Indeed, the Wandering Family is about to wander its way back across the Atlantic in a few days. It's sad to leave our home here, but we know we'll be back soon, so it's only a temporary separation. And, of course, we'll get to see a lot of you, which is always good. We weren't sure how to get Steven ready for the flight, so I decided to whip him around a bit so he could get used to "flying." He seems to enjoy it, so now we'll see how he does on the actual flight.
So, what have we been up to since our last post? Lots, honestly. We've been busier than usual with getting together with people anyway, and add to that the last-minute must-do's that always accumulate before a long voyage and you have a recipe for tired people!
Not all of it has been hard work, however. Last weekend, the SuperMom group that B attends held a baby shower in her honor! Actually, it was for her and one other lady, but since she didn't show up, it ended up being all about B. Of course, they had the regular teaching and fellowship, but there was a special section where B was the focal point.
I generally try to avoid the SuperMom meetings since they're geared for, well, moms, especially after my first time in attendance ended with a discussion on female health that made me glad I don't speak more Russian than I actually do! However, since there was a party planned, I was especially asked to attend, and once I got there I realized why: so they could humiliate me! We played a game where the father of the baby has to dress and "accessorize" a baby doll blindfolded. You can see the results below; somehow I think we might need to put B in charge of hairstyles. At least they got to laugh, I guess.
Next up was a game in which the various party attenders tried to guess how big B's tummy is. They all took a good look at her, pulled some yarn off a spool, and cut off the amount they thought would just go around the biggest part of the belly. Then, when everyone had done one, I helped B to get an actual measurement, and we then compared our "master" yarn to everyone else's piece. One lady actually managed to eyeball the length to within a centimeter, which I thought was either very lucky or very skilled.
Of course, you can't have a baby shower without some stuff, and they really did give us some wonderful things. Here B shows off Nicole's snowsuit for next year. As for me, I'm just hoping the doctors were right about it being a girl, because if it turns out to be a boy, that is going to be one gay-looking snowsuit! :)
Aside from partying hard, I (J) have also been pursuing getting a medical "spravka" as part of my application for a work permit for the visa we need to get while we're in the US. This might sound like a simple process, but that's only if you have never lived in Russia.
I'll try not to bore you with the details, since I don't have any pictures (it might be considered sliiiightly rude to walk around a doctor's waiting room snapping pictures of all the despondent patients!), but it's an interesting story, so bear with me.
About a week ago, we find out that one of the things necessary for our application is a medical certificate saying that I'm healthy enough to work here. Seems to make sense, so off I (with trusty Larisa, our secretary/translator/general "knows-what's-to-be-done" person) go to the clinic to see what needs to be done. One problem: there is no clinic. They have moved since whenever they gave out their address, so no dice. Not to be deterred, Larisa offers an alternate address and we set off to see about that as an option. Of course, this is all on foot, since we don't own a car and the metro doesn't run that direction.
When we eventually arrived at the second clinic, they advised us that they don't do that particular test, but that a clinic near where we started does, so we head back. We track down that clinic, but are told at the first entrance that "we can't help you." Upon further questioning, it's revealed that they actually can help us, but it's a different department (of the same clinic!) and they eventually point us two doors down. I was trying to imagine working in, say, the toy department at Wal-mart and having a customer ask where the basketballs are, only to reply "We can't help you" since they're over in sporting goods. I don't think it would go over well.
Hopes are dashed at the other department, though, as they explain that they do a different kind of test for foreign work permits, not the one we need, though the lady helpfully points us across the street to the Infectious Diseases Hospital, which is where we need to go (allegedly). An hour later, after wandering around some streets in the vicinity of where she had pointed, we find out that the hospital we're looking for is right across the street from the metro station we originally came from. We go there only to find that they can't help us since we're not registered in their particular area, despite the fact that they're obviously the closest hospital of the kind we need to our address. Oh, and they won't tell us where we actually should go, referring us to a helpful list on the wall that lists, ... them as the assigned hospital for our area.
