What have I been eating in Russia? I’m glad you asked

Shopping for Food

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Over the past few weeks I’ve found that the Russian grocery store, Бахетле, and I have become very good friends. Once sworn enemies, I now love this place and often find myself here on my way home from the hospital.  The grocery store is typically divided into sections based on food type, just like in North America. The one difference is that everything is in Russian. Consequently, I find that I rely much more on my sight, smell, and general logic when deciding whether to buy something or not. Of course, going with someone who is Russian helps a lot too.

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Alina in the dairy section helping me shop for a type of heavy Russian cream that I first tasted and fell in love with at a restaurant we were at earlier in the day. Nothing can stop me from finding it, not even the high fat percentage.
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Still searching…

I also noticed that the meat and cheese section at this place is such a dream for every meet and cheese lover alive.  So it isn’t hard to believe then that cheese has become a regular part of my diet, and you won’t be surprised if I show up in Winnipeg softer than I was when I left.

Most of the dairy products are very fatty. A typical bottle of milk is about 2.5% fat.  At this grocery store there existed various percentage selections, but skim milk, a.k.a, 0% fat doesn’t really exist here. Lowest was about 0.5%.

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So much cheese!!!!

One interesting thing I’ve learned is that horse meat is part of the regular diet here in Russia.  Eating horse isn’t very typical for me and there must be another name for it other than “horse.” For example, I wouldn’t eat cow but I’d eat beef, get it? Anyway, I tried it twice so far. The first time was when it was offered on a restaurant menu as “stallion” and second, as dried sausage from the grocery store. Alina was kind enough to buy a few pieces for me and we enjoyed them on our way to my bus stop home. Putting it in your mouth you will find that it is very chewy, but with a flavour that is light and pleasant.  To be honest I wouldn’t know I was eating horse unless I was really thinking about it.   As far as I know, horse meat can be found in some places in Canada and isn’t very common but is considered Taboo in the US.

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Prices for food are generally similar to the prices in Canada, maybe a little bit cheaper. Making a judgement on prices is just a matter of a using a little more brain work to calculate the approximate converted amount in Canadian dollars. To make my life easier, I find it handy using Google to convert currency, Google translator for reading labels, and a Russian keyboard to type everything in.

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A few things I purchased on my first grocery trip: Bread, meat, yogurt, eggs, broccoli, and frozen Pelmeni

Cooking at home

The grocery store has almost everything. I was even able to find all the ingredients to make Pancit here in Russia. But lets be honest, it isn’t very hard to make and the ingredients are pretty typical.  The hardest thing must have been the oyster sauce which sounds like “ostrich sauce” in Russian. In an ideal world, I’d add more ingredients but come on, lets keep it simple people, I’m in Russia!

 

In the mornings Evgeniia got me into the habit of drinking tea and eating plain yogurt with jam for breakfast. I’d like to make the comment that the jam here is kick-ass or maybe I just haven’t been buying the right jam all this time. On the off day when I have time, I make myself some scrambled eggs that I enjoy with a slice of bread and some fruits on the side like plums or cherries.  Often times Evgeniia’s mother stops by to deliver us fruits like blueberries or miniature (and I mean super duper small) strawberries that are freshly picked.

I usually make a regular sandwich for lunch or boil some pelmeni, which I’ve eaten so much that I might get sick of it by the end of this trip.

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My breakfast yesterday
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Chiburekki, beat salad

 

Homemade Russian Cooking

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Like I mentioned, Evgeniia’s mother often stops by with fresh fruits and vegetables and lucky for me, she brought us some onions, and carrots (ingredients I needed for the pancit).  Her mother has her own extensive garden in her backyard where she grows most of vegetables.

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Red currants grown in the backyard

Spending the weekend at Evgeniia’s mother’s house was a dream. Not having to prepare my own food and being taken in like I was part of the family was pleasant. And of course, one of the highlights was …THE FOOD.  The weekend was particularly special because of the christening of Evgeniia’s nephews and so we shared all our meals at the dining table together.

Something I tried was the traditional Russian drink, Kvass, which is a carbonated beverage made from bread. It is considered non-alcoholic because the alcohol content is so low. I don’t think I’m particularly fond of the flavour myself and yet I still finished my whole glass of Kvass….

 

 

 

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The lunch spread consisting of assorted salads, caviar, smoked salmon with cream cheese on bread, dried meats, red wine and champaign
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Borscht before dinner

 

Eating Out

 

Russia has its fair share of fancier restaurants, and I’ve been to a few. Without explaining too much I think these pictures will speak for themselves.

