Sunday, June 07, 2009

"The Pool Incident"

The “pool incident” must be recounted in its own post, to give it its rightful place as the most memorable moment of the “fitness” weekend in my mind. On Saturday evening our group had an assigned time for use of the pool, Jacuzzi and sauna. Sam and I headed down together and Courtney was planning to join us there. I wasn’t really intending to swim, but with pictures of typical American, European, and even African hotels and various pools in my mind, I assumed I could take a good book and sit by the pool watching Sam and the other swim, then after a while enjoy the jaqcuzzi and sauna. I convinced Courtney to do the same and we both packed a small bag with a towel and book, water bottle, etc. for indoor poolside enjoyment. We were escorted by Michael, a very kind man, who knew about 5 words in English and practiced using all of them, regardless of whether or not they made any sense in the situation. Michael showed us to the separate men’s and women’s “changing rooms” through which one had to enter the pool. I, who was already dressed for the pool, figured I would just walk through and out to a waiting chaise lounge, armed with my little bag of all the things I’d need for enjoying the pool. I quickly realized where I was when I was ushered into a bare room and two women speaking very commanding Russian explained I needed to wear a swimming cap.
Eta Rosseya. This. Is. Russia.
Did I have a swimming cap?
She showed me a clear plastic shower cap she had with her at her little table - the only thing in this empty room.
Would I wear this then?
OK. Fine. I’ll wear the goofy-looking shower cap.
She ushered me into the changing room and explained that I needed to wear the pool shoes they provided me.
OK. Fine. Whatever.
Then she pointed and showed me the showers and I understood that I had to shower off and only after this then I would be granted entrance to the pool.
Now, up till this point I was understanding most of what was being said. There were enough words I recognized and enough hand motions that, together with logic and common sense, I could understand the instructions. But. Here’s where it gets tricky. I had a question. I didn’t want to leave my bag in one of their UNLOCKED lockers in the dressing room while I went into the pool area. Remember, my whole intention was to go sit by the pool and relax, reading, anyway and with my bag unsafely tucked away in a locker how was I going to do that? I tried to ask if I could take my bag inside the pool with me, via hand motions and the pertinent words I knew like, “Can I”, Bag” “Take”. Either my Russian is worse than I thought or she just decided that I had not understood all her prior instructions and she again told me I had to put my bag in the locker, shower, then go in the pool. We went back and forth like this a while, in the midst of which, Courtney arrived to find me semi-arguing with the lady, as I tried to explain that I understood everything else, but I didn’t want to leave my bag, so I needed to leave to take it back to my room. I slipped my own shoes back on and explained quickly to Courtney what I was going to do and I told her I’d take her bag upstairs too and be right back. The lady kept arguing and finally I just walked out the door with our bags, leaving Courtney there to fend for herself. But, I reasoned, I’d be right back, no worries. I was on the stairs when I realized I didn’t have the key for our room, because Sam, who was surely already in the pool, had it. I turned around and headed back down, at which time I ran into Michael, who was confused about why I wasn’t in the pool. (I later found out that Eric had asked him to look after us.) He used one or two of his 5 words and I tried to explain to him about my bag and needing the key. He nodded emphatically and was so kind I was sure he understood and could help me out, no problem. He led me downstairs and rather than turning right, towards the pool, he turned left and unlocked a small office-like room. Thinking he had understood my concern about the safety of our bags, I put down our bags and turned to head back out of the office. He motioned for me to stop, smiled kindly, and walked out, closing the door behind him. So now I am standing in a small office in the basement of some compound, upset from my unsuccessful arguing with the changing room lady, frustrated that after nearly two years in Russia I still can’t get my point across, completely bewildered and confused and I’m starting to worry.
All I want is the key to my room!
A few minutes passed and I started getting more upset, my eyes began to sting with tears. I took a deep breath and listened. Silence. Then I heard a noise in the hallway. It sounded like maybe Michael was standing out there. I went to the door and slowly opened it and there he was, looking at me, slightly confused. By this point, it’s been at least 10 minutes since I left Courtney, and I want nothing to do with the pool, but I still need the key. But I seem further and further from success in that area, and I am feeling pretty lousy because I can’t get anyone to understand me. The confused Michael is just looking at me, and I am trying to keep it together.
I need to find my husband! Moi muzh. (my husband) komnata. kluchey. (room. key.)
He still looks confused but at least he understands the words. He asks me if he’s here.
Yes. In the pool. Chorney. (black)
A moment of recognition from Michael.
Oh! Black! Yes.
Michael remembers Sam and starts quickly leading me back towards the pool. He seems happy that he has figured out the puzzle. And, to tell the truth, so am I.
I remember walking up the steps feeling so relieved. I was finally going to find Sam, get the key and be done with it. Michael led me back to the changing room door and I entered, as I saw him entering via the men’s changing room (they both led into the same empty room, then into the actual changing rooms section). Once in this little room, I foolishly thought I could simply walk up to the open door of the pool, look in, get Sam’s attention and that would be it. But! I forgot to factor in the “Eta Rosseya” factor. I no sooner took steps in the direction of the door, when the changing room Nazis (there were two now) pounced on me, YELLING at full voice. You would have thought that I had a fully load machine gun in my hand and I was about to let loose on all those unsuspecting swimmers. They both really let me have it. I jumped back and before I could even rationally stop it, I started crying right there in the stupid single-table, white tile room. Hearing the yelling, Michael quickly appeared in the doorway (apparently he had been searching the men’s side of the changing room for Sam). He looked over, saw me crying and looked at the changing room Nazis, said something to them, and they forcefully supported their very rational reaction to a woman striding so boldly right up to the door of their closely guarded pool. He said something else, then came over to me and asked, “What his name?”, and he went to look for Sam himself. Michael found him, sent him to the door and I was allowed to talk to him there. One of the Nazis, now looked very confused and apologetic, started trying to justify, very softly saying, “Aw…Ti ne ponimaesh…? Ya ne ponimayu.” (Aw…You don’t understand…? I don’t understand.) Eric, whom I caught a glimpse of over Sam’s shoulder, looked very worried and asked, “What’s wrong??”. Sam would explain later. Sam went to get me the key which I gratefully pocketed and quickly ran away with, away from the pool, up the stairs, and into our room, where I contemplated how much language barriers suck.


courtney said...

sigh. yeah, that bout sums it up. I went back to my after only a few minutes of the pool Nazis yelling at me. I did NOT like being forced to take a shower and wear a cap and wear weird pool shoes that who knows had worn them before me...i gave up way before you did. of course i also had my that helped.
but yeah, language barriers do suck.

Stacie@HobbitDoor said...

Wow. You should win an award for persistence! :D That is just crazy!