I spoke Russian to the kids on Friday. It was only the pre-language group (the 3 year olds). They don't understand the concept of speaking different languages, so I decided it wouldn't matter so much. And I didn't speak with them during our class time, but while we were outside playing. It was really fun. There's a wooden truck that they play in, and Kadinya, the cutest little girl ever, was playing in it. A mom was sitting in the back of the truck with her little boy, and she was pretending the little girl was driving them to the store. It was pretty cool, because I could understand the main ideas of what they were talking about. The mom and boy left, so I got in the back of the truck, and the little girl turned to me and asked me what I wanted to buy. I told her I wanted oranges. Then she said, "oranges and bananas?" I said yes, oranges and bananas and apples. It was great! Then a little boy (Maxim--my other favorite) climbed up and I talked to him a little too. I asked him what some things were called, and I told him I wanted to buy hats and coats. Then we argued over whose truck we were in, mine or his. It was really fun. Then I talked a little bit with one of the teachers. I just asked her how to say a few things as well. I really liked that I could understand what the kids were saying. I'm going to try and do that every day, and try to talk to the teachers as much as I can. I know I'm supposed to be speaking English, but I SO badly want to learn Russian!
We had our first culture class on Friday from Gulya, our native coordinator. It was really fun because Lisa's group came over for it, so I got to see Lisa (my cousin)! It’s fun that she's here, but I haven't gotten to spend very much time with her, although we do go to church together. Anyway, the class was very interesting. It was so weird to me how much the government just up and changed the culture of the people, and it seems that they're all okay with that. Gulya talked about the major holidays, and so many of them were changed in 1917. They pretty much took away religious holidays, and are only now reinstating them, some as recently as last year. She talked about how she and her husband are atheists, because under communism there was no need for religion; the government dictated what morals they should have. I was shocked that the government was able to have such an impact on their culture. Even with a holiday as big as Christmas. Gulya said it was celebrated very strongly until 1917, when it was completely done away with. Then in the 90’s a lot of the people converted their beliefs of communism into beliefs of Christianity, and they decided Christmas should come back. But it hasn’t been as widely celebrated as it once was.
Gulya not only teaches our culture class, but she also escorts us on tours of Russia. Yesterday she took us to Victory Park, where we went to a museum of WWII. That was interesting. Apparently in Russia it’s called the Great Patriotic War. I got a souvenir penny of Stalin. Yup. Stalin. That pretty much sums it up. I feel weird talking about politics in such a public place—like Big Brother is watching me. But I have such a different understanding now. I guess I just thought that since the fall of the USSR, Russians were happy to no longer be under a communist government. That doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve heard them talk about how great it was when they were united and had so much power, and they definitely still hold their leaders in high regard. We saw Lenin last weekend. His body is preserved in a glass tomb in Red Square. The room is dark and cold, and you can’t see anything except his illuminated face and hands. Very creepy...
So, on to other things. After Victory Park we went on a boat ride through Moscow, on the Moscow River. It was beautiful, but very cold. It actually reminded me of taking ferry rides in San Francisco. We could see the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral from the water. It was very beautiful, but surreal at the same time. Then we went shopping in an outdoor market and I got the warmest boots I've ever worn. The salesman orignally wanted $80 for them, and I walked away with them for $40. I was proud of myself. And I thought my feet were going to boil during church today because it was so warm inside and those boots are super insulated. I find it somewhat ironic that my whole life I've always been cold at church, but now I've finally found a place where I can be warm. Russia.