Once again, I must start this installation with an apology for its apparent tardiness. Again, I will repeat the perhaps shocking fact that I really and truly have got into the swing of ruski life. The weather is getting warmer with intermittent shit snow storms but today I saw a women clad in some pink high-heeled espadrilles and a white PVC skirt so summer must be just around the corner.
My cheese-bearing French flatmate Adrian tells me that one year in Russia is two off your life and I hasten to agree with him. The lighting-fast pace at which life in the Russian capital seems to run is all well and good until you’ve been on the go for 36 hours having only eaten Macdonalds and a filthy street kebab and the sugar low from that last litre of Mirinda (Russian fanta with a bunch of EU illegal additives) seems to really hit home.
Without sounding like a Grade A tit or mickey-mousing some Riri lyrics, its true, na-na na na, we go hard. Now this is not only relating to our various toxic vodka filled escapades but really to every aspect of our lives here. Currently, almost everyone in our idiots abroad group is balancing a mix of university work, dissertations, the Sisyphean task of learning the Russian language, internships and teaching jobs and still trying to prove their worth in the various tacky nightclubs we mock yet undoubtedly pour out of at 4 in the morning.
Naturally, there have been a few events of note since I left you with my last installation in early March. There were 10 days of Irish themed festivities, new arrivals and tearful goodbyes, airport related disasters and of course, at least 10 Mcdonald’s happy meals to every positive experience with a Russian male.
I am the queen, this is my yellow and red castle.
So as my Irish comrades will know, mid-March often marks a very festive part of the annual calendar with the build up to the one and only Paddy’s day. However, Moscow not only has a Paddy’s day march (quite weird?), in fact, it also has a ten day Irish festival of culture. This may seem bizarre to you and it sort of is, but it allowed me to do some pretty cool stuff for the newspaper and it seems, the fascination with the Emerald Isle goes further than a few yanks wandering around Temple bar looking for their long lost Great Uncle Seamus.
As an intern for the Culture section of the Moscow Times it made sense that my editor, noticing my tenuous link to Ireland, decided to allow me to cover the series of events that took place. Unsurprisingly, while flicking through the website I was met with some familiar faces; 2 out of the 3 bands performing were current or ex-Trinity fodder and there were also a group of ex-Trinity kids performing as part of the Irish theatre fringe festival. This made me look pretty darn cool in front of my boss as just a few Facebook messages later I was all set with interview material. The pièce de resistance however was my interview with the mischievous Tommy Tiernan – lucky for me this Skype call was video camera free so my girly blushing and horse like sweating went unnoticed.
To mark St. Patrick’s Day itself was the Emerald Ball where, just like the White Ball of the previous term, we were invited to help in return for free tickets. The deal was sweet and the night was young and as Kalianne and I elegantly necked back the free champers and whiskey we were eager to see what was on the menu. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite enough sustenance to go round and with only a spoonful of chocolate mousse and a slither of salmon in our bellies the free bar was swiftly coming back to haunt us. Thus, a series of rather mortifying moments unfolded.
Firstly, we were given the job of helping with the auction items during dinner. Being the eager bunnies we are, we enthusiastically grabbed two large paintings and headed to the main hall. As the items were called we stood at the side, gleaming like two teleshopping superstars and slowly edged forwards with our two works of art. However, it quickly became apparent that the items we were so proudly parading were not up for auction and as we stood, becoming ever pinker in front of the bright lights we wondered how we would escape the awkwardness unscathed. We slowly slunk out of the hall in a three-part motion but there is only so much stealth one can have after drunkenly parading a 1.5m2 painting for upward of 20 minutes which simply was not for sale.
Shortly after this, I lost my dearest Kalianne. Although reports beg to differ, I do remember becoming concerned of her whereabouts at some point at which point, a little light bulb went off in my brain. Although I do hail as the queen of party napping, instinct told me that tonight was Kalianne’s night to shine and low and behold, as I entered the room where the rugby had been streaming earlier Kalianne was elegantly laid out across four chairs. I smirked to myself and pitifully stroked her hair and went back to join the motley crew on the d floor. However, perhaps only ten minutes after throwing some pretty illegal shapes, it struck me that it was not Kalianne who should be jealous of me but I who should be jealous of her! Thus, I quickly joined her, lying myself across the series of chairs as we jointly became the self-proclaimed sleeping beauties of the ball.