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MmMm Salmon

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The Баня (Banya) Experience

Zina appeared in the dining room carrying with her a package of fabric consisting of a large towel, a face cloth, a night dress, and a white robe; folded into a neat stack. I looked down at the separate pieces, understanding that at some point I was to change into the nightgown.  I was standing in the same spot somewhat frozen and losing my words as I was unsure of my next actions.  All I knew was that I agreed to try the баня (banya) and had no idea what I signed up for.

I found that Zina spoke Russian at lightening speed, as did everyone around me, faster than I could comprehend. My eyes darted back and forth between the lips of one person and then to the next, and then quickly back again. I was listening to music that made no sense and I would hear every now and then the sounds “da,” and “nyet,” and “Karen.”  She appeared again handing a similar pile of fabric to Natalie as she spoke, explaining to her the details of what was to happen over the next hour. My name was pronounced as “Kah-ren,” similar to how my parents pronounce my name with their own Tagalog accents. In an odd way, hearing my name this way made me feel closer to them.

“Do I have to change right now?,” I asked.

“No, you take off all your clothes inside,” answered Natalie’s fiancee. “Just Natalie.” Evgeniia nodded in agreement. They both looked at me, waiting for a response.

“So I have to be naked?,” I asked, with my eyebrows raised.

“Yes, but not here, only Natalie will see you, don’t worry,” says her fiancee.

At this point, I didn’t know that I would be naked at all, but I was in too deep to ask any more questions and so I followed along. Everything is going to be okay right?

Evgeniia and Natalie’s fiancee also offer me wine and tea to enjoy while inside the баня. I agreed. I find that I agree with most things that are offered because I yearn for the experience. Otherwise, I’d feel like I was missing out of something worthwhile if I turned anything down.

“Just follow Natalie and she will show you everything,” the fiancee assured.

I wasn’t convinced, as I see Natalie walking out of the other room wearing the red robe that was given to her. Why wasn’t I changing yet?  Natalie was also holding with her a bunch of pine branches and asked me to smell them. Fresh, I thought. In her other hand was a little container of brownish-black paste. We take a picture. My face was plastered with the constant look of confusion as Natalie hands me two oddly shaped felt hats and we then walk outside to what looked like a miniature house beside the main house.

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Natalie and I, pre-banya

“This is the banya,” Natalie says, “have you heard of it?” I say yes, only because Evgeniia mentioned to me what it was earlier when I asked, but I knew nothing else. She just told me that it gets very, very hot inside. I deduce now that it must be similar to a sauna, which would explain everything (mostly).

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The entrance to the баня

I step inside and I could already feel the heat penetrate my face. The first room was very small, so much so that I had to duck down to get through the doorway. There were both a table and a bench on one side and in the next corner, a separate table where the tea and beer waited for us. This first area was the waiting room where I was to change. Natalie took all of her clothes off first and entered the next room to prepare the steam and water.  I then stripped my own off as she instructed and followed into the next room behind her.

We now entered the washing room.  I noticed that all around were little containers of soap, shampoo, and other toiletries.  A low bench or table was along one side, and below and to the side, was a metal bucket filled with cool water which was constantly being replenished. Behind us was another tap, this one dispensed hot water.

We began by taking our make-up off. Natalie held a metal bowl with a handle attached to it, similar to a Filipino “tabo,” out towards me, helping me cup the water in my hands to scrub my face.  I then did the same for her.  Following through with the actions, I soon found that this whole process was cooperative.  We then bunched our hair into little buns and placed the funny looking felt hats on our heads. I looked in the mirror and there I was, standing naked with an oddly shaped hat on my head, next to another naked Russian woman that I just met less than 24 hours ago in a teeny tiny, hot little room. Am I really doing this right now? I chuckled to myself in amusement.

We were now ready for the steam room and so we entered the through the next door which was attached to the washing room. Inside, was a higher set, wide bench for which we were to lay on our stomachs. On the left was an oven-like chamber where Natalie poured hot water. I could feel the heat permeate through the room, so much so that it was incredibly uncomfortable. “is it okay?” asked Natalie. “yes it’s good,” I lied. Natalie mentioned that some people maintained the temperature up to 60 degrees, but that this was too hot for her. I found it extremely hard to breathe despite being below this value and with the heat being so strong, along with being in such a tiny space, it slightly frightened me. I went first.

