|Saturday, November 13th:
My roommate, Rachel, and I arrive in Omsk early in the morning. We are greeted at the airport by our host organization advisor, Svetlana (Sveta). She greets us in all Russian and we very soon realize that she does not speak ANY English. We again realize our baggage is practically bigger than the taxi, as we load up for the 10 minute drive to our host family's house. It is totally dark at this point, and hard to see the city, but it looks like a pretty decent sized city. We get to our host family site- it looks like a prison from the outside! Just the classic Soviet-style apartment buildings, though. We get up to the 5th floor and meet our host mom, Galina. She is very nice- MD at the Center we will work at. She has an evil cat (katchka) named Lola. We live in a 3-room apartment (not 3-bedroom), so Rachel and I share the living room as our bedroom. I sleep on this little cot-like bed, and woke up in the middle of the night with serious lower back pains, like Elaine has when she visits Seinfeld's parents in Florida.. hahaha. Anyway, the apartment is adorable. Galina only speaks Russian, so we had a very nice translator come meet with us in the mroning to help communicate. We have tea, blini (little pancake-type crepes), jelly, and cheese for breakfast... very tasty. Rachel and I napped for a while, then went out to walk around the city with Galina. Ok, it is about 30 degrees, but very windy, so pretty cold. And there is snow and ice everywhere, none of which is shoveled or anything, so it is slippery as heck. The city is pretty- some old Lenin statues and churches and such. Communication is a serious challenge, since we basically can onlky exchange a few words with Galina. Come home and warm up with some fantastic homemade soup.
Sunday, November 14th:
Rachel and I slept for 15 hours last night! This morning we had another great little breakfast with toast, jelly, and all kinds of cheeses, yogurts, cookies, etc... (Adios weight watchers). We then went for a walk around the city with our translator friend. She is 21 and has been to the US. She was great. Showed us all over city, told us history of the city, walked by the rivers, and took lots of photos (still trying to figure out how to get them uploaded.) Our Russian/English dictionaries are our bibles- we keep them with us at all times, and use them for every conversation. Rachel and I have decided to sit down with Galina every day for a little Russian lesson. We want to learn at least 10 new Russian words a day. I have a really hard time remembering words when I learn them, and an even harder time pronouncing some words- Rachel is much better than me. Oh well, I am doing ok I guess. GOt the basics down. So it is pretty cold today, and in this city one walks everywhere, so by the time I am done walking and get into a super-heat-pumped building, I am sweating bullets, and yet my legs and face remain frozen for about 1 hour. And the Omskians call this autumn! I think we have a lot colder days ahead. It is always drab overcast sky here, and it is only daylight from about 10am until 3:30pm, which is pretty weird. Anyway, having a great time so far. I can't wait for work to start tomorrow- it sounds like a very interesting place!
Monday, November 15th:
Still trying to find a way to post my photos... patience my friends. Today I started work at the HIV/AIDS Center here in Omsk. The Center is very well developed, and they do incredible work- everything from clinical work, patient consultation and treatment, to surveillance and epidemiology to health promotion, social services, and health communication. The people are all very highly qualified, intelligent, and kind people. I think I am really going to enjoy working there. Today we mostly toured the Center, met people, had some discussions, etc... At the end of the day, we visited one of the partner sites, which is church that provides services to homeless children and children of drug addicts (intravenous drug use is a HUGE problem here in Russia). We were able to see the children as they had their free meal and activities. The people working there are great- very motivated and selfless people. It's been a long day of listening to translation and trying desperately to understand the people around me. Everyday, I try to learn 15 new words, but man o man is it tough. Until tomorrow.... da svidanya.
Tuesday, Novermber 16th:
Another busy, but great day. Today we went to a University and were part of a panel discussion on HIV/Drugs, etc... for over 200 first-year students. Rachel and I got up and presented information about HIV/drugs/sex in the US (well, actually, our fantastic translator and friend Alena did all the talking for us). The kids loved us! Afterward they came up to the stage to take pictures with us. And, get this, a bunch of them wanted our autographs! For real! It was the first time that many of them had ever seen an American in "real life". We stayed and made red tulip paper flowers with them- they will be used for HIV awareness events in Russia on December 1st for World AIDS day. We then headed over to an organization called "Siberian Alternative." The staff is mostly composed of homosexuals (some others hetero)- along with many volunteers, the Siberian Alternative works on HIV awareness, prevention, and support programs with young people throughout Siberia. We were there for over 2 hours conversing over tea and Russian candies about HIV/drugs/sex/discrimination, etc... with all the young people. They were very excited to have us there, and we were very excited to be there. It seems as though their organization has done amazing work, and they are supported by a very strong volunteer base. They gave us many of their publications and promotional materials, and were quite proud of it all, as they should be. Rachel and I went home and had a special Russian dish for dinner, although I forget what it was called. It is ground beef, rice, and sauce, wrapped inside a cabbage leaf, and served with hoseradish sauce. It was actually pretty tasty!
