And what a week it has been! Perhaps the greatest struggle has been the jetlag. No matter how hard we try, we always seem to wake up at 2AM and cannot sleep until 6, which is the time we have to get up. News of the stock market crash and a 7 billion dollar bail out is about the jolt it takes every day to get our eyes open.
We live in a very convenient American bubble right in the heart of Moscow. The American Embassy compound has all the conveniences of home; sports gym, post office, hair salon, food commissary, and a bar. It is quite easy however, to penetrate the perimeter and step into the sea of 13 million Russians. Even in the Embassy, I hear Russian all the time. Over 1000 Russians work here. The best part about it is that the kids are free to run around at will. They have already made friends with their peers and spend more time outside (for now) than they ever did in Niger.
Dina and I went with a colleague of mine to get lunch at the local hole-in-the-wall. She led us into a Russian Orthodox church. The interior was hand carved wood with painted flowers and small tables covered with slovac embroidered tableclothes and an icon in the corner. I crossed myself. It looked like an old Russian movie set. The smell of baked bread permeated the place. Babushki served the food. We sat down among the old and young Moscovites and ordered a bowl of hot mushroom and barley soup and cabbage piroshki. After we finished, I left a tip. The babushka who served us handed me back my rubles and said, "leave it as a donation for the church on your way out."
Tomorrow is Friday. We have tickets to go to the Bolshoi Circus with the kids on Saturday. Camille is liking her new social life and school. Stefan has had 2 days of the French school. Last night, we actually slept a reasonable 6 hours without interruption. I dreamed of Dyadya Oga. He drove me down a windy road in his VW van (he barely looked 50 but I wasn't a kid anymore) while trying to convince me that I should take this job. "I thought I did!" I said. "No you haven't. You haven't seen any patients yet!" Which was true.
I started seeing patients today. It feels good to be useful again. I needed to make a complicated phone call to the States about a bill so as not to charge the Embassy and got all worked up and frustrated. I inquired at the nurses desk as to how to do it and the Russian doctor said, "just push zero and the operator will connect you."
It was an unplanned arrival but Dina always finds a way to travel in style. We left DC in a panic. Our luggage was overweight by a few pounds in 4 of the 8 suitcases so we had to redistribute the weight. Now forgive me for asking but, why does it matter how the weight is distributed if it can all go within the guidelines of the allotted weight? Time was running out and we were flinging our underwear out of our bags to find something worth "redistributing". Thank you to the young female passanger who helped us drag all of our bags to the x-ray check-in away from the ticket counter. I never got your name.
In New York, the flight was overbooked. No surprise there since we were flying on Delta Airlines. It was packed with lots of Russians and more of their kids. Just as we were getting our ticket swiped, Dina hears the overhead announcement that they are offering a business class flight on Air France to Moscow via Paris plus $400/person to anyone willing. Once I stopped to ponder this, it was easy to agree that by not doing so was simply stupidity on our part. An hour later, we are seated in business class; Stefan has his dental chair in the horizontal position with his night shades on and his ear plugs in and the cocktail waitress is serving us champagne (I'll post the picture as soon as I am able)! Although I should note that the only difference between business class and steerage on the last leg of the flight between Paris and Moscow was a simply a curtain.
So we arrive in Moscow and we are completely out of our minds from jet lag and business class hospitality when we slowly realize that there is no one there to pick us up. The woman at the information booth is curtious yet with an undertone of irritation. I ask for assistance calling the American Embassy. She instructs me to buy a phone card from the bar and hands me the Russian phone book to look up the number. But my appologetic kindness prevailed and she did finally look up the number for me and even paged anyone who was listening to come to the information booth and help Mr. Chordas who is waiting for them (equivalent of our "white Curtesy phone"). I finally get through to the Embassy and after a series of transfer calls talk to someone who will help retreive us. A van comes 2 hours later to pick us up. Bad traffic we are told.
Exhausted, we are brought to our apartment in the heart of Moscow. We are all too tired to comprehend out surroundings except to say, "wow!" Our sponsors had left us some homemade lasagna and a nice bottle of wine. A new and dear friend had delivered some excellent pastries (thank you Moscowmom).
This morning I woke up to a view of birch trees, spruce, and a lone pine out our bedroom window. My office is literally less than 200 feet from our front door! I hear Russian everywhere in the Embassy and Camille is already playing with the DCM's daughter (second only to the Ambassador). Stefan has also made friends on the playground. I miss Niamey and the States but I am excited to be here!
The visas came though and we are off to Moscow tomorrow. Today's list: pick up my contact lenses, pay the hotel bill, mail boxes of cereal to ourselves, get into a dispute with ATT over iPhones, buy more guitar picks, pick up an allen wrench so Peter can put his bike back together, return library books. Our air shipment from Portland is already there, so we'll have bikes and familiar bedding and a bunch of other stuff I don't remember sending, but it was five hundred pounds of stuff that seemed essential at the time.
Peter can play "Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven's Door," on guitar pretty well now.
Peter's sister Alex visited us from Seattle over the weekend. Yea! Saturday, Hurricane Hanna/Major Annoyance Hanna also passed through town and it rained so hard we took a cab to go four blocks to a bookstore. The beautiful day yesterday was a shocking contrast. We celebrated by going to three museums. The highlight: Vermeer's Lady With a Balance. I can't believe I've spent this much time in DC and never paid her a visit before. Gloriousness.
We are sitting in DC missing our friends and families, even though we are still HERE. Talk about arrggg.
Last night we watched the Scorcese Rolling Stones concert/movie. I'd watched it, youtube-sized, on the plane here. I told Peter we could play Scrabble and watch it at the same time, but he disagreed, and thought it was so good we couldn't miss a second. And once it was on the huge tv here, I was riveted. I always knew I had to like Mick, but now I'm wearing my belt buckled to the side like Ron Woods. And don't even talk to me about Keith Richards. I had no idea I loved Keith Richards.
And the Wild Horses duet with the White Stripes guy? Peter reminded me that he had seen Eddie Vedder do that same duet in 1998. So we looked it up and compared Eddie Vedder to Helen's boyfriend, Dave Mathews. And I have earth-shaking news, alert the media: Dave Matthews is better than Eddie Vedder.
Fun times on Pennsylvania Ave. Wish you were here.