Natalie placed a small wide metal bucket filled with cool water at my feet. Inside were bunches of dried branches of freshly scented leaves. After pouring the hot water into the steam chamber and waiting a few moments, she dipped the leaves into the metal bucket and began lashing my body firmly, starting from my heels all the way up to my neck, swiftly lifting the leaves up in the air and then right back down onto my raw body where it stung and tingled. The first round was enough to make me feel light headed from all the heat in the room, despite the felt hat.  I could feel myself twitching due to the pain and the surprise. It was a shock to my body and I remember telling myself that I would eventually get used to it and to suck it up. Natalie often times would ask me if I was ok, which I answered yes most of the time. When I had enough, we moved back to the washing room and Natalie poured cold water all over my body. Words cannot describe how refreshing this part of the process was, that the pain only moments ago seemed very much worth it. We went back inside and I repeated the same sequence on Natalie. I was given the tip to lash harder, that by the end, I was a banya pro.

We then both moved back to the washing room and began to scrub the mysterious brown paste from earlier, all over our bodies. I found that it was made of ground coffee and honey. I soon smelled like an espresso and was satisfied at how soft my skin was to feel after all of this. Natalie helped me scrub my back and I did the same for her. We went back inside the steam room and waited a few minutes, enjoying the heat, breathing deeply in and out.

We repeated the steam and the lashing process several times, each session ending with a wash with cold water, and alternating between the types of dried leaves used for lashing.  At one point we entered the rest and waiting room, talked about medicine (Natalie was a neurologist at the same hospital I was shadowing in), our lives, and Russia, while enjoying Melissa tea grown from Zina’s garden and cold beer, also homemade by Zina.  After our last steam session, we washed our bodies with small towels with the body wash that was provided and washed our hair in buckets filled with water. We dried off, entered the resting room and finally, I was able to change into my nightgown.

I walked into the dining room and Zina was preparing a freshly slaughtered duck on the dining room table. She looked at me in amusement mentioning that I didn’t look as red as she expected.  I’m also browner than most of them, so naturally the colour of my skin doesn’t change much in the heat.  We laughed about the whole experience, conversed, and enjoyed more Melissa tea and desserts.  Natalie’s fiancee mentioned that some of the leaves we used for lashing were the same ones used to make absinthe, by soaking them in vodka. An added stimulant diffuses into the vodka, giving people an added effect in addition to becoming intoxicated. Absinthe today no longer has this stimulant.

 

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Zina (Evgeniia’s mother) cut

 

 

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Natalie and I, post-banya

 

We sat for a while and I finally made it to my room. I stopped by the kitchen to thank Evgeniia’s sister and Zina for the lovely dinner and for taking me in so warmly for the weekend.

 

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The dining area where we enjoyed pie and tea

 

I ended the night warmly in my bed, satisfied with what I just experienced, whispering to myself in quiet amusement, “я русски девушка,” – I’m a Russian girl.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday and Friday, a few evenings around the city

THURSDAY

Maybe it’s Kazan, or maybe it’s me (probably the latter), but right now it seems as though I will never understand the directions of this city very well.  Street names in a different language (and alphabet!) throw me off so much that I can’t seem to remember where anything is or their relation to other streets or places. Despite my confusion, I still take it upon myself to venture out on my own and consequently have small panic attacks when I feel like I’ve lost my way or can’t interpret a map for the life of me.  On my way to the flower exhibition on Thursday night however, I decided to enjoy the scenery walk despite not knowing where the hell I was.

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A cool fountain ….somewhere hahaha

I sometimes wonder what the many taxi drivers think when I sit in their vehicles and have them drop me off at random parks to meet with people who are not at said park, but are 15 minutes away at some unknown destination for me to discover on my own. The funny thing about this week has been that I often times feel like a baby, with the TaMSA team leading me around, explaining menus, reading signs, translating, and giving me directions.  I greatly appreciate their guidance and wouldn’t function here very well without them!

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A pretty awesome gate

After being dropped off at the park, I was off to the flower exhibition and popped open the GPS on my phone. Thankfully Kazan is fairly safe when walking around at night.  I finally arrived at what looked like a small area surrounded by tourist busses, displays, and a sign in Russian that I couldn’t read. I assumed I arrived, judging by the small congregation of people and well, the flowers.

