Yoshkar Ola, Mari El province

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A side trip along my trans-Siberian railroad adventure to visit a friend turned into an experience of a lifetime.  A friend that I have known for some time invited me to visit and to come to the University to speak to the English language students.  As I was passing only 2 hours away, I gladly agreed to make the detour.  When I inquired about some of the local hotels, I was surprised and pleased when I was invited to live with the family.  The offer to live with a family in Russia sounded like a unique and interesting opportunity.  I was very excited at the idea of this visit.  I was a bit reluctant at first, not because of a language or cultural difference, but because I was afraid that my visit might become a nuisance.  I was worried that the cliché, “Guests are like fish, they start to smell after 3 days,” would become a reality.

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I was pleasantly surprised by the family’s hospitality.  I expected them to be nice but I did not expect them to take me in and treat me as a member of their own family.  Even more, rather than a member of the family, I was treated as an honored guest.  Grandma cooked for me and worried over me that I was properly fed.  She seemed to want to fatten me up for my journey.  Grandpa was very inquisitive about me and we seemed to communicate despite my inability to speak Russian and his to speak English.  The mother of the house even gave me her bedroom so that I had a place to sleep and I felt so honored and humbled by her hospitality.

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Communicating with the family proved to be a fun and rewarding experience.  I had my nose buried in the dictionary the better part of each day trying to find Russian words – all written in Cyrillic – based on the sounds that Grandma and Grandpa made when they spoke to me.  Sometimes the word was easy, “Plohkah,” but sometimes, the word didn’t seem to spell the way it sounds (quite common in Russian as I have been learning).  Sometimes Grandma would get very animated, especially when I made her laugh and she would quickly speak 3 or 4 sentences before I could register one word.  I encouraged her and Grandpa to speak in two-word sentences and use a lot of hand gestures.  When they remembered, we seemed to communicate ok; albeit in a slow and methodical pace.  Grandpa used a lot of hand signals and gestures, I did the same.  He was very patient and didn’t mind explaining things to me over and over while I looked up words in the dictionary.  The situation was not as conventional as a traditional Russian language school setting, but it was fun and I got to eat well as Babushka tried to fatten me up.
I visited the Yoshkar Ola Art Museum and saw some beautiful water colors by Russian painters.   There was an exhibit of water colors by a Yoshkar Ola artist.  I found the local artist’s water colors and the oil paintings to be very beautiful.  I would have been happy to own many of them and hang them in my home.  Later, we toured another part of the museum that was displaying avant-garde art.  I am not sure that this type of art is my cup of tea, but it was interesting none the less.

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