Don’t be fooled by the title. Things in Moscow are actually going quite well…but the winter gray has set in and I will be very lucky if I see the sun again before I leave. I’m not sure when the official sun rise and set times are, but at 8 am this morning, it was still practically black–and by 5 pm…same thing.

Not a whole lot is new since my last entry. My second trip to Ryazan was more or less enjoyable. I’m really beginning to realize what a challenge it is to be a good teacher…and I have all that much more respect for my former instructors. The bluegrass lesson I taught was pretty well organized, but no good discussion really came out of it. In the end, I was just glad that they understood most of what I said and enjoyed the song.

Here’s some pictures of me with the students I taught.

During my trip I also visited the town of Konstantinovo, home of beloved Russian poet, Sergei Yesenin. The town was absolutely beautiful, especially as it had just been blanketed with 2 or 3 inches of snow. No surprise that a poet emerged from those surroundings. And here are the pictures!!!

Home of Yasenin

The calm before our snowball fight.

Mathias, me, and Kristoph

I spent Thanksgiving in an American-style diner in Moscow. Nice place… and though I know I’m in a different country, I still find it hysterical when these typical American restaurants serve every type of alcohol. At least in PA, it’s almost impossible to order alcohol at a diner…but we enjoyed wine with our turkey. (Pizza Hut also has a business lunch…wine, salad and pizza for 200 rubles. Dunno what it is…but back home, you don’t associate wine with Pizza Hut.)

Tomorrow I’ll be saying “ta-ta” to a few of my British friends as they head back to England. I’m most definitely sorry to see them go, but it’s been great having them…and maybe I’ll visit them some day soon!

I think I’ve decided that I’m leaving Moscow Christmas night–Western Christmas, that is. That way I’ll sing in church on Christmas Eve, spend the day with some of my American friends who will be in Moscow for the holidays, and head off to St. Pete on the overnight train (with Lord knows how many suitcases). That means only 24 days left in “our glorious capital.” Aaah! That’s not enough time ! The thing about studying/learning another language/culture is that the more you learn, the more you realize there’s more left to learn. Guess I’ll just have to come back sometime. Stinks, though…I finally adjusted.

To everyone back home–try not to get too caught up in the bustle of everything this time of year. Chill with your families and friends…and eat lots of yummy cookies!

Prior to going to the Carlisle House orientation, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. After going to the location for the orientation and getting an idea of what the organization was about, I had a better understanding of how this experience would fit into our class discussions. I expect the experience will be extremely positive for me. I have never been exposed to interacting with people with mental abilities before, but I think it will make me understand firsthand how stereotypes are not always true.
Upon going to the orientation, Stephanie told us that originally many of the people there were very hesitant about allowing Dickinson students to volunteer. Apparently there was an incident last year where someone at Carlisle House was spit on by people who were in a car with a Dickinson College bumper sticker. This horribly ignorant act gave many the perceptions that Dickinson students were snobby and downright rude. The first batch of students who volunteered proved to be otherwise; therefore Stephanie has continued to allow it. One way in which I hope to contribute is to help counter the thought that all Dickinson students are misinformed and ignorant.
During the orientation I noticed a woman making magnets. She was extremely proud of them when I asked her about it, so I hope that I can help her with it in some way. Also I noticed that a lot of people were just sitting around; I hope that I can encourage them to do something together like play a game or play some pool. All of them were extremely friendly and helpful.
I thought it was extremely interesting that the employees of the Carlisle House are the “patients”. This therefore allows the people to hold responsibilities and help maintain the facility. During the orientation, many of the people were very proud of their individual jobs. I think there is a stereotype that people with mental disabilities are incapable of doing pretty much anything; Carlisle House shows that this is not true at all.
I do not foresee any problems that could be encountered in the Carlisle House community. Even though I probably shouldn’t be, I am still a little bit scared that I might feel uncomfortable during a certain interaction. But, it is my ignorance that I think that people with mental disabilities have attacks or shouting outbreaks because I have never been around them before, so I know that my experience at the Carlisle House show that this isn’t true. All in all I know my experience at the Carlisle House will be very positive.