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The Flower Exhibition 2016
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I’m not really sure what this building is for, but when I ask someone later I’ll update this with new info.

The flower exhibition was set up, I believe, by gardeners and florists from around the city and was a great place to take pictures with all the neat displays.

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Some of my new friends from Spain and Kazan that I met up with at the flower exhibition. We were standing here for a while trying to figure out how to spell out “Kazan” with our bodies until we noticed other people wanting to take pictures in the same spot, and so ultimately we gave up
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Ponds, shrubs, and flowers everywhere

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We then headed over for drinks to a bar named “Salt,” which was a trendy and cozy little joint. We were entertained with some jazz music and good beats that I surprisingly really enjoyed. I didn’t think I liked jazz music but I guess I do.

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Drinks and Jazz music at Salt bar.

 

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White Russian Man

The people at Salt seemed to be a younger crowd and most tables were taken. A lot of them stood beside the bar bobbing their heads up and down to the beat of the music while sipping their cocktails and socializing with the people next to them.  Many were outside smoking, enjoying the music from a distance.  What I found out from one of the residents at the hospitals is that Kazan is mainly a “city for students,” and so much of the population is of the younger demographic. During the summers, many of them travel away to smaller cities where they came from and so Kazan isn’t as busy as it normally is. This would make sense, considering the many, many universities scattered throughout.

I wanted to be a typical tourist and order a drink that made me feel like I was in Russia, and so I ordered a White Russian Man.  It tasted creamy and rich, but burned when it went down. The drinks here are pretty strong here, I’ve noticed.

 

 

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Dana from Taiwan, Miriam from Spain, and me, enjoying our drinks. This picture was “kind of” candid, but not really.

 

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A beautiful church on our walk from the parking spot to the bar
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Kazan is a fairly old city so it isn’t unusual to see many old structures half standing, for example, this one.

 

FRIDAY

The next morning, I woke up to go to the hospital. It was a shorter day as there were two of the same surgeries being done.  Ruben and I had some great conversation with the resident about our cities of origin, Kazan, and medicine. He was great in explaining what was happening during the surgery and the techniques that he likes to use. I found myself very engaged and was particularly fond with how today went.

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A little bloody

During one of the surgeries, things got a little messy when vessels starting squirting all over the place. It wasn’t too bad until the surgeons had to puncture the aorta. Right before they made the incision they looked over to us as if to signal to back away. I inched backwards off the stool I was standing on and Ruben in the other direction. A half second later, large amounts of blood flew between our heads splattering right onto the heart monitor machine behind us. Had I not moved, I would have had blood all over my face.

That evening, I found myself in the same situation yesterday as I took the 10a bus from Evgeniia’s apartment to the mall downtown. In order to cross the streets in many areas of the city, particularly where there is very heavy traffic or fast moving cars, sky bridges built that allows one to walk up and over to the other side.  The metro underground can also serve a similar purpose.  Once getting off the bus I walked down the metro to get to the mall on the other side, meeting up with the others before walking over to the Kazan’s National Food Festival.

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Waiting to walk across the street
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A great view of the river and the scenery
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This birds are like the Canadian geese of Kazan, except they don’t really attack you. Their not very afraid of people and I find them fairly endearing unlike most locals.  Their fat and are almost trained to wait around to be fed.
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The Food Festival!

The food festival was enjoyable despite the rain. Food stands were set up along the river where local restaurants and chefs from around the city offer both traditional and non-traditional foods.

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I opted for something a little bit more traditional. I thought I took a picture of this after I took a bite out of it but I guess I didn’t! Inside, is a bit of meat and potatoes. Very delicious and savoury, it reminded me of an empanada.

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People in traditional Tatar clothing
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I purchased a box of these deserts to eat. My favourite was lemon flavoured
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An interesting burger made our of bread that looks black. Don’t worry, it’s not burned or anything, it tastes like normal bread. I asked Eric, who bought this why it was black, but it seemed that no one really knew why but they ate it anyway.

We later walked over to a bar called “SPB,” and enjoyed some beer, vodka shots, and conversation.  The night ended late, but it was enjoyable spending the night in the city centre with good company and great laughs!

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A German Cherry Beer that Alina and I both ordered. We have similar tastes in alcohol, I’ve found out
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The vodka shots here are huge….
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And of course, more hookah

And the wind was very nice to me today

The flight was at a stand still.

“I’m just going on vacation as I always do. But you, you might be experiencing something life changing this summer, do you recognise that?”

