I am officially living with a host family! I have a sister, Tanya, who is my age and her parents and we are living in their apartment. It's actually quite nice, with a kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom. I am sharing a room with Tanya. Everyday, we have to take the bus to school at 9 and we have classes until 4. We play games, go to Russian class, and work on building our "Dream City". We were each put into groups of around 8 people (4 Russians and 4 American siblings) and we were assigned to create our dream city. We put whatever we wanted in it, like movie theaters, stadiums, hostpitals, resturants, houses, etc and then we buy the actually buildings with coins that we earn in class for correct answers and participation. The "Dream City" is the theme of the extra two weeks that we are going to school. It's kind of a bummer that we have to go to school even while we are with our host families and this is a new set up that they are trying this year. It's okay though, it just gives us less time to explore the city and see some of the sights. After school, we just have some free time to spend with our host siblings. I have been to lots of cute little cafes, the mall, movies, and parks. It's very fun to see some places that Russian teens hang out in their free time.
Yesterday I got the chance to go to Slobodskoy! Galina and Sveta picked me up and we all drove together to the orphanage. It was about an hour drive from Tanya's apartment. We arrived around 1 PM and had a quick lunch. After, we toured the orphanage and Galina showed us all of the repairs that are happing now. There was a fire in one of the kids rooms in early summer and the affected rooms are being redesigned. She also was very proud of the new plastic window frames that were put in after the fire. No one was hurt at all in the fire and the kids are just sleeping in different rooms for the time being. 25 of the 36 kids that were at the orphanage at the time left after lunch for a music festival called Greenland. We would be meeting them a day later. Once our tour was over, we went to the grocery store to pick up food for dinner and breakfast. Natasha came with us because Galina sometimes takes one of the kids home with her to teach them basic skills like gardening, cooking, and taking care of a house and pets. We bought tons of food and headed to Galina's house. It was about a 10 minute drive from downtown Slobodskoy, so not too far at all!
Galina's house was beautiful! It was very spacious and the furniture was all well kept and very pretty. They are in the midst of redoing some of the rooms, like the living room and kitchen, so those had some construction materials in them. We cooked blini, smoothies, berry yogurt, and salad for dinner and more blini, berries, sausages, cheese, bread, cake, and a cottage cheese, sour cream, and sugar mixture that turned out to be quite good. I was very well fed and quite full when I left! We also got the opportunity to skype with my parents, sister, and grandparents. It was really fun and Sveta, Galina, and Natasha were all quite glad to see them. Galina gave us the tour around her house too, with her flower and vegetable garden, cows, pigs, cats, dogs, and then showed us around their little village. We went to the store and bought ice cream just a block from her house. It was around 10 at night, the store was about to close, and Galina had forgotten money. They just gave her the ice cream anyways and she promised to pay them back later. I thought it was very sweet of them! We went back to her house and cooked some sausages on a fire as a late night treat. We went to bed soon after because it had been a long and very tiring day.
The next morning we got up a little late, around 10 AM. We had originally planned to leave at 10, but that got changed because we all slept in. We had a large breakfast and finally hit the road at noon. The orphanage driver was not very happy that we left two hours late and he was waiting outside of Galina's house the whole time. But he got over it when Galina bought him an ice cream bar too. We made a quick stop by the orphanage to pick up some logs and blankets to take with us to a concert because it was a cold night. We ran out of room so we ended up sitting on about 20 blankets in the back of the car. It was about a two hour drive to the concert and we got there around 3 PM (3 hours behind schedule). Once we got there, there was a problem getting the car close to where the kids' tents were. Galina had been given verbal permission for entering, but the police wanted written permission. It took another hour to figure out the permission issue and we finally got through!
The concert was much bigger than I imagined. There were 3 stages all playing music and a lot of people in tents. I have no idea how many people were actually there, but I would guess around 10,000. The kids were all a little bored because there weren't any structured activities going on, but still having fun! I don't think I've ever heard them laugh that much before! We hung out with the kids for an hour and had a semi-private concert by a music club from Slobodskoy. Sadly we couldn't stay for long because I had to be back by 7 and it was a 1 hour bus ride back to town. We left at 5 and a group of kids walked us to the bus stop. It was sad to leave them again.
Once back in Kirov, we got changed and went ice skating. It was pretty different from American ice skating, because they took a deposit of 1000 rubles and your passport when you rented skates. Apparently, that's something that Russia does when they rent things. You got it all back when your skates were returned safely. The rink closed soon after we arrived so we were only there for 30 minutes or so. After, we went on a walk around theater square and went home early because we had to wake up early today for church.
This morning, we went to a 7 AM service in a Russian orthodox church. We came a little late but it's not as structured as our churches so it was okay. The inside of the church was beautiful! There were tons of ancient icons all around and a choir singing beautiful songs. We stayed for about 40 minutes and then headed home. Today, I have some homework to do and then we are going to hopefully see a movie and maybe go to a resort. I hope to blog again before I leave next Sunday for Kazan. Overall, it's been a crazy but very fun week!