Wednesday, November 17th:
Today I woke up with a serious cold. My host mom scolded me the best that she could in English, and pointed to the words "warm" and "clothes" in her Russian/English dictionary. She thinks I am not dressing warm enough. Maybe she's right- today is bitter cold here in Omsk. Supposed to snow later I guess. Anyway, today we went to a drug treatment and rehabilitation facility and met with one of their head doctors. It is completely funded by the Russian government, although they cooperate with many other ngo's and such. They work quite frequently and closely with the HIV/AIDS Center that is hosting me as well. It sounds like the drug treatment program is very advanced. I am beginning to think that Omsk is actually far ahead of other Russian/ Siberian cities in terms of dealing with the HIV/AIDS epidemic here in Russia. They have been able to maintain a very low prevalence rate, and I think it is mostly due to the work of places like the HIV/AIDS Center, Siberian Alternative, and this treatment center. The doctor mentioned that Omsk is in a pivotal location, since it is the closest trade city to Khazakstan, and that lots of drugs are trafficked through Omsk. There is increasing intravenous drug use due to this fact, but the prevention and control measures employed by these organizations are dually noted, and respected. Tomorrow we will be going out to the countryside to learn about HIV prevention programs out there... I am very excited, although my host mom has already twice mentioned the need for me to dress more warmly. I guess we all need a mom no matter where we are! She's cute and means well.
Thursday, November 18th:
Thank you all for your emails and messages! For all who have asked, I am updating this website daily from an internet cafe, not my own laptop (wish I had one!). Sorry that I cannot reply to each of you individually, but I have no way of knowing when my internet session will run out, so I just type furiously in this web journal and usually barely make it! In fact, my time is running out now I feel, so I will be back later with more stories!
Thursday, November 18th:
Today we went out to the Siberian countryside for a LoOoOoOoOong day of presentations on Promotion of Healthy Living for youth by organizations operating in the Omsk Oblast (suburbs and countryside). Though I'm sure they were all quite interesting, the powerpoint presentations were all in Russian, and there is only so much our little translator buddy Elena can handle, so we were a bit lost some of the time. However, it was interesting to see how many organizations this region has focusing on health for youth- I am still utterly amazed! We also got to try BORSCHT for the first time! It was not too bad-- just freakishly red/pink in color, but otherwise ok. At the end of the trip, one of the Russian passengers on our bus belted out in English, "HOW DO YOU LIKE OUR CITY AND OUR BOYS?!!!!" Rachel and I laughed, and said that we like both, surprised that this woman spoke any English. I think she wants us to marry her sons......
Friday, November 19th:
Today's activities included a visit to the International Center at the Pushkin Library, where we met with a class of 15 year-old Russians learning English. They were just adorable... a little bit timid to speak in English with us, but we were able to squeeze a few English words out of them. We had tea and cake with them too. I just can't get over how much tea (Che) that we drink in this country... sometimes 5 times a day! Friday evening's activities included a visit to the local kiosk where Rachel and I bought water and ice cream bars called Eskimos, followed by cuddling up in our hard-as-rock beds, and catching up on some American novel reading.
Saturday, November 20th:
Boy oh Boy, was this a day of FIRSTS for Rachel and me! We began the day at the internet cafe as usual. We then ventured all over the city, attempting some shopping. There were a few embarrassing communication-related encounters, but otherwise ok. We conquered our very first trip to the supermarket alone, our very first restaurant meal without translators, and our very first ride in a Mashrootka (small bus) alone without any help! We went to a movie in Russian (Resident Evil 2) with our other translator, Anton, and his friend Roman. Pretty much had no clue what was being said, but there were enough guns and fighting to follow the plot (um, yeah- not a fan of these types of movies, but WHEN IN ROME....). We all met up with our first translator, Elena, and ended up at Anton's sister's (Anastasia) apartment where we had some food, some piva (beer), and funny conversations about differences between US and Russian life. By the way, Anastasia has a six-year old son named Sasha (short name for Alexander). He is about the darn cutest little kid I've ever seen. He was wearing a green turtleneck and green tights. He was speaking English with us, and showing us all his toys. What a doll! Hopefully I can post some photos of him soon!
Forgot to mention 2 things:
1. Tonight we also tried these little bread-crumb/crouton things that are eaten like snack food with beer. They were pretty good, but they reminded me of dry stuffing from Thanksgiving, which I will be missing this year.
2. Our taxi broke down today, in the middle of nowhere at 12:30am- kinda freaky. Thank god there were some Russian speakers with us, though. Upon adding some water to the overheating engine, we were on our way within about 30 minutes...