It was as if my conversation with Terry was foreshadowing my fate before I was ever able to write it myself.  A hushed pause existed between us as I stared into his eyes, crinkled wisdom at its edges,  with nothing but a defenceless look on my face.  Doses of vulnerability, hope, and longing, were being shot up my veins like a patient on an operating table losing consciousness moments before the surgeon, whose hands will manipulate my organs, begins their work.  I was left debilitated from responding in a way that would be most congruent with my emotions.  At that very moment, in the context that gave birth to these spoken words, amidst the people on the plane silently listening, and the look of gentle certainty on his face, I was trusting Terry the physician, that his statement would soon manifest itself to be nothing less than true.

And so today begins.

 

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Walking along the bridge from the bus stop to the hospital

Today I travelled to ICDC hospital with Evgeniia in the morning on the bus. It was especially difficult for me to look around and try to remember every single structure and sound in site but I needed to so that I was able to replicate the path tomorrow morning, on my own.  I was just too tired and jet-lagged (I finally admitted to myself I was). I did not sleep at all the night before and I was nervous to see what was in store for me.

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Just outside ICDC hospital

The area around the hospital gave off a cool breeze, relaxing me in a way only nature can accomplish.  The doctors and students here change their footwear as soon as they enter the hospital. I noticed that the young female students dressed especially dainty, skirts below their knees, buns in their hair, lab coats long but cinched at the waste. I wanted one and felt a little less feminine for a moment.

We walked up to level 5, the vascular surgery department, walking in circles multiple times trying to look for the doctor I was assigned to.  Alas, I found myself in a room with three vascular surgeons discussing what they were going to do with me in a language I didn’t understand. The chief sat me on the couch, the two others in chairs facing towards me. He described the organisation of the department and tried to understand where they could fit me in.  He explained a procedure involving grafting and the carotid artery and asked me if I knew what he was talking about. I said no, but then later realised he wasn’t asking me about the procedure, but whether I knew what and where the carotid artery was. Of course, I did! It was too late, one of the physicians whipped his head quickly to Evgeniia shortly after I responded no. Evgeniia seemed to be on the defence. I later found out that they were asking her if I knew my basic anatomy, physiology, and pathology. She made sure that she told them, yes (thank God). Unfortunately, the language barrier screwed me over again. I should have just said yes the first time.

And with a stroke of luck, Evgeniia receives a call from Alina with the message that I am assigned to with a doctor on level 6, not 5 and I soon found myself in front of a younger, more relatable doctor who was better at speaking English and much less intimidating. His name was Eugene.  I was given a second chance at making a good first impression!

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Eugene and I

Another student named Ruben from Spain was assigned to the same doctor and arrived shortly after I did. As we chatted, Eugene did a very thorough job showing us around the hospital and explaining things that might be a little confusing to us.

Soon enough Ruben and I found ourselves standing on a stool behind a surgically sterile divider, looking down at a man’s beating heart.  The patient was having a coronary artery bypass graft done (CABG) which lasted about ~4 hours, keeping in mind that the 3 surgeons working on the procedure were extremely meticulous and efficient.

I realised that the first cut is always the worst cut. But, once the patient is wide open, nothing seems to phase me anymore and my focus is easily shifted to the procedure itself and its purpose.

Without going into much detail (I can go on for hours about this), I wanted to mention how interesting it was seeing the saphenous vein from the left leg being surgically removed and how quick the resident sewed up all the exit pathways to ensure no leaking would occur. It was then sewed into the heart, connecting the aorta to the coronary arteries by means of the vein, by a more senior physician. To put it simply, this is done to improve blood flow to the heart in those with severe coronary artery disease.

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Ruben and I on the cafeteria balcony after watching our first surgery

I ended my day energised despite not having rested for more than 24 hours. Thankfully I remembered the bus route to go back to the apartment and successfully got home on my own (Again, thank God). I’ve only been here for less than a week and so far, I have nothing but great things to say. Tomorrow is another day in the OR and maybe one day in the future, I could say that I’m actually going to the OR to perform procedures instead of watching them. One day.

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a few more shots….
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and one more…

 

Meet n Greet and Hookah!

So I woke up today pretty beat. I couldn’t get myself to sleep because my circadian rhythm is still on Winnipeg time. I find it strange that the sky gets pretty bright outside by 2am in the morning. Of course this doesn’t help at all.  Nonetheless, I was still able to sleep enough and found myself awake by noon thanks to the Tatar holiday today.

