I don’t want to go on about all my woes with the airlines (and there were many, expensive ones), so I will leap straight into a narrative of my first 24 hours in Volgograd
9:30pm – Arrive in Volgograd, one of my suitcases has a broken handle, the airport does not provide any trollies so I have to try and move 3 pieces of luggage while carrying a shoulder bag. I don’t move fast.
I am met by Svetlana and Alessandro, a fellow teacher from Italy who came in on the same flight. Alessandro also has a lot of luggage, and the car is only a normal sized saloon. The driver somehow manages to fit us all in, though with barely a square cubic metre to spare! This is how Russians invented Tetris.
10-ish – After dropping Alessandro off, Svetlana takes me to my flat. This is not at the address on my invitation letter. I have to drag my luggage up three flights of stairs. I know I will sleep well tonight. She says she will come for me at 12pm tomorrow and take me shopping for some essentials. She gives me a sim card but it doesn’t work with my phone. She also leaves a copy of my schedule – it appears I am due to teach on Friday. My flatmate Jorje is not due to arrive until tomorrow.
My flat is spartan by UK standards, but looks less lived-in than Alessandro’s. You can see the Volga river from my balcony. I don’t have a bed, as such, I have a couch that pulls out into a bed with side-boards, meaning I have to lie diagonally. But there is a cooker, a fridge, a shower/bath, a microwave (Hallelujah!) and a washing machine. All the basics in fact. Except a toaster or a grill. And wi-fi.
12.15pm the next day – Svetlana arrives and takes me to the local mall “Pyramid.” I have to buy a new phone that fits the sim card. 1000 roubles. We go around the supermarket. I have no idea what half the products are, and Svetlana is unable to tell me whether to buy the blue milk or the red milk (I went red). I ask about Wi-Fi – it looks like I have to go and make a payment to the telecoms company in cash to activate it.
1pm – we catch a trolley-bus down the main road that goes through Volgograd, then walk to the office where I am introduced to Irina, the manager and Galia the librarian. I get the wi-fi password for the office and I am briefly able to check my messages before I am called into the library. I am given an armful of textbooks. Alessandro and I both have a meeting with Mikhail, the methodologist who goes through the teaching process dos and don’ts. Alessandro’s schedule said he had 4 classes tomorrow. He is surprised when I say I just have one. We go back to the library and Galia tells us neither of us have any teaching tomorrow, but we both have a Russian lesson. I ask for an updated copy of my schedule. (I’m still waiting!)
4.30pm – John (Alessandro’s American flatmate) invites us to observe one of his classes (in another building), with 4 teenage students. It is a good insight into how the programme works and what is expected of us. We then go to the main school building and observe another of John’s classes with 4 adult students.
7.30pm – John invites Alessandro and I out for dinner at a middle-eastern style restaurant with shisha hookahs. I’m sold on establishing that they do pizzas. I have a margherita (ever unadventurous) and a ginger lemonade (ok maybe sometimes adventurous). The lemonade is really nice. I ask about various concerns – police checks, bribery and corruption, how to get the Wi-Fi working – and John reassures me. We talk about politics too. Civilly. Another American in the restaurant overhears us and gives John a pat on the back, he is really pleased with this!
Alessandro leaves early to meet a friend of a friend. John walks me enough of the way home so I know where I am going, and reminds me how to find the school office in the morning for my Russian lesson at 9am. I go home to find Jorje is there, and has paid for the Wi-Fi so it is working! Time to update my blog…