Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Episode 14: Early mornings and English language assistants

I can barely believe that I am half-way through my time here in Petrozavodsk. It seems like only yesterday that I was scared to death by the mushroom-bearing hitch-hiker of Karelia (http://fromrussiawithrob.blogspot.com/2011/09/episode-7-rob-arrives-in-russia.html ) on the bus on the way here...such fond memories. Still, life certainly hasn't let up and as usual I'm busy busy busy!

English teaching has a new (very red and cold) face
Anyway, I've recently taken aboard the morose and vile habit of rising at 7am. I know right! What kind of student am I! Twice a week I get up early, like a normal person, shovel down spoonfuls of porridge and sip a cup of scorching black tea only to hurl myself into the black, cold morning. This isn't entirely without reason. I have in fact been volunteering as an English-language assistant in a couple of lessons at the university. My early morning walk to the Political Sciences Faculty has been somewhat physically and mentally demanding. The cruel, northern wind is funneled down Alexander Nevsky Avenue into my face, taking with it fallen leaves and dust from the road. At this time all of Karelia is still bathed in semi-blackness. I have to admit, waking up to streetlights and car headlights in October is a sensation unknown to me and highly disorientating- Grandma you were right! Although during the day the weather is mild, these early mornings and late evenings show the extremities are beginning. This morning, being only 2 degrees celcius, the falling drizzle soon turned to a kind of sleet/hail that drizzled down the back of my jacket and played along my spine...shudder. I arrive to the university lobby with red cheeks and hilariously red ears.

Yet the city is surprisingly full of life at this time. Petrozavodskers get up and head into work, walk the children to school and smoke at trolleybus stops. Shops seem to open a lot later though, many at ten or eleven, but the Kiosks as always radiate light and I have to fight the urge to buy a snickers everytime I come within paces of one. In this respect, they are the oasis mirage of the early morning as the only thing keeping me from freezing is the fact I keep moving. Stopping to wait for a road-crossing is when the cold really sets in, obviosuly I've cracked the long-johns out already.

All this early morning adventuring and psycological battering is worth it though. Students are immensely responsive in classes. I have never considered myself the "teaching type" if such a thing exists and my only past experience in this realm is from teaching primary school children cricket on a grammar school sports program. My contribution to lessons can be anything from simply reading out a text in my own way - today I murdered Shakespeare's sonnets - to trying to explain tricky aspects of English grammar (something also difficult for me). Being told that Russian students love English accents is flattering! My ego is swelling to gigantic proportions, soon I will erect a statue and write an epic about myself...kinda like this blog actually...oh.

the well
I even got up early this weekend! Before you all perish from shock, early means 9am on Sunday and again with good reason. As I enjoyed so much my amble to the Devil's Chair of last week, I took Kate and Tom and headed off into the wilderness in a different direction. We followed a wooden boardwalk north of Sortavalskaya and ended up at a little well and stream. The signs told of a clean water spring and local people kept turning up with big, plastic containers to fill up with water. There was a little a fire left burning which gave off the gorgeous aroma of pine. It was very peaceful. I recently watched a documentary on tv talking of Karelia as a mystic land of rivers, forests and magic - for the first time, other than perhaps last weekend, I felt that I was experiencing this side of the picture.

The bog
We tore ourselves away from the warm, little fire and headed off past some makeshift wooden tables and benches. We ended up on a kind of trail which we followed until we entered a kind of semi-marshland. We picked our way around it sticking close to half-submerged trees and using their roots as bridges. Growing up near Dartmoor certainly has its benefits sometimes! We ended up on the other side and were in a large gap cut into the forest. Electric pylons stretched on for miles either way, the sheer enormity of Russian entirely self-evident in this engineering achievement alone. We sat and ate half our picnic (including a really odd tasting smoked cheese ("сыр колбасный??") before feeling chilly and returning to fire and the well.

Again, another amazing weekend in Northern Russia. This town may be small but it is the gift the keeps on giving! More soon!

the pylon field - nice spot for a picnic?

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