At this point, we decide to give up for the day - End of Day 1. Information gained: we now know the right kind of hospital to go to, and are armed with a list of phone numbers of the various Infectious Diseases Hospitals all over the city. Time spent: approximately 4 hours.
Seriously, I could go on, and on, and on like this, but you would eventually stop reading. In fact, I'm lucky if you're still reading at this point, and we're only on Day 1. I hate to give away the ending of the saga, but some of you who are going to skip it anyway. It took us 5 similar days, but we did eventually walk away with what for me is a Holy Grail of sorts - my medical spravka! I picked it up this afternoon, so we're very grateful that we were able to get that all done before we left. Now I can leave it with our fearless leaders to actually translate into a work permit that will allow us to be here for the next year.
If you've totally bored yourself on spravka-talk, feel free to skip a few paragraphs, but I think I would be remiss to completely neglect the actual clinic that eventually did the test, so I'll give you a brief flavor at least. Trust me, there are many more details that I'm compressing so you're not shaking your heads any more than you are now.
When we arrived there, mass chaos reigned. Lines snaked everywhere, none of which seemed to move at any point, and no one seemed to know which one we should be in. We eventually picked the one closest to the entrance, which turned out to be a good decision. When we reached the front of the line, I paid for the tests and was given a sheet of paper with a list of rooms to go to. In front of each room was, you guessed it, another line! I managed to get into several of them at once and sat down to wait my turn.
My favorite was the interview with the psychologist, who, when I advised him that I don't speak Russian fluently, proceeded to stare blankly at the wall for 30 seconds. Just when I was starting to wonder how a "sane" person would respond to such behavior, he asked how to spell my name. I told him, and he almost dolefully wrote it down, together with an annotation that I appeared to be in good mental health. I feel very reassured.
My least favorite test was in "Room 7," into which I went with no idea what to expect. A young lady told me to have a seat and take off my coat. It went downhill from there. This is a family-friendly blog, so I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say I apparently don't have syphilis! The problematic part was answering her questions, since somehow my anatomical vocabulary hasn't extended past "elbow" and "throat" into that tricky area required to respond to syphilis-related questions yet.
Anyway, after many hours of waiting in various lines and being checked for disorders, I eventually got a paper saying that I was done and could come back in a few days when the bloodwork was back for the results. Today turned out to be the day that it was ready, so after a long metro ride, there I was expecting to just show up and get everything handed to me.
Of course, it could never be so easy! I was advised that I had neglected to get the required chest X-ray. To which I replied, through slightly strained teeth, "What chest X-ray?" feeling a bit like this guy quoting the Wedding Singer. Not to worry, I was told, merely go across town to another clinic, wait in line again, get your chest X-rayed, and bring the results back and you can have your spravka. Of course, there were a few more bumps along the way, but I'm very grateful to have this piece of paper in hand now. Thanks to all of you who thought of me along the way; I really appreciated it. I can say with absolute certainty that someone is trying to teach me patience. It's certainly something that, culturally, Russians excel at for the most part, and something I'm trying to catch up to them on.
Anyway, that should about do it. We've had some other things going on (be thinking about a guy named L, not a family member, who we had over the other day; I was able to talk to him about some of those issues in detail) but for the most part are just getting ready to head out on our trip. Our apartment is still a mess, so we've got to get it ready for some of our friends who will be watching it while we're gone, and of course we still have to pack. Fortunately it's just a short trip back this time, and we don't have to pack the kitchen sink.
Well, we haven't had a What Is It?™ in a while, but this week something lent itself to the idea rather well, I thought. This item, easily recognizable to anyone who has spent any time in Russia, forms a critical part of getting a medical certificate of ability to work. Can you figure out what it might be and/or what it's used for?
If so, answer in the comments section and, as always, the point goes to the first person to comment with the correct answer. We've already purchased the prize for the winning commenter, and, since we haven't yet tallied the points, this could be your last chance to get your name on the scoresheet!
That's all we got. We're looking forward to seeing many of you in just a few short days!