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Evgeniia’s kitchen. I had a pretty late breakfast…1pm? Whoops
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Me and my new cat-friend. Fed him this morning for the first time, and he’s quite vocal about how hungry he is.  Now I understand why he sucks up to me.

It’s good to know that the hospital I’ll be working at has a pretty good reputation. Interregional Clinical Diagnostic Centre (ICDC) is where students are assigned to shadow cardiovascular surgery and neurosurgery. I was placed in cardiovascular.

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This is my name tag that I’ll be using in the hospital tomorrow. Now I know how to spell my name in Russian! “P” sounds like “er” and “H” in Russian sounds like “N” etc.  Takes a while to get used to the Russian alphabet 

It was interesting meeting new people. The group we have this year seems truly international. There are a couple of US students, someone from Austria, Slovenia, Ghana, Spain and of course me, from Canada. No one seems to know where Winnipeg is or ever heard of it and so I find myself explaining to them that it’s right in the middle, there are no mountains, and that it’s much smaller than Toronto (a place that most people know about or have been). I’m quite impressed by how much travelling these students have already done. Most of them have already been around Europe, the US, Canada, etc. Alina, the NEO officer here, told me all about her trips to Italy, Macedonia and Dubai. I sat next to her listening intently and feeling extremely jealous as I scrolled through pictures in her phone. These people are great! Something that I also found interesting was that a lot of international students that attend Kazan State Medical University are from India. Today I met two girls who moved here 5 years ago and now speak Russian.  According to them, it was scary at first but now Kazan is their home.

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Some other international incomings @ the meet and greet. These students are from Mexico, Czech Republic and Turkey
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After the orientation meeting we went out for some dinner, drinks, and hookah. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the Restaurant now but I’ll update this post in the future when I remember

The weather here is pretty similar to Winnipeg. Today it was lightly raining but it didn’t bother me as much as it does at home. Evgeniia loves the rain and the snow, but I’m not really sure if I can relate. We walked over to the restaurant together as a group after orientation.  At this time I got to know my new friend Julien (sp?) from Austria while we shared an umbrella for the 15 minutes before we arrived.

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This is the hookah that I tried for the first time. I have to admit, I was pretty bad at it. There’s a picture floating around of me smoking some of this taken by one of the students in Russia that I’ll eventually have to get my hands on

The food was tasty and I had some great conversations with Alina about herself and the TaMSA program here.   I spoke with Eric and Kyle from the United States about their medical school and they agreed that being in med school is just like being in high school. I’m not surprised. There was also some speak about politics. Seems like Justin Trudeau is pretty popular and everyone seems to love him. I was asked the classic question…”Do people say ‘Eh?’ in Canada?,” and I was stuck answering with, “yes they do, but they also don’t.”

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This was really tasty. I believe the name of this is Zharkoye (I’ll correct this later if I’m wrong) which is a type of Russian Stew. This cost me 470 rubles which is about 9.50 Canadian

Towards the end of the night I took a taxi cab home which cost me about 125 rubles. This is about only $2.50 Canadian! Even though I couldn’t speak very much to the driver, Alina helped me out in telling him where he was dropping me off. I managed to say thank you many times and goodbye before getting out of the car.  The driver seemed nice and was laughing at me a lot.  I got into the apartment safely thanks to Evgeniia’s “how to use the keys” lessons that opens about 2-3 doors before getting into her actual living area. Took me a few times to get it right, but I think I know what I’m doing now. Opening the doors at first felt like I was trying to get out of the Insane Asylum at Escape Room. Just kidding, it wasn’t that bad.

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My apartment keys. Pretty different! 

Tomorrow I start my first clinical day at the hospital. Evgeniia is going to show me how to bus there and I’ll have to figure out from very detailed instructions how to bus back! I’m pretty nervous but I think I’ll figure out!

All in all I’m having a great time. I’m learning so much about other countries, culture, and people aside from all the medical stuff! The IFMSA program here in Tatarstan is so very well organized and very impressive! Hopefully I’ll remain as excited as I have been these first few days, for the rest of the month.

Some photos

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Giant matryoskha doll

 

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Evgeniia playing some street music. She’s really talented!

 

 

An outdoor library

 

 

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Outside the medical supply store in the little medical university “town” 

 

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Rubbing the belly will apparently give me happiness!