Everything after that is blurry. What is not blurry however are the circumstances which surrounded us on awaking. As I opened my weary eyes I was met by the interior of what was a 5* hotel room and the sound of Kalianne’s confused panic. Why were we here? Are you sure we are in the same hotel? Are we going to have to pay for this? Why am I naked? How many jets are in the shower? These were just a few of the questions bouncing around our foggy heads as we tried to piece together this potential miracle.
After racking my brain, a murky memory of a member of the Irish embassy giving me a hotel key card came to mind and we realised that we were not in fact rock ‘n’ roll stars and instead had been mothered by a member of the Irish embassy probably not much after midnight and put in a plush double ensuite. This did not change the awesome situation we found ourselves in and while I surrounded myself with 8 goose-down pillows Kalianne managed to monopolise on free eggs Benedict and we spent the next day almost as giddy as we were embarrassed.
Gals at 9 p.m.
Gals at 12.15 a.m.
Now for a round up of the key players and their lives in the Russian capital. So Henry got some titanium plates shoved into his cheek and returned to the Motherland, he then left again on a visa run and has returned for the second time with his wildly annoying spontaneous renditions of Frozen and constant updating of his LinkedIn profile. Laura’s updates will come later and Teddy’s time here is running out – we eagerly anticipated his 21st this past Saturday themed ‘Dead Souls’ requiring us to turn up as a bunch of dead Russians. I was pretty ready to get some action as I donned a middle-parted hair gelled lid and a large beard, embodying everyone’s favourite Russian villain, Rasputin but alas, my makeshift beard was left unruffled.
Rasputin went home alone that night.
Alex and James two of our new mates out here (well not so new anymore I have just not kept this blog very current) were ceremoniously kicked out of there flat in a series of unfortunate events and Evy, my lovely girlpower comrade at the Moscow Times has fled the motherland’s nest and is off to South of France to play in the hay bales with any Jean-Simon she can find. We are joined by two new recruits though but they may have to wait until next time for an honourable mention. As of late, culture clashes have been at a minimum.
Maybe this is because we are finally learning how to order food and buy metro tickets, something that would be mastered in other languages by week 2. I mean Kalianne still occasionally orders water with honey instead of ice and when I panic I get please, thank-you and hello confused.
Our two biggest muck ups of the past month have in fact been airport related. I took a little trip to Vienna at the end of March to celebrate a mighty ginger man’s 21st and it was a lovely reminder of how relaxing and expensive European life can be. However, my time at the airport was not the smoothest of moves. I arrived in a fluster, having yet again mistimed everything. Once finally in the airport I panicked about having to spend money on airplane food so I spied a KFC, and with one accidentally ordered vegan wrap under my belt I headed to security.
Having masterfully separated the liquids in my toiletries bag, got my laptop out pre security and taken the change out of my pockets I laughed smugly to myself (inaudibly of course) as I realised I had this airport thing down to a T. However, as I walked through body scan the buzzer rang out and the smile immediately washed from my face. I’d left my keys in my coat pocket, a rookie error some would say, but worse still, there was something else in my pocket which was going to cause some hassle. Long story short (although this whole thing is bloody long so just well done for getting this far) I have this face wash and before you add water to it, it’s just a white powder.
For just a weekend’s fix, I put the smallest amount in a resealable plastic bag and in my rush to get out the house I had slipped it in my coat pocket. And thus the moment came, the moment where I had to present a small white see-through bag of white powder to a Russian security guard. At this point, I’m panicking, trying to explain it’s harmless, it’s just to cleanse my angelic face, I promise! And then, the panic reached overdrive and in an act of desperation and blind stupidity, I put the powder on my fingertips and licked it. Right there, in front of the security guard, I put the powdered soap on my tongue. I don’t know who was more confused but I do know whose tongue was frothing. Anyway, after another full body scan and some serious dirty looks from the majority of the airport staff I got away. Kalianne however, has quite another story.
