1st semester: were told our grammar was "dirty." 2nd semester, were offered the "Clean Grammar" text.

In grammar class, we are learning about how using passive voice and impersonal expressions is a good thing. In the Russian language, you are supposed to put the blame on an invisible, mystical (neuter gendered) something. The Star Wars “Force,” if you will. (And no, it’s not God, for God is male in the Russian language).

For example: don’t say, “I’m cold,” but rather, “[Mystical neuter something] is cold to me.” Likewise, not “I didn’t finish my homework,” but “[Mystical neuter something] didn’t let it get done for me to finish the homework.”

(Get more facts–there’s no pun in that–about Russian grammar from a colleague in Yaroslavl on her blog. Otherwise, my life story (of sorts) is continued below.)

This was supposed to be the week that we got settled in to our firmed-up schedules and caught up on work. (But this assumption was wrong. More proof that when you “A S S (of) U (&) M E” in Russia, you just get it handed back to you.) The week started with Men’s Day. Happy enough of an event (see previous post). Except, this meant coming back from a five day weekend and realizing that the stack of work had yet to significantly shrink.

Regarding phenomena of this kind, Irina Milentievna says, “A Brit or American will say ‘I didn’t do it,’ but a Russian will say, ‘It didn’t work out for me.’ That’s how they’ll know you’re Americans–by taking responsibility for your actions.” We ask ourselves silently, “Is this a bad thing for us?”

But, despite what they’re teaching us in grammar classes about life values, as an American writing in English, I’ll answer for the fact that there are concrete reasons (no mysticism or word gender involved) for my still being behind schedule in my catch-up game.

SNOWSTORMS. Romany got an emergency call from Middlebury (in Vermont) about a snowstorm and classes being cancelled. This is not fair, as it is I who am in Siberia, I thought. We had no snow. Time lost: Following Twitter, Google news feeds, photo slideshows, and watching the emails about power outages and classes resuming come in took up a portion of one evening.

THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. Raise your hand if you’ve read James Joyce’s Ulysses. Wonderful book. Raise your hand if you tried it in Russian translation for your class in Russia on the history of foreign literature. Yeah, not happening. Which is fine, because the book, though still complex and excruciatingly slow, is fantastic in the original (but, of course, helped along by Nabokov’s criticism translated back into Russian from his originally English lecture). Time lost: 1-2 hours per episode, 18 episodes total.

MONEY LAUNDERING. In addition to sneaking the reading of English text into my Language Pledged-away-life (™Midd), I’ve also taken up an illegal post as a tenth grade English discussion class leader on Saturdays. It’s not money laundering, don’t worry. But, lucky for me, getting 600 rubles ($20) a week as spending cash, in exchange for sharing my cultural diversity and language skills, is hardly the biggest problem on the local police’s plate. Just don’t tell. Time lost: 35 minute commute, 80 minutes, 2 minutes of laundering, 35 minute commute home, but if we’re putting this against the value of money, time gained: see next.

RIDDING MYSELF OF SAID $$. On Saturday, the Moscow program kids flew in for a long-weekend excursion to Listviyanka and Baikal. They had the night free, so Ryan and I took them out for a night out on the town (cough laughter mutter cough). But, we did the best with what we had: a nearby “kino-bar” (snack stand in a movie theatre lobby that sold beer) and the club “Panorama” (actually a good club). I’d forgotten how good a workout dancing is. Time lost: a few hours of sleep.

GLOBAL ARTS. Returning to the Irkutsk Philharmonic for the fourth time in one week (a new record!) — that is, (1) after inquiring about tickets for the Men’s Day concert (not needed), (2) the Men’s Day concert (left early), (3) inquiring about tickets for a piano concert (cancelled) — Ryan and I (4) attended the final concert (“Global Rhythms”) of the city’s “Music Without Borders” festival on Friday, in which my choir (The Irkutsk State Choir of Youth and Students) was the final act. No, unfortunately, I was not a part of that, as I have only been to three rehearsals thus far.

Other acts included African drumming, two performers doing island songs with a looper, a belly dancer, and a somewhat out-of-place tap dancer. Since this show’s conception of “global” seemed to be comprised of music associated with warmth and heat, I was struck by the honest self-admittance that the Russians’ country occupies most of the world’s ice-covered wastelands. Time lost: a few beats.

FREE LABOR. Since the good folks at Babr.ru are busy fighting the feds’ decision to reopen a chemical spewing factory on Baikal’s shores, they haven’t got back to coordinator Elizabeth’s emails regarding my interning there. Which we forgive them for, if they’re reading. If not just for their environmental quest, then also for the fact that Elizabeth found a probably even better (read: AMAZING) opportunity for me at the Dom Literatorov (Litterateur’s House, or if we want to be French, La maison des littérateurs), which is the new home to the Irkutsk Writer’s Society. We had the initial interview-meeting today, and it’s all set up. More to come next week. Time lost: 30 minutes

And last but not least, my taking responsibility for my actions would not be complete without mentioning:

EARTHQUAKES. No, I’m not blaming my homework not getting done on my surfing on the Chilean tidal wave or my flights to volunteer in Haiti. Our earth’s trembling here in Siberia was somewhat overshadowed by those catastrophes (no offense taken, obviously). It was a 6.1er on Baikal’s shores, and a 4.0 in Irkutsk. It happened on Thursday morning during, of course, grammar, of course, talking about natural disasters. As my first earthquake, it was relatively exciting (relative to not having an earthquake, that is). Not as eventful of this MiddKid’s studying abroad in Chile, though. Time lost: 30 seconds thinking “Wow, the ground is shaking” plus the time it took to write the extra sentence about it in a number of emails and a Twitter message.

A few seconds after the fact, Irina Milientievna told us that, “Oh, yes. It usually happens around this time.”

We think, “What, so she controls the movement of the earth’s crust too? There’s not even someone to take a bribe for that…”

Going on, seeing the blank expressions on our faces that she was vying for, with authority (responsibility?), she says, “Whenever I begin this section on nature, there’s usually an earthquake. [Mysterious neuter something] it happens.” Then she adds, “[Mysterious neuter something] shook us today in Irkutsk.”

. . .
I leave for our group excursion to Severobaikal’sk begins on Wednesday evening (Irkutsk time; early Wednesday morning in the U.S.), meaning I will tentatively be away from the Internet until Thursday, March 11, and accordingly have posted this as Week 25, as well.

I will take my iPod with me to catch any WiFi waves I can to send a Twitter here and there, just in case. However, seeing as our schedule is comprised of back-country winter hiking/cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, horse riding, driving across the frozen Baikal to camp on it, and taking part in natives’ religious thanksgiving ceremonies, I’m doubting I’ll be doing much tweeting this week. Wish me luck (and warm weather)!

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