 

 

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My first days…

Shortly after arriving in Moscow I found myself completely hungry, tired, confused, panicked and upset. Those are just a few words to describe the many different feelings I phased in and out of after getting through passport clearance. To be honest, I thought to myself the process was going to be much harder than it really was. Instead, I didn’t say one word to the guard and the guard didn’t say a single word to me, except for a good stare down to make sure I was the person printed on my passport.

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Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, Russia

My happiness soon ended when I arrived in Terminal D, domestic transfers. Apparently, AirFrance made some type of mistake that resulted in the computer system saying I didn’t board my plane. So, my flight from Moscow to Kazan was cancelled and no longer existed. Here I was, trying to understand the instructions from a kind Aeroflot employee in what I felt like was polite frustration. I made it to an AirFrance teller who was situated about a 25-minute walk to the other side of the airport. Maybe I took a little longer trekking in that direction because I was carrying with me my 23kg check-in luggage (I probably packed way too much). Eventually, I got a new ticket, free, but because of the glitch, my return flight to Winnipeg from Rome was cancelled; something that I’ll have yet to deal with.  The staff was surprisingly helpful and concerned for me, which I am especially very thankful for. I may have spoken a few little prayers under my breath during this whole fiasco.

 

During my long walk to the AirFrance teller and back, I was completely wiped. The fact that my credit card was blocked in Paris because of failure to notify the company of my travel plans, not having any money converted to Russian rubles yet, the language barrier, not having eaten a real meal for 6 hours, and only having 15% of battery on my cell phone without a compatible outlet in sight, contributed to finding myself almost in tears. I was sitting at Gate 1, waiting for my flight at 12:30 am, too tired to stand up and risk someone taking my seat.

Finally, the intercom called boarding for my flight and I walked onto a bus labelled SU 1196, bringing us to the airplane stairway.

Fortunately enough, things looked up as I met a young 16-year-old native to Kazan on her way back from a month long trip to England learning English.  I could relate to her feelings of longing as she explained how excited she was to see her family again. I hadn’t even arrived at my destination and I was already homesick. I believe her name was Eliza? Spelling is most likely wrong. From our conversation, she seemed to be a very brave, ambitious girl who loved Kazan and her family. She was warm and I found her company just what I needed after feeling isolated for what felt like a lifetime.

When I finally made it here, I met Evgeniia for the first time. Tall, beautiful and wearing all blue, she greeted me warmly and was as nice as she sounded on Whatsapp. Her mother who speaks German and no Russian then picked us up and drove us over to Evengiia’s apartment. I learned on our drive that Evengiia’s whole family are doctors. Her father is 80 years old and is known to be a very intelligent and experienced doctor in Kazan while her mother is a professor at Kazan State Medical school in oncology. Evgeniia is one of the youngest in her family as her oldest brother in his 50’s.

I was greeted with an assortment of Russian chocolates, traditional Tartar foods, and tea.

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Evgeniia and I out for a walk around the city

I came to my room to find a curious grey and white cat whose name I can’t spell but means cute and fat in Russian, sitting on my bed. Oddly enough it was comforting to have a cat fill in the void that is left from not having Rodney sleeping by my side. Yes, this cat slept next to me all night.

 

The next day Evgenia and I had breakfast (Activia yogurt and jam) and went out to the city centre to get a new sim card, bus pass for the month, exchange my money to Russian Rubles, and visit the TaMSA office to give them photocopies of my documents.

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Evgeniia beside her photo at the university for being one of the top medical students. Over 8000 students at Kazan State Medical School
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At the TaMSA office

 

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The medical school

We walked beside the Kazanka river which is a tributary of the Volga river and for which the city of Kazan was named after.

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Kazanka River 

From what Evgeniia informed me, Kazan has recently experienced a facelift in the last 7-8 years from being an old, dirty city, to an old but revitalised tourist attraction with beautiful new buildings and walkways. Coming to Russia with no expectations, I was impressed by what I was seeing so far. I was also able to crush a lot of stereotypes along the way and snap a few pictures for myself.

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Coming home, Evgeniia purchased some water at a water vendor stand next to her apartment building and showed me how to use my keys to enter and lock the doors.

We ended the night with some sandwiches and finished off some of the чак-чак she gave me last night. 

I called my credit card company and fixed that problem and will deal with the rest of the housekeeping tomorrow. 

