light up. Nobody will look twice, nobody will say anything, it just is.

Your author has indulged before. He isn’t a smoker, but there’s nothing like a bit of tobacco now and again. When in Rome…

10) Ready, Set, Get Married!

I remember in a class I had to teach my kids the meaning of a first, middle, and last name. That first lesson, they were physically incapable of grasping the concept. It didn’t matter how many times I explained it, or how effectively I presented the (seemingly simple) topic.

They were simply unable to understand it, too far out of their realities (in Russia they use familias, which is a whole other topic. Check out this nifty little guide to learn more).

That’s what happened to me when I heard about Russian marriages. It turns out that Russians don’t wait long after proposing, often a few months at most. That means if the proposal is in spring, the marriage is in the summer.

I can’t speak for other countries, but in America, the wedding is usually a year or two after the proposal.

I’m not sure which way I like better, but they certainly are different.

11) Cutting the Grass

You know what I’ve yet to see in Russia? A lawnmower!

I’m sure they exist somewhere, for the big parks and what have you, but I haven’t seen one yet. How do they cut the grass you ask?

With industrial sized weed-wackers. Small armies of immigrants rove through the parks, carrying these oversized, noisy, orange tools. The first time I saw this, I mentioned it to my friend and he said it’s normal. In fact, he seemed to think that using a lawnmower would be odd.

Maybe they have this in other cities too, I can’t say. But where I grew up, there were about 1,000 homes in my village and you can bet your life savings every single home has their own lawnmower.

Check out Part One of the quirky Russian lifestyle..

The Quirky Russian Lifestyle (Pt. 1)

1) Everyone Drinks

It was a Monday night and I was heading to the grocery store. It’s a forty-five second walk from my house and weather was beautiful. When I got to the parking lot, I happened to glance right, and there were two cops chilling in their cruiser.

The driver was looking out the window, and the cop riding shotgun was brown bagging a bottle of vodka. I slowed my speed to a crawl so that I could watch him pour a shot down his throat, and replace the cap.

2) A Casual Enforcer

Walking to work along the main road in my town. All sorts of cars passing me, I usually stare at the BMWs and imagine how badly I would like to own one. I came to a stop at a traffic light and waited for it to turn green.

Watching the cars, here comes a cop. Picture this, tiny little car the size of a mini cooper. It’s not the special cops, just two regular blokes, their hair brushing the top of this hilariously undersized clown-car. Guy riding shotgun, holding onto an AK-47 and frowning at people on the street. Middle of the day and it looks like he’s going to fight in Iraq.

3) How Many Ways Can You Ride a Train?

To get to Moscow from where I live, have to take a short distance train called the Elektreechka. It’s notorious for the unsavory class of people that ride it. Drunkenness and debauchery are common.

As are the ways people chose to ride it.

These trains work by electricity, and on top of every carriage is an intimidating array of electrical equipment that looks like it could fry Texas’s entire death row. They don’t even put warning signs around because it’s so obvious you shouldn’t get close it.

One day in March, guy riding on the train, sitting up there, three feet from enough electricity to power Vegas for a day.

This being a train, there is a gap between every train car. A scary, dirty, dark, loud place. A foot of space between each carriage, less when the train turns. Flashback to December. Man, propped up and riding in this space. No discernible reason, just is.

Of the three, least idiotic, grabbing onto a bar on the last train, very end of the carriage, propping your feet on the a little ledge, and holding on for dear life. Not going to lie, if I was a kid in Russia, I would have already tried this. Perfect amount of risk versus thrill. Of three irregular ways of riding the train, this is by far the least suicidal.

4) Does Anybody Have Insurance?

Taken as a whole, Russians are notoriously bad drivers. The rumors are true, accidents are common. But since most driving takes place in town, a majority of accidents are not that large. Fender benders, broken pieces, scratches.

Often, these problems don’t get fixed. Cars everywhere on the road, destroyed bumpers. It’s become normalized, I no longer know a life where a car is immediately fixed after an accident.

5) Creative Parking Spaces

In Russia, cars park on the sidewalk. Outside of buildings, it’s fairly rare to find designated parking. The result is a free for all, and sidewalks are the first to go. Cars pull up their left, or right, two wheels onto the sidewalk, half blocking the path.