So Kalianne was going up to visit her bf in St. Petersburg a few weekends back and had a very early morning flight. Now, we all know where that leads when you’re a bloody party legend like Kalianne. So naturally, the night was young and our darling Evy was flying the coop so we all went out for a last hurrah. After hittin it hard we all ended in up at our usual post-kluub haunt, Starlite Diner, and as I looked across the table, the vacant face and glazed over eyes of Miss Farren I knew so well were trying but failing to look back at me. I went to her side to ask if she was going to be okay for her flight and she nodded and said she was simply going to go home, charge her phone and then she would be off. ‘No, syeeeriouslyy lyikeee I’ll be f-f-iine likeee.’
There wasn’t much to do here and I wasn’t all with it myself so I put here in a taxi and hoped for the best. Kalianne did eventually make it to St. Petersburg but not without a struggle. On arrival at the airport she was declined the right to check-in due to her clearly inebriated state. After some very Irish persuasion, they allowed her to check in but only after she has been accompanied by airport security to Burger King and forced to eat a King of the Day. She was then dragged back in front of security and allowed to proceed with the rest of her trip. She says she doesn’t remember much, only that she woke up in St. Petersburg with a crowd of airhostesses around her and the only one still on the plane. She wiped the dribble off her face and carried on with her head held high. Some woman for one woman.
There is no photo evidence but I imagine the situation was akin to this.
On to more serious matters, I have had the opportunity to write a features piece jointly with Evy about one of the most interesting and important topics, the domestic violence problem in Russia today. Although the rest of the world seems hell bent on Putin GIFS and the ever-ongoing events in east Ukraine, apart from perhaps homphobia there is relatively little coverage in the mainstream media of the social problems in Russia, more specifically the issue of violence against women.
In Russia, although official figures are naturally tricky to obtain a women figures have been released stating a woman is 3 times more likely to get physically abused on the street than in her own home and Russian women are 2.5 times more likely than American women and 5 times more likely than Western European women to be killed by their husband or partner. These are shocking statistics which are not helped by the fact that there is currently no existing legislation to protect these women, if a women is abused in the home she has to file it under physical assault just as you would if were punched in a club, but in the home, there are often no witnesses and RIA Novosti, a top news resource here in Russia, notes that 97% of domestic violence cases never end up in court.
Now as sombre as it is, changes are coming. Laura, one of my lovely friends here who has been mentioned numerous times before, has been dedicating her time and volunteering with the ANNA center, the only centre in Russia for the prevention of violence against women. They have been absolutely vital in raising awareness, researching the problem and trying to increase protection for these women and open a non-governmental shelter to house victims of domestic abuse and they have succeeded. Just one month ago, the Kitezh Shelter opened on the grounds of a monastery south of Moscow as the first non-governmental shelter in Russia which is aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence. Moreover, the legislation which has taken many years to finalise and tweek has been looked over and approved by most of the key agencies within the government and is looking to pass soon.
The problem is, with a country like Russia, there is always another priority. It’s the world’s biggest country with arguably some of the world’s biggest and most varied problems and in a place with extremely traditional ideas of family structures and an a highly influential Orthodox church issues like domestic violence often get left on the sidelines. I will link the article on the next blog edition as it’s still going through edits and I will also flaunt it on Facebook appropriately but please do read it, the more clicks it gets the longer it stays on the top of the website and the more people might see just how big a problem this is and how they might be able to help.
A photo at the opening event for the new women’s shelter. Laura (right) and CEO of the ANNA Center Marina Pisklakovo-Parker (centre-right)
In lighter news, we joined a gym. We started doing belly dance classes but generally looked like we’d caught a bad bout of epilepsy and then Kalianne got chucked out of bums and abs due to a shoe crisis so its small steps on the fitness front. Exams are also dubiously on the horizon, it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet but the idea of failing and staying on in the motherland wouldn’t be the most ideal situation but I also rarely hit the pass mark in the grammar tests so we’ll see.
Here are some pics for your perusal:
Red square at dawn.
Farewell Teddy, keep things classy.
That’s all for now I suppose, if you’ve made it this far you should probably really get back to whatever you were doing. Procrastination is the illness of our nation.
P.S the other day in college Kalianne found a small lump in her jeans. She wriggled it to the bottom to find it was a pair of knickers. I sleep next to this girl every night.
P.P.S. After the death of my Iphone, a story I will not boringly retell, my tinder game has been down but I’ll get back on it so you can watch me struggle to find someone I would even like to hold eye contact with in the near future.
P.P.S This is longer than any essay I have ever written for college/university/school.