So far I’ve been having a great time, with good weather and I can’t be more thankful! Hopefully, the rest of the month follows the same trend. 

 

 

Coincidence?

“Excuse me, but I have to get into my seat – I’m in 27K,” I said, politely as possible. I was one of the last few passengers to board, despite being one of the first waiting at the gate 5 hours earlier. “Oh of course,” said the slender caucasian man looking up at me. He was wearing rimless glasses paired with a gentle smile. He looked to be over 60 and flying alone for reasons unknown to me at the time. I was anxious, not sure if I should put my backpack in the airport carriers or if it was better to keep it stowed under the seat in front of me. Either option made it difficult, given I was sitting beside the window.  I deliberated with the man on whether it was better to have my bag in either compartment and he agreed with whatever I chose.  I opted for under the seat, but coincidentally there had been a black vent-like object sitting underneath, decreasing the space just enough for my bag to be sticking out and in the way of my feet. To top it off my chair was faulty and did not lock in place. It was going to be a long and uncomfortable ride, I thought to myself.

The man started a conversation as soon as I settled in. “How are you today?,” and I answered of course with a simple reply, “I’m doing very well, thank you.”   We spoke about his travels and where each of us was heading and why. He was doing a cruise and was landing in Paris to travel to Copenhagen. Coincidentally he was also visiting St. Petersburg, Russia through the cruise. Apparently booking through the cruise allowed visa entry into the country, sparing him the stress of having to apply for the visa himself. I went over my Russian visa and flight struggles with him and he told me about his travelling nieces and nephews. I found out that he had 13 siblings and no kids himself.  I remember thinking to myself, I wouldn’t be surprised if this man was a retired doctor.

“you mentioned that you travel every year and that you’re retired, what was it that you used to do? I asked. He looked at me and responded,”I’m actually a physician.” It sounded as if he didn’t like sharing this information as he did. But, I quickly told him I was a medical student and the conversation flourished.  I found out that his name was Terry and he worked in Minneapolis as an endocrinologist at the Hennepin County Medical centre right next to the new Vikings stadium that was built (this is despite being “retired”). Quite typical it seemed to be that retired physicians are never really retired even though they like to tell themselves they are.

The rest of the flight consisted of me sleeping, trying to watch The Jungle Book on the mini screen in front of us and being surprised every time food was placed in front of me. Terry remained quiet for the majority of the trip. He was reading a book and I could see him laughing to himself with the side of my eye.

Once landing in Paris and towards the end of our conversation, he mentioned that students came to do observerships with him and it almost seemed as though he was inviting me to look into it if I wanted to. And maybe I will one day.

Presently, I’m sitting in the Paris airport at Gate C83, Terminal 2C. I could hear serene piano music from afar and I’m wondering to myself how I got here. Twenty minutes to boarding and I’m finally on my way to Russia.

If Dogs Could Talk

I’m sitting at Gate G10 at the Minneapolis airport watching everyone around me keeping to themselves. Across the room against the window, I see a man with a dog that can easily be mistaken for a stuffed animal. A little smaller than my Rodney, but with fluffy ears, it looks about dead all the way from here.  The man’s girlfriend is laying on the ground like a peasant while the pup sits in his lap; nested peacefully like a little prince or princess.  Something is very wrong here.

I’m knowingly waiting at gate G10 even though it’s not where I’m supposed to be. But, I have 5 hours to kill and so sitting here doesn’t seem wrong especially since it’s too crowded at G4 (my gate to Paris).

Getting off my flight from Winnipeg, I meandered about, looking around for signs while clearly appearing confused.  This airport is much bigger than the one in Winnipeg that’s for sure. There are a lot of shops (both local and commercial), a massage parlour, an Aveda, a food court, shoe shiners around the corners, restaurants with Ipad tablets at each seat, newspaper stores, chocolate shops, a sushi bar…and the list goes on. I haven’t seen everything yet, I didn’t want to travel too far and walking around was a pain not having had lunch yet.  I still haven’t figured out if I stick out or if I blend in. The answer to that will likely become apparent once I land in Russia. I’m not sure how many Filipino people live there or ever visit…my guess is very little.

Flying alone is much different from flying with people I know. I feel safer when I’m with others, but being on my own entertains the introvert hiding inside of me.  There is something relaxing about not having to carry on a conversation.  Although, I still wish I was with someone. I stare across from me and I see the dog has awakened. It is now staring right back at me with earnest curiosity.  It makes me miss Rodney.