This is normal, this is expected, and if you did it in America you would probably get your car towed.

Cars

6) One Student’s Dream

I have two students students who are almost fluent in English. When they told me this story, I was on the verge of tears.

The topic in our class book was boarding schools. From there we transitioned to talking about what it would be like to live in a school full time. Anna then pointed out that it would be impossible to live in their school, because there is no toilet paper in the bathroom. Nor has there been toilet paper in the bathroom for the last five years.

One of the girls then said “Our school notebooks are all missing pages at the end, because we have to rip them out and use them.”

I was chuckling by this point, as it’s such a funny situation. And it got ever funnier when she added only half ironically:

“My dream is to have toilet paper in my school”. Oh god, the laughter is growing..

Then my second student mentions that they only got soap in their bathrooms two years ago (2013).

“But we never use it, it’s always dirty” she says.

“Why is the soap dirty?” I ask.

“Because when students don’t have toilet paper, they…” And she mimes picking up the soap and using it as toilet paper.

I barely restrained the tears. We were all laughing so hard, in appreciation of just how ludicrous the situation is. Russia, what else can you say..

Part Two

What the Hell is a Russian State School?

When I started looking for employment in Russia, I didn’t imagine that I would end up working in a Russian state school. In fact, I didn’t even know what a state school was! It sounds like something draconian where they send repeat offenders for a lobotomy and lithium. It turned out to be nothing of the sort. State schools is another way of saying public schools. For the last three months, I have gotten the opportunity to spend four days a week teaching in the Russian public school system.

After securing employment in June, I signed a contract in America that explicitly stated I would be working in a private school. I felt elated after having achieved my goal of finding work in Russia. However, after four weeks in country, the school I work for was forced to fire an incompetent teacher at a different branch. At the end of September it created a black hole that sucked in a teacher from our branch. His absence created another void. Josh was the designated state school teacher, who would teach in the schools now?

At the time, I had been flouting the dress code. Long past the date when my boss had mandated dress shoes, I had been wearing sneakers. When I was called into the head administrators office, immediately after sitting down I tucked my feet beneath my seat. I was apprehensive about being scolded for my breach in etiquette. In retrospect it seems silly but at the time, I sure was nervous.

They sat me down and Dave cut straight to the point.

“So, as you know were moving Josh to the other branch. Since he was supposed to teach in the state schools, we need someone else to work there now. We want you to do it. Would you be ok with teaching in the state schools?”

At the time I didn’t understand what they were asking. I had no idea that teaching in the state schools meant a car ride there and back. I didn’t understand that it would mean sharing a common classroom without the ability to customize it. I had never taught a class on my own before and I was wildly naive about the entire experience. With my two most senior bosses staring at me I was like a deer caught in the headlights.

I stammered out “Yeah ok, that’s fine.”

Teaching Kids, and Only Kids

Three months later I have my regrets, but they are not substantial. What’s affected me more than the location of the state schools, or the impersonal classroom, is the makeup of my classes. By agreeing to teach solely in state schools, I guaranteed that every one of my students would be a kid. A majority of my students are under the age of ten. In fact, it was Arseni’s birthday on Thursday. After we sang the happy birthday song, I asked him how old he is. Everyone in the class was impressed when he said ten! Turning ten is a momentous achievement for many of my students.

I work four days a week. I prepare lessons from 12:00 to 2:30 and I teach from 3:00 to 8:00. On Mondays and Wednesday I’m in school number eleven. Tuesdays and Thursdays I spend at school number eight. One of the nicest perks of my job is having Fridays off. I use the day to sleep in late, prepare for Monday’s lessons and then at 1:20 I have a Russian lesson.

Some things are the same as back home. Students learn about using computers, there is a cafeteria and a gym. Teachers walk around the halls with lines of stress etched into their faces. When I pass a teacher in the hall, I always give the formal greeting, здравствуйте. However, one of the quirks of Russia is that they number their schools instead of using names. Come to think of it, I haven’t a clue how they cheer for their sports teams.

