In part 2 of this series, Laura van Deventer looks back on her first weeks of fieldwork in Russia.
I will live in Russia’s capital city for three months, as part of my master’s program in anthropology, to find out how a group of people that I will refer to as the N., is living here.
Initially, it was arranged for me to live in a pension run by the company where a friend’s father works. This turned out to be very expensive. Using the network of friends and family, another room was organised for me. Now I live with a Russian lady, Nina, her 30 year-old son, and their dog called Brunhilde. Nina told me that the grandmother was a spy for the KGB in Poland. Then her son said: “You’re drinking your tea from a FSB-mug: ‘souvenir.’” Wow, until now I have only read about these things. Now I’m living right in the middle of it. I might as well be a Bond-girl!
To get anywhere in this city, I take the metro. It’s supposedly the best metro system in the world. Probably the cleanest also. There is no litter. At all. Anywhere. No bins either. Which makes me wonder – am I the only person eating a banana underground, being left with the peel in my hand for the rest of the trip?
Oh, I’m sure you all want to know about the cold. Well, it’s fine. Really, when it’s cold, it’s cold: you dress warm and deal with it. I do miss wearing skirts though. I mean, I could, but it just doesn’t really combine well with my snow boots.
In my room, as in all of Moscow, the heater is on 24/7. Which makes it nice and cosy now, when it’s – 15 outside. However, central heating will be on until the 1st of April. It may be 18 degrees in March, doesn’t matter, the heat is on. So you open your window. Climate change, anyone?
These first three weeks I’ve re-opened my Russian study books and tried to get in touch with N. families to hang out with. It’s intense to spend so much time with people, especially when they are very hospitable: 22:30, I want to leave. ‘You are going home? You can sleep here! There is space!’ Boy, I arrived at 6 pm, yes, I want to go home. And mind you, this is a two-bedroom apartment where 5 adults and 1 child live. Oh, that’s right. The living room is a bedroom too. Every couch you see in the apartments of these people is a bed in disguise.
Most of my conversations are in Russian. I’ve gotten quite good at pretending I understand. The trick is to find the key word (noun or verb) in what the person just said, and repeat that. It totally makes it appear as if you understood what was said. Really, you should try this. And of course, always laugh at the right moment.
See, that’s how I survive in Moscow. Laugh at the right moment.
And always wear your snow boots.