Friday, February 26, 2010

The Torture Chamber (aka The Banya)

Yes, my head looks like a giant blueberry. I like it. So what?

Hi everyone! So, this is to catch you up on what I have been up to. Jesse is leaving me (well, at least temporarily). He is fleeing (I mean flying) soon to Moscow to do some work there and then will hopefully be coming back. Since he is taking the computer I figured I should post something since I'll probably forget by the time he gets back. Anyway, I haven't been up to too much different from what he's been doing. You know, language sessions, practicing the language, learning the culture, having a 3 hour torture in the local torture chamber here.

Well, that is what I call it. They call it a healthy, relaxing experience (aka the banya). For those who don't know what a banya is, it is a public bath (men and women are separated, of course). Once you pay you are taken into a locker room where you are told to strip everything. Then they put you into a superheated room and keep you in there until you collaspe of heat exhaustion. They then drag your overheated body out and throw a bucket of ice cold water on it, jump-starting your heart.

After about 3 rounds of this they take a rough surface cloth and literally rub the skin off of your entire body (all the dead skin and even some of your good skin). In case you thought it couldn't get any worse they pour a bucket of warm water over your raw skin causing pain I can't even describe. To add to the "experience" you are not allowed anything to drink or eat during this time. By the end I was confessing sins I didn't even know I had committed. Anything just to make it end!

Of course, that is how I described my bath the day it happened but now I've had about a week to recuperate I can see how they would enjoy such an "experience". Nudity is not a big deal to them so it wouldn't be humiliating. I was telling the friend who took me that it is not really something that is commonly seen in the States and she was shocked and started laughing when she saw I was trying to hide myself with my towel.

The sauna is made to be that hot to make you literally start pouring sweat which cleanses your body of toxins. I was told that the cold water is to help strengthen your heart, so apparently you shouldn't do this if you have a bad heart. While in the sauna they will take either a bristly brush or a branch and beat/rub their skin to open the pores and allow the toxins to drain out. If your skin is not red and blotchy you are not doing it right!

Once your skin is slick, they will rub it until it is raw which means they got all of the dead/bad skin off. A few things that actually did feel really good was that they put honey on their skin in the sauna which soothes the redness. Then, towards the end they will do a mud mask on the skin and then put lotion on it. That part I enjoyed!

Unfortunately, I did not eat beforehand and by the end had such low blood sugar (I'm hypoglycemic) I struggled to make it home. I spent the rest of the day in bed. The funny thing is, I want to go back and do it again. I'll do a few things differently but decided it was overall a good way to get clean, and especially to spend time with the people in a cultural setting.

Moving on to a more pleasant experience, our coworker, Erin, and I were invited to "judge" students cooking the traditional local food here. I add the quotation marks because we wouldn't even know how it was supposed to taste so we couldn't really give a valid opinion on it. We did enjoy the whole thing overall, however.

It consisted of two days, the first being a traditional meal and the second day being traditional desserts. Erin couldn't make it the first day so it was just me. I understood about 20% of what they were saying. Some of it was pretty good but some was, uh, interesting. They don't use a lot of spices and flavorings here so it would be considered bland to most people but they really enjoy that kind of food.
The second day Erin was with me and we were able to see how they make desserts. It all basically consists of jello. Some were tasty, some were not. At the end they asked if Erin and I could come back in March and teach their English students how to make American food. So, if you have an idea, let me know.

And that should about do it. Thanks for visiting, and check back soon for a post on Jesse's trip to Moscow, as well as more on our plans to go live in the village. You can check the Privyet link for some pictures of our coworkers' time out there.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winter Adventures

Well, we've actually had quite a bit going on over the past week! The first week after our last post had a lot more of the same, with language study being unremarkable and our lives just going along. Thus, I put off posting for a bit, but this past week we've actually had enough of interest to merit a new post.

Let's start with a Bolivian meal, and we'll save the big news for last:

One of my favorite foods in the whole wide world is the Bolivian dish of salte├▒as. They're like these little pockets of meat, olive, egg, and spices, and about the best thing ever tasted. The problem is that they take massive amounts of spices unavailable in central Siberia as well as loads of time and effort. So Bobbie doesn't often break down and make them.

However, as a special treat, she fixed up a batch (the recipe we have makes 50!) for me last week. This is only one tray out of several. Just looking at this incites me to inappropriate lust for food. ;-)

In other news, it was Bobbie's birthday last week as well. I'll let you ask her how old she is now (but I still have to point out that I'm younger). Her and our friend Erin went to the fanciest restaurant in town for lunch (about $6).

For supper, our friends watched our boys so that I could make Bobbie a special meal. I had intended to get all gourmet, but due to lack of ingredients ended up making steak, baked potatoes, and roasted peppers. I think she liked it, though.

So, what is the big news alluded to earlier? Well, we've managed to make an arrangement to go out and live in a village on a regular basis! Some of you know that we've been trying to/thinking about doing something like this for some time, but it just hasn't worked out.

The problem has been to this point that it's difficult to get time with the people in a natural T cultural context in town. People might invite us over for dinner, but even that is fairly rare and we just don't spend that much time immersed in the language and culture. All of our study is in our office with our helpers, which makes things somewhat artificial.

No longer! Our coworkers left today for their stay out in the sticks, and when they come back we'll replace them, and then take turns. It will hopefully be a really good environment for our culture and language studies, and we can provide a benefit to the people there as well by teaching English in return.

We'll be teaching English at the school shown above. The school is actually one of the "national schools" which run in the T language, so there won't be much Russian influence there, which is good for us. The people in town during our visit spoke little Russian, so there will be a lot of good opportunities for us to be in T situations.

Below is the kindergarten where the kids will go. I think we can get both boys in there, which would be great as it would free up Bobbie in the mornings and get them more exposure to the T language, which we're hoping they'll start learning.

One of the best things about this opportunity is that we'll be living with a T family. Our host teaches music at the national school, and has a place where we can live in their living room. Basically, the kids will sleep on the floor and Bobbie and I can fit onto their futon/couch-thing. Or vice versa, maybe, I guess we'll have to see. Anyway, this is taken outside the house with David and I and our host (in the white sweater) and a few of the people from the school.

This is their back yard! We will get lots of chances to see how to milk cows and take care of sheep and that sort of thing. They even keep chickens in a basement below their kitchen floor! The only thing I'm worried about is getting sick - I don't relish the thought of constant diarrhea (which seems to plague all of us when we eat T food) in an outhouse at -40. But overall, it should be really good, especially for our language acquisition.

So that's it! Please be thinking of us in the upcoming months, and you can start thinking about our coworkers and their kids right now (they left a few hours ago to take the first "turn).

Here's a picture of the boys in some cutesy Russian outfits Bobbie got somewhere, for the grandparents: