Tuesday, April 27, 2010


As I progress through my 12-month contract with a "McSchool" in Mytischi, Russia (a moniquer that I protest against as the particular company I work for, LL, has been nothing but wonderful during the past 7 1/2 months), I often take time to stop and reflect upon what brought me here in the first place.

It has been an overwhelmingly pleasant experience in Moscow, and even the few inevitable speed bumps I've encountered haven't been unnavigable. I have been blessed with amazing friends here. The hilariously sarcastic realism of the patriotic Virginian, Wonderpants, constrasts brightly with the rambunctious and perky Ms. Australia, who tends to speak before the thought enters her head resulting in statements like "Don't put it in my mouth, just stick it in" (while eating dinner).

Mr. Irish has his own unique brand of ultra-cultured intellectual humour, and Ms. Australia's friend from England, Gem, brings an inquisitive and open mind tempered with good old fashioned British wit.

Our little ESL crew in Mytischi is a blessing, and although we lost one of our own when Quagmire was fired, the rest of us rallied and filled the vacuum by spending more time together. Of course, for the women of Moscow, both Russians and expats alike, there was a very audible collective sigh of relief when Quagmire went to Kiev.

Soon, however, all my new friends will be leaving. In one month Wonderpants heads back to the States, Ms. Australia returns to Perth, Mr Irish heads off to a camp in Finland, and Gem is going to the UK. I won't be alone, however, as I have Katya, who is now my new fiancee.

We had a very casual engagement, when we went to the store to get pizza toppings, swung by a jewellry shop, picked out a very cheap ring together, I put it on her finger on the walk home and by the time we entered my apartment we were engaged. Our future wedding, whenever that will be, won't be anything big and tacky. It will consist of registering our civil union at the local government office and then getting our papers officially translated and certified, and then beginning the sponsorship process so that Katya can become a permanent resident and eventual citizen of Canada.

So, how did I end up in a place like Moscow, Russia, teaching English alongside Australians and Americans and Brits and Irish and getting engaged to a beautiful Russian girl?

It all happened because of a cat.

In what seems a different life, in Port Hardy, British Columbia, I had a great neighbour named Debbie. Debbie was a recent divorcee and she was incredibly kind and friendly (although that describes most British Columbians). Debbie had a pet cat, named Georgy.

While I was still with my ex, Georgy would come around and hang out with our cat, Mr. Lee. The front of our house had a view of the ocean and the Rocky Mountains on the other side of the channel, but the back had a shrub-covered hill angling up from the driveway. This hill was nearly 20 feet high, and the bushes that covered it grew raspberries, blackberries and salmonberries during the summer. At the top of this hill was an old road that had been put out of use by the construction of a newer and wider road, so it was converted into a walking path through the forest.

One day my ex and I were walking along this old road when we came across our cat, Mr. Lee, Debbie's cat Georgy and another cat all laying down facing each other in the sun. If they had had beers with them I would have been convinced that cats do indeed party.

Debby would often ask me to watch over Georgy when she had to go to the mainland or "down-island" for the night, and during sunny days when the doors were open Georgy would wander into our house, eat the cat food and chill out with Mr. Lee. For some reason Georgy (who was a girl) hated my ex and clawed her hand up once, but that cat loved me.

After my ex left me Georgy would still come around to play with Mr. Lee, but one day while I was at work Mr. Lee explored a neighbours' backyard and ran into their vicious bull mastiff, who attacked my wonderful black cat. When I got home Debbie brought Mr. Lee to me, who was just barely alive and crying. I wrapped him in a blanket, threw him into the passenger seat of my Chevy and raced to the veterinarian hospital. I sped along at over 100 km/h on the narrow twisty road, but it didn't help. In the ten minutes it took me to reach the hospital, Mr. Lee had died in the seat beside me.

This came as a huge blow to me, following as it did on the heels of my breakup, and for the next several weeks the only company I had was Georgy, who came around to find Mr. Lee but couldn't figure out where he had gone. Georgy would wait at the front door all day for me to come home and let her in, and she would wander around the house, sniffing things, and then trot over to me and look up at me with big green quizzical eyes. "Sorry, Georgy, I don't know what to tell you." I would say. Then she would nuzzle my ankle and, choking back tears, I would pet her and she would hang out, waiting for Mr. Lee who would never return.

I took to talking to Georgy after work, as I sat on my deck sipping a beer in the autumn sun, a single hamburger for dinner cooking on my barbecue. "It's just you and me now, Georgy." I would say. "I know you're Debbie's cat and not mine." I would add.

My conversations with a cat eventually developed into deep discussions about the meaning of life and philosophy. As I chatted, Georgy would sit on my lap and purr, then jump down to swat at a passing butterfly, and then spend a few minutes licking her own ass with one leg stuck up in the air like a thanksgiving turkey.

It was during my discussions with Georgy that I pieced together my plan to come to Russia. "What am I going to do, Georgy?" I asked one day. "Am I going to stay here, counting fish, single in a town with no prospect of ever meeting somebody, growing old and then dying alone?" Georgy sniffed a pebble. "That's what I was thinking." She then stared intently at something in the distance that no human could ever see, and after a few moments she turned to me, winked both eyes, and wandered into the house to eat some of the cat food I continued to put out. "You're absolutely right, Georgy! And why shouldn't I?" I called out after her. "Why, Georgy? You are brilliant!"

After that particular discussion with a cat I decided to come to Russia.

In memory of my little buddy Mr. Lee.

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