“Давай, номер 11, давай ДАВАЙ!” (Let’s go number 11, let’s go LET’S GO!)

A Typical Work Day

The only thing the two schools I teach at have in common are their security guards. At the beginning of every shift I am greeted by overweight, bored and underworked security guards. Unless they’re on the phone they flash a smile as they hand me the keys to my room. Their job is superfluous. Russia has its problems, but unlike America, they don’t have an insidious problem with school shootings.

I usually arrive at the school fifteen minutes before class. I get the key from the guard and unlock my room. Unpacking my backpack takes a scant two minutes. After everything is sorted on my desk, I prepare for class. In maintaining discipline, body language and posture is indelible. By reaching towards the ceiling and then trying in vain to touch my toes, I begin to assume a commanding posture. Shoulders rolled back, neck straight and chin lifted. This Wednesday in my second class, I spontaneously stretched out with the help of my student.

Little Misha can’t weigh more than nine gallons of milk. The board was covered in math problems from the previous class and he was erasing the bottom half. The upper reaches were out of his grasp. When he had finished with the bottom, I grabbed him around the middle, the fingers from my two hands nearly touching each other. For twenty seconds I held him up high while he erased the board. Significantly less efficient than erasing it myself but loads more entertaining for everyone.

My Students Level of English

Every day I work my way up the fluency ladder. I start off with my spastic nine year olds. At their level, I’m thrilled when my more ambitious students produce a sentence like “he’s a crazy student” or “she has a card.” Most of what they learn is vocab without context. They can identify all sorts of words from pencil to swing but they haven’t discovered how to make sentences yet. At this age, however, they learn quickly and their pronunciation is better than adults.

Teenagers pour into the classroom next. Their level of English varies wildly. By the age of twelve or thirteen, some of them are capable of holding a normal conversation on a variety of topics. Other’s can’t distinguish between a person asking “how old are you” and “how are you.” Maybe it’s because in Russian, the two questions are very dissimilar: “сколько тебе лет” as opposed to “как дела.”

On Monday and Wednesday nights I am rewarded with a chance to teach two teenage Armenian girls. Both being named Anna, I refer colloquially to them as “The Annas.” At the age of fourteen, they are already fluent in three languages; Russian, Armenian and English. Because they speak great English and have a good work ethic, our classes are always interesting. The Annas hope to become architects someday. I like to cater to their future whenever possible. We have designed imaginary apartments filled with furniture. Mock cities with parks, subway stations and apartments. Last week we created our ideal houses while learning the vocabulary that goes with it. There are few Russian kids who are as familiarized with a floor plan as The Annas.

After My Shift is Over

During the winter, it’s dark in Russia before five. By the time I leave my school at eight, it might as well be midnight. Every day Leonard, my driver, picks me up from the front entrance of the school. He’s a stout six feet with a small sheath of grey hair on his mostly bald head. I’ve known him for four months and I’ve never seen him move with haste. Hands in his pockets, shoulders lightly slumped and frowning, he moves from point A to point B like a tank crawling across the battlefield.

I spend more time lost in confusion with Leonard than any other person in Russia. After forty-two-years of smoking, he speaks a deep husky Russian. It was indiscernible to me for a full two weeks. After three months of car rides I’ve gotten past the accent, but that’s only like peeling the skin off the onion. He speaks quickly and makes no effort to aid me in understanding. The only time he speaks slowly or consistently uses vocabulary I understand is while making a crucial point.

By the time I arrive home I’m usually running on empty. It’s nine at night and time for me to cook dinner. I bring my laptop to the kitchen and set it down on the messy table. If I’m especially tired, I watch South Park. If there is some spirit left, I’ll read the New Yorker online while my dinner sizzles in olive oil.

It’s an interesting life. As a whole it’s agreeable although sometimes it can be challenging. Many times have I imagined buying a plane ticket and leaving Russia for good. It’s a refreshingly pleasing thought that brings relief to me on the hard days. But I know that before my plane was even out of Russian airspace I would regret it. Challenges make life interesting (like the time I tried to eat a raw egg in my girlfriend’s Moscow apartment). They can make life hard in the short term but they are wonderful fodder for stories later on.