August 11, 2008

Scavenger Hunt and the Last Supper

July 7, 2008

This was our last full day in Vladimir. The American Home staff sent us out on a scavenger hunt. It was hilarious - we ran all over town (literally), taking pictures of signs, sights, and and buying crazy souvenirs, including ingrediants for American style sandwiches for ourselves and our friends for lunch.

It was MUCH more fun than I ever would have guessed. We divided into three teams, which each left the Amercan Home in 10-minute intervals. Our team was Barbara Stout (from Arizona), Jeff Schagrin (from a suburb of Chicago), Jackie Lesh (from Baltimore) and myself. We each had a Russian chaperone, in case we got ourselves lost or in a pickle language-wise. Ours was Anya, one of the newly-graduated students of English at the pedagogical institute. One task throughout the morning was to take pictures of signs around town that were in English or were cognates of English words written in Cyrillic. Jackie was our designated photographer and snapped all sorts of images that we pointed at as we ran along. Barb was our cheerleader - who knew that this sweet woman could have such a competitive spirit - when I say that we RAN around Vladimir, I am not exaggerating. She kept us marching at a very fast clip until we accomplished all of our tasks. In addition to finding English words and Russian cognates, we also had to take snapshots of a variety of plaques, buildings, cathedrals, or other structures throughout the city. One such photograph was of a plaque dedicated to some admiral who had circumnavigated Antarctica/the South Pole. The clue on the sheet instructed us to take a picture and try to figure out what the admiral was being honored for. How I looked at the plaque and pulled the word 'circumnavigate' out of my cobwebby brain, I'll never know.

We all learned a great deal on this scavenger hunt, and I daresay we all saw places that we hadn't seen before. Jeff picked out a goofy rat souvenir at the folk art museum, and each picture after the purchase contained our buddy, the Rat. (As a side note: it is currently the Chinese Year of the Rat and there were rat-shaped images all over the place, on posters, embodied as souvenirs, etc. Jackie had asked in one of our Russian culture sessions if there were an inordinate number of rat images around because of the Year of the Rat and people laughed at her. Who knew that she was much more perceptive than the rest of us?!? But, we have the souvenir to prove her point).

One of the tasks was to purchase a souvenir that Russians would consider quite normal, but American students would find odd. We bought two things to fulfill this obligation: we bought mayonnaise made from quail eggs - which sits right in the dairy case with the other 14-19 types of mayonnaise - and a key. Some Russian keys are monstrous, old-fashioned keys that look like something out of gothic horror movies. We noticed that there was a kiosk that sold and cut keys in the mall, so I managed to explain to the guy working there that I needed a long, double-sided key to bring home as a souvenir. He smirked, but found me three good examples of such a key from which I could choose. Expensive little booger, but cool.

The proffered lunches from each team were all similar, but our team had the foresight to buy two items that the other teams did not provide: mustard and dessert.

After hunts and classes finished up for the day, I was in for another treat. Ira and Andrei made a fantastic dinner as my "last supper" in Vladimir. (My mother always used to ask what we wanted for our "last supper" before going back to college, hence the term). We exchanged presents, ate all sorts of fantastic food - including a traditional meat and potato casserole baked in individual earthenware crocks - and toasted to our new extended families. The day ended with Yaroslav and me watching "Family Guy" in Russian (called, in Russia, "The Griffins"). It was absolutely as obnoxious and hilarious as in the States and made me feel a little less sad and apprehensive about leaving what had really come to feel like home...

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