Greetings from St. Petersburg!

From Javier with love…

It’s hard to imagine that just last week I was studying for my last final, packing my things, and tearing it up on the dance floor at Black Bear with fellow YSPHers; A lot can happen in one week. I arrived at Pulkovo International Airport in St. Petersburg on the 10th of May (by the way, anyone planning on transferring thru Heathrow this summer, expect horrendous lines making connecting flights); After grabbing all my bags, I exited customs and “officially” entered St. Petersburg.

I looked around for my contact person, Vitali, a middle-aged physician that my oldest brother met fortuitously in Moscow. As Vitali would later say “I drank beer for 20 hours with your brother on the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg”. The train was only supposed to take a few hours but due to a bombing on the rails, the train had to take a tortuous detour. I am guessing that they became good friends on that train. In any event, after looking around the horde of people and sticking out pretty bad, a comely bespectacled man pointed his finger at me – “Javier!” he exclaims. I highly doubted that there could possibly be two Javiers; Vitali drove me around the city for a bit, showed me some of the historical sites, and then took me to my new “home”. I live about a 5 minute walk from the NGO that I am working for on the southeastern part of the city about a 15 min metro ride to the city center. The vast majority of the buildings constructed during this period are from the Stalinist era and are hardly worth describing. Some of you have already asked “how’s your apartment?” Well it’s quite cozy and as Vitali assured me “there are totally no cockroaches”; The neighborhood is quiet and sometimes I wonder if anyone lives in this building; Recently, both pigeons and stray cats have greeted me as I am locking the door to my flat; Further, there seem to be stray dogs EVERYWHERE; Knowing my luck, it will only be a matter of time before sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for the dreaded rabies shots; This past week I was lucky enough to meet a few Yale researchers as well as a professor from the George Washington School of Public Health; They were in town giving lectures on psychological metrics and models at the St. Petersburg State University; I on the other hand have been sitting in the office of the NGO translating my survey into Russian; This has been a somewhat arduous task since my knowledge of Russian grammar is still shaky, however several of my colleagues have offered to help; Yesterday I received the official email from the HIC that my protocol had been approved; This is terrific and now I just have to get Russian IRB approval (kak uzhas!); Everyone at the NGO is really friendly and helpful; Some speak excellent English, but I am quickly weaning myself off English and shifting to Russian only; One fellow who works there, Dmitri, always cracks me up; No matter what he is doing, if he spots me he always comes over to shake my hand and greet me very courteously; Other people are a little more reticent in talking to me and I have almost developed a sixth sense when people are talking about me.

Today was the first day that I had an opportunity to walk around the city and take some photos; St. Petersburg is quite an amazing city; For more than 200 years it was the official residence of the czar and the capital of Russia; The city houses some of Russia’s most important cultural sites; Moreover, the sun sets really late here; This peaks during the summer solstice (or “White Nights” as they are known here) when the sun doesn’t set at all; I am definitely looking forward to stumbling around the city during these few days; I have attached a few of my favorite pictures that I took today, but I have yet to explore the “other world” that exists in St. Petersburg; Before the professor from GWU left, she told me that during her first visit to St. Petersburg, she witnessed IDU (injecting drug user) outreach work; She said that watching these outreach workers interact with the IDUs was analogous to a composer writing a symphony; “They just seemed to flow in and out of the crowds talking to people that we don’t even notice; Another world is out there that we have no clue exists. It was really incredible watching them.” She told me; I hope that I too will get a chance to step into this “other world” before the end of the summer.

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5 Responses

  1. Great post Javier! The first in our internship series…I should remind you, however, that because of copyright restrictions, you can only post your own photos on the blog… In other words, that man with the monkey on his head is too good to be true!

  2. Thanks! I was having problems with posting before but I think I fixed it.

  3. Javi! Souns fabulous….glad the travels went well and that you are there safe and sound. Carly

  4. no doubt you'll find that world, sir. good luck, keep us apprised.

  5. Javier- so awesome you are enjoying St. Petersburg. One correction though– it's "Kak Uzhasno" OR "Kakoy Uzhas" :)Ps. I miss you!

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