The metro is a petri dish. In the morning the train fills up fast. By the third station people are pressing up tight against each other, trying to fit into a mass of multi colored down coats that compress. Everyone breathes the same air, miserably. There is always at least one passenger who has a gravely cough. As it usually tends to happen, they are standing within three feet of me.
And so I’ve been sick for the better part of February.
You cannot shake a cold off in Russia. They have a nasty habit of coming back the next day and the next and the next. I think it is because the cold takes so much out of you here. Stand in the same spot long enough, and you’ll feel the ground start to suck the heat from your boots. It ruins your immune system.
Russians seem very wary of the weather as well. My apartment is warm, but I still must wear slippers or at the very least socks. When it is hot, and I make my way barefoot across the floor, my host, Ira, looks up at me and says I will get sick. I will get sick because it is twenty degrees outside and I am not wearing my fur coat. I will get sick because I am too thin and need to eat more. I will get sick because I decided to spend an hour walking about Petersburg, though I am dressed in two pairs of socks and two sweaters.
Perhaps that is why I am sick.
The first treatment is home remedies. Babushka taught me in the fall how to light a garlic stem like a stick of incense. I place it under my nose and inhale it, the vapors clearing out my sinuses. When I begin to feel a cold coming on I cut cloves of garlic into my soup or I put a slice lemon in my tea. I eat half a grapefruit with sugar. For sore throats Babushka suggests that I dollop honey in black tea. The honey is good here, better than what you find in the United States, and it coats my throat, soothing it. If that doesn’t work there is always kalina juice. Bitter and acidic, it washes out the germs. For an upset stomach she takes frozen mint from her dacha and chops the leaves to make tea. Of course the best remedy seems to be food. Sickness in the United States puts us on a diet of chicken noodle soup. Here the more food you eat the quicker you seem to recover.
When I am really sick and can’t go to class my hosts become concerned. They are my family here. I do not expect them to wait on me, but there is no arguing. I am lucky they care so much about me, but it makes me feel guilty. I feel as though I am five years old again. I feel grateful. Babushka is always home. She heats up a kettle and dilutes cranberry jam into jars of bluish glass. I never have a chance to finish them before she comes back with more. When I am outside of my room she will open the window and air it out so that I am not swamped in sickness. She gives me tea then tells me to put my books away and sleep.
When I do not feel any better I take medicine from the pharmacy. It is amazing how Russian healthcare can be so bad, but their over the counter drugs so very good. The medicines I’ve taken here have been fast acting and strong.
And so I eat a lot. I make sure I wear stockings under my jeans, and pull on two pairs of socks every morning. I don’t leave the house without a sweater under my coat and two scarves on my neck. I always have a hat. I will never ever leave my home with damp hair, even if it makes me late to class. In the house I wear thick socks when I don’t have slippers, and I drink a lot of tea. I try to get a good night’s rest, and always wash my hands after I use the metro or go through the gates at the university. I don’t stand on cold granite or drink ice water. Mostly I listen to my hosts, because they seem to know what is best.
By: Zaida McKenzie
Term: Spring 2012