My first interactive visit to Carlisle House was on Tuesday, November 29th. After trekking through the rain with Maddy and Jackie and discussing what we thought the experience would be like, we arrived at Carlisle House. We spent about five minutes taking off our rain gear and observing our surroundings. For the next ten minutes, we introduced ourselves to the members and wandered around. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves, and there was not anyone to tell us where to go. We made our way into the kitchen, where we talked with a female member who was washing dishes for ten minutes. She told us what they had for lunch, and what she was doing for the rest of the day. We met her friend Peggy and talked with her about their Thanksgiving celebration. We then started talking with Scott, who was playing poker on his computer. We talked with him for a long time. We spent about ten minutes talking about poker and car races. For the next ten minutes, we talked with him about where he lives now and his plans to move to Queens, NY. Then we talked for ten minutes with him about Japan, and how he wants to visit Japan this summer. He told us that he went to a community college for a year and studied Japanese. He tried to teach us some Japanese, but I got too confused by the concepts he was teaching us. During the last ten minutes in which we talked with him, we shared anecdotes about our lives and he shared some about his. We also discussed the Carlisle community, the new stores that are coming to the area, and where he works (McDonald’s). The girls and I then left him to play poker on his computer, and we were back to wandering around. When we went into the main sitting room, a man named Ron seemed very interested in talking with us, so we pulled up chairs. We spent the majority of the time left in our visit talking with him. He was sitting with another man named Terry and an older woman. However, Ron clearly was the most interested in talking with us. For the first ten minutes, we talked with them about where we were from and what classes we were taking. Then, for the next ten minutes we talked with Ron about his interests. He, like Scott, is very interested in cars. He likes car races and mechanics. We also talked with him about his Thanksgiving. In the next ten minutes, we learned that he got into a very bad car accident two years which left him on medication and with scars on his face and pins in his foot. For the last ten minutes we talked with him, he brought up facts about his family, like his brother’s occupation and where his cousin lives. Ron had to leave to see his mother, so the girls and I talked with a woman named Mel for the next ten minutes about computers, music, karaoke and where she lives. After that, we said goodbye to everyone, told them we would see them next week, and left.

When I first got to Carlisle House, I had no idea what to do with myself. I really wanted to interact with the members, but many of them seemed wrapped up in their own activities, and I did not want to interrupt them. I also was unsure of how they would receive me. I was drawn to those members who were outgoing and who seemed interested in me. Specifically, Scott and Ron are very talkative and did not hesitate to jump into conversations I was having with other members. I really liked this quality of theirs because it made me feel as though they accepted my presence in their environment. Although I went with Maddy and Jackie, I definitely felt like I was an outsider in the beginning of my visit to the Carlisle House. Scott is also very bright, and knew many things I did not know. For example, when he started discussing the Wal-Mart situation with Maddy, I did not have anything to add to the discussion. In truth, I felt ignorant in many ways sitting next to him. I guess it surprises me that a person with mental disabilities could be more knowledgeable than me about certain things. But I did not have the interaction I had with Scott with all the members. Many of the members did not acknowledge me at all. I think the range of interactions I had with the members is very interesting, and similar to those I might experience in a real-world setting. For example, if I met someone with mental disabilities in a real-world setting and we were both willing to interact we each other, I believe we could have a very successful and beneficial interaction. However, if both or one of us were not willing to interact with each other, our interaction would therefore be hindered.

This experience enables me to better understand the manner in which Lionel, the main character from Motherless Brooklyn, is treated throughout the book. Because my visit to the Carlisle House was framed with a course and readings on people with mental disabilities, it was an effective visit in that it stripped me of many stereotypes I held of people with mental disabilities. I believe this was partially because I prepared myself for the experience by trying to have as open a mind as possible. Simply having interactions with people with mental disabilities in real-world settings would not have achieved the same goal. I now realize that the people Lionel is surrounded with in Motherless Brooklyn are not able to get past certain stereotypes because they have never interacted with a person with mental disabilities in the setting I did. Furthermore, many of them automatically assume that Lionel will behave in certain ways based on the fact that he has Tourrette’s syndrome and their observations of other people that behave in similar ways. Though they know Lionel very well, they do not know his disorder very well. Therefore, they interpret his actions as something he cannot control and therefore dangerous to them and society. In reality, though it is true he cannot control many of his actions, this does not mean he is dangerous.

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