Friday, September 27, 2013

It's Raining, It's Pouring...

It seems that during the week I was in America, fall came to the Urals. The lovely summer-ish weather we enjoyed for about three months has come to an end, and winter is knocking at the door. Fall is a short-lived season in Russia, and while it's lovely to see the leaves change and to hike in the forest with the mushroom hunters, it also means rain. Lots and lots of rain.

In fact, fall in Yekaterinburg (all one month of it) is a lot like winter in the Pacific Northwest. Cold and wet. I think everyone here would agree that winter is almost welcome when it comes, because snow beats freezing rain any day of the week. There are no storm drains in Yekat, so all the water pools up in the many, many potholes in the road and the uneven pavement. I learned last year to stand at least ten feet from a corner while waiting for a light, or risk getting splashed by the speeding cars.

And while the locals have no problem breaking out their winter coats on September 1st, it seems that rain boots haven't made it to this part of the world. Maybe it's because the rainy season is so short and it's not worth the cost, but while I trudge through the massive puddles in my water-proof boots, I see men and women alike in inappropriate footwear trying to leap across small rivers or go ten feet out of their way to skirt a newly-formed pond.

With the rain came the cold, and since it's up to the city when our radiators get turned on for the year, it's gotten a bit nippy in our apartment. It's supposed to drop below freezing next week, so hopefully someone turns them on soon. It also means our walks to work could get very icy. I'll never forget one day early last winter (so probably in early November) when the entire sidewalk from our house to work was covered in black ice. It was already dark in the mornings by then, so we couldn't see a thing. John and I slid and slipped like two crazy people, praying we wouldn't fall. We made it in one piece, but two coworkers had bad falls that day. I plan on breaking out my Yak-Traks earlier this year.

One more funny thing about rain here - you know that superstition we have in America about opening umbrellas inside? Russians don't share that same notion. After all, how are you supposed to get your umbrella dry if you can't open it up and set it on the floor, preferably near a radiator? As my nanny said when I chastised her for opening her umbrella in the house one day: "What, we don't have enough problems to worry about?"

Fair enough.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

One of the hands-down hardest things about the Foreign Service is the goodbyes. Yeah, you've got those in the military too, but they're not nearly as constant and they never felt as permanent. Chances were good you'd end up in the same town as your military friends at some point, and at worst you were a time zone or two away from them. In the Foreign Service, it's a whole different ball game.

I've bitched about mentioned the small size of the expat community in Yekaterinburg before, but, well, I'm gonna do it again. When we got here, there was an expat playgroup with about seven families in it. One by one, those families have disappeared, leaving us with only one other family (and they're ready to leave at any time). In August, I said goodbye to three of my four expat mom friends: my German friend, Claudia, my Swedish friend, Christina, and my British friend, Chinwe. These ladies (especially Chinwe, who I got lunch with almost weekly) were my sounding boards, my advisors, my sympathetic ears, and most importantly, my friends. They were living in the same place with kids of approximately the same age, and they were as out of place here as I am.

We didn't hang out that much in the grand scheme of things, not the way I hung out with my girlfriends back home. We all travel a lot and Christina worked full-time, Chinwe part-time, and of course I have a job. But just knowing they were here was a comfort. If we were at an embassy (or a larger consulate), we'd also have a constant flow of people leaving, but there would be new families to replace them. In Yekaterinburg, none of  the companies that hire expats or the diplomatic missions seem to be able to attract families with kids. Maybe some will come in the next year, but I'm not hopeful (not a single new family has arrived since we've been here).

I get it. This is what we signed on for when we decided to try out this lifestyle. And nothing is permanent - I'm sure I'll run into my friends some day (although I really wish my foreign friends would get on Facebook!). All I'm saying is, goodbyes are hard, and I've had more than my share in the past few weeks.

I'm far more partial to hello.