Well, I’ve been in Nizhny for over three weeks, and I finally feel like I could get dropped off almost anywhere in the city and find my way home in a few hours (not that I’ll be trying it anytime soon). In the past few weeks, I have asked strange Russian girls where I was and how to get home, been asked by strange Russian boys where the “something” university was, lost my jacket on a marshrutka (a really small bus, which will definitely have its own blog post soon), asked several busy bus drivers if they had seen my lost jacket, told a busy bus driver that he had not given me the correct change, and chanted to myself at least a hundred times the grammatically correct way to ask for directions to somewhere. Plus, I have an atlas. Really, that last sentence deserves as much awe as if I had just said, “Plus, I have a lightsaber.” It’s saved me countless times and causes gasps of astonishment and looks of jealously every time I pull it out of my backpack. Or, at least, it did for the first week. Everyone’s used to it by now. Sort of like how everbody’s used to the weapons in Star Wars after about five minutes.
There’s certainly something to be said for independence in a big city. This past Sunday, I traveled up to the city center by myself, wearing a pencil skirt and red lipstick like any proper Russian girl. I got on the right bus, put my 20 rubles on the carpeted dashboard for the driver, took the ticket and change he offered, took somebody else’s offered change and got them a ticket, got off on the right stop after signalling the driver, attempted the 15-minute walk to our meeting place, got somewhat lost after realizing I’d left my atlas at home, realized that I knew exactly how to ask for directions to the square I needed to get to in grammatically correct Russian, got myself unlost, and arrived at the bus stop with the other students just as the bus was pulling up to the curb. And the whole time I was so content with everything, just thrilled to death to be walking the streets in confident strides in Russia. Even when I was lost, I was happy. I didn’t have to stand around with a group of five confused, American students and take a poll on who thought which way was best (which causes me irrational amounts of stress and happens quite frequently). I just went where I wanted, not needing to stop and question anything. Apparently, it’s not just Russians that stress me out, but Americans too. Sometimes independence is just easier. Although, just today, I led an expedition to Fantastika, a large mall a little outside of the city center. My host sister, Anna, drew me a map this morning and wrote me up a list of bus numbers and after classes we were off! It was quite fun actually, especially since I didn’t get us lost. We all went shopping, and I bought two shirts and a cardigan/jacket/thing. And looked longingly at hundreds of shoes that were hundreds of dollars. No matter how adorable, I just can’t justify spending a hundred dollars on a pair of heels. Even if they are fancy-shmancy Russian heels. I did spend almost three dollars at a place that translates at “World of Pizza” on a slice of Danish pizza (which tasted suspiciously like Hawaiian pizza with bologna) and “Super Lasagna” (which was basically cold lasagna with too many mushrooms (and that’s ridiculous because I love mushrooms)).
But I digress. It’s good to feel almost at home here, and it’s always the little things. Like going into a store and asking the lady behind the counter for a bottle of water and having her ask you if you want carbonated or non-carbonated. And understanding the question. Like having someone ask you for directions because they think you speak Russian, which means that you don’t look incredibly obviously like an American. Like knowing that cashiers always ask if you want a bag because it costs a tenth of a ruble. Like knowing what new foods you like (tvorog) and what new foods you don’t like (fish eggs. blech!). Maybe in the next few weeks I’ll get more of chance to go exploring around the city. There’s a candy store I’ve heard of that sells souvenirs, and a restaurant called “Broadway Pizza” that my host mother recommended to me (although I’m not sure if it’s because they sell good pizza or because I’m American and am bound to love a place called “Broadway”). Oh the possibilities!
Just for funsies, here’s two pictures of the mall I visited today.