Monday, October 30, 2006

Unscary Halloween Samara style

It's funny because I am probably celebrating Halloween more here in Russia than I have as a full fledged adult in the states. On Saturday, Jeremy, Alison (a fulbright scholar here) and myself hosted a party through our American Club. We did our best to get the word out, but sadly, the numbers have been dwindling and only 4 people not actually associated with organizing the club came. Jeremy had made a website for it saying there would be prizes for costumes, but guess who dressed up? Only me and Jeremy! What were we? I was Baba Yaga.

You can learn more by clicking on her name.

Jeremy was a demon. I will get you a pic of both of us when we actually take some.

Although the turnout was small, I think everyone had a good time with the games I prepared. Plus, we had a buttload of candy we ended up bringing home! I need to get rid of it fast before my clothes don't fit!

Tomorrow we will get to be judges for a Halloween party at the pedagogical university where Sveta and Yuri go. Actually, they are in charge of the whole deal. A bunch of students will be putting on scary skits and we get to pick the best ones along with some of the faculty at the school. It's really nice to be included in something for a change. I hope they like my outfit!

One last note- Yesterday Yuri and Sveta came over for dinner and a game of pinochle. Sveta told me about a Russian novel that is a notable piece of Russian literature from the last century. It's called The Master and Margarita. I think I'll ask for it for Christmas from Jeremy. I'm only mentioning it to you because the devil plays a significant role in the book- yikes!


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Seven Days later in Samara

Sorry I haven't been blogging recently. To make it up to you, here is a picture called Morning Prayer by Nicholas Roerich. Roerich is a well known modern Russian painter who was deeply affected by Buddhism and the Himalayas, hence the mountains in the back and the praying dude. The artist couldn't paint enough of those mountains. In fact, he painted some he had only seen through meditation and you can actually find them in Tibet! Yuri took us to a museum here in Samara some time ago. Maybe I wrote about it...Anyway, one section is dedicated to this painter. It's funny because the first place we stayed when we came to Samara had two of his paintings which I instantly loved. I was so happy when I found out I could get my own prints of his work right here in Samara. Some are just fantastic enough to help lead me in a good direction with my book, which, by the way, I have written over 50 pages! Yeah, I need to start meditating more myself. I just feel like adding I love you all! I know my blog entries are usually more controlled than this, but today I am a little too tired to work for order! :)

For being so loving and understanding, here are two more works of art by Mr. Roerich...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Top secret in Samara

Last night, we finally got Yulia to come over for dinner. We wanted to begin to show our appreciation for her hard work and eating my spaghetti is a good way to say thank you. It was such a pleasant dinner that she wants to do it again, so I am very glad to hear this since I too would like to cook more for her and share some time talking with her. Usually, with Yulia, conversations, as Jeremy has mentioned, are not very linear because she is so darn busy, but last night we learned some interesting facts about Samara now and then.

Jeremy explained some points about Samara being a closed city during the span of the USSR a few weeks ago and I would like to add to it. Yulia told us about a time when she was in college where she saw this little sign on an announcement board to go to England. Turns out she passed the first step because no one else was actually "Russian." I think she meant they were Tartar or of other ethnicities since there are many in the Volga region. Anyway, the second part of the process was an interview with, you guessed it, the KGB. Those guys had her so scared telling her to never talk to anyone if she went and to not go out at night and to always go places with someone. They made England seem so scary, staying in Samara sounded like a better idea.

Another time she went to an English exhibition in Moscow. She was so excited because it would be the first time she thought she would get a chance to speak with foreigners. Imagine studying and teaching a language and never having a chance to practice with a native speaker because they can't come to your town! Anyway, when she got there, she got up the nerve to talk to a foreigner. She said it was like a 15 minute basic conversation about each other, very innocent. Ten minutes later a young man approached her and said she should never try such an act again if she wanted to be "safe!" Only certain people that had been okayed by the government were alllowed to converse with the foreigners at the exhibit.

Of course, we've all heard stories and seen movies about the omnipresent and intimidating KGB, but when you hear personal stories about them in the city you are lving in, it's just shocking!

Yulia explained to us why the position Jeremy holds as an English Language Fellow is so fantastic to Samara. It wasn't until after the fall of communism that such a person could even set foot in the city. So having anyone come to help teach the people about teaching methods and life in other countries is a treat for many people here. Maybe the younger students are less aware of this since they have lived most of their lives under "democracy", but the older ones, I think, feel lucky.

We also talked about the current political situation in Samara. This weekend people will vote for a new mayor and just down the street there was a debate two nights ago. Turns out politicians here are no different than at home. The Russians have a saying, "Do you pick the bad one or the worse one?" Sounds like a few sayings we have in the states!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Our Apartment!

So it's time for you to see the apartment, yes? Beforehand, I would like to just say I am sorry about my last post. I think it could be due to a little culture shock (it comes and goes, you know) on my part. I am sure all those people in the Italian restaurant are very nice people, but if I feel uncomfortable it can't be stopped, no?
Sorry for the ranting...

Now onto the good stuff. Let's start with the view you will see after you get past out two bolted doors, yes two!

Very narrow? To the left is a little coat area and a place to take off your shoes. This seems to be a common custom in all the countries we've been to, but this one also has a fridge. There's no room for it in our tiny but quaint kitchen!

To the right is our living room, and it lives up to its name; we do a lot of living here. You can't tell from the picture, but the couch curves in the corner for tons of room and the brown thing to the right is the entertainment center full of places to put books and stuff. While we are on the subject, most Russian apartments are furnished, some austere but luckily for us ours is quite homey.

One extra point I would like to make about our lovely living room. Do you see that kind of balcony to the right of Jeremy. It's a great place to escape for most Samarans lucky enough to have one. They put out plants or dry their clothes there, but for us it ends up being a useless room right now. Maybe we'll use it when the weather is nicer. If you have any ideas for it, let us know. Our only request is that the decorations would require little money since we don't want to invest too much in a place we may not be living in in nine months!

In the hall on the first left is the dolphin room aka toilet closet. We had one in Japan too. It's nice for isolating stinky smells!

The next door on the left is the bathroom. I am so happy to have a bathtub! Ok we don't get a sick for the room, but it's not a problem for us. As you can see, it doubles as a laundry room.

Opposite the bathroom is our bedroom. I am not too crazy about all the pink, but the bed is quite nice and there is plenty of space for clothes. We both get a little side table and would you take a look at that vanity! I've never had it so good! The main problem with this room is the curtains. I used to think the bows were too much, but then Jeremy said they looked like Zorak from Spaceghost, so they bother me less. Since they don't keep much light out though, it's tough to sleep since we are facing a very busy intersection complete with television billboards. Luckily we found out the landlady has no problem fixing them especially after hearing I wear an eye mask to bed every night and it only partially helps! By Monday, I think I'll be sleeping a bit more deeply!

Lastly, directly opposite of our door is our kitchen which I really love even if it is tiny. There is a seat that bends around the table which makes me think of my Aunt Pat's house although I don't know why...

So that's it. Wanna come and see it in person?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Steppin in Samara

On Saturday, my Russian teacher Katya took me to her all female gym. She had invited me last week and when she showed me the gym's schedule, I thought a step class might be fun since I have a few yoga and pilates dvd's with me. I really wanted to go just to experience a Russian fitness club, but I ended up in hell! The class was super tough. I forgot how uncoordinated I am so I couldn't keep up. I remember a step class I took a while back and I think the teacher took a bit more time to go through new steps with us, but this teacher was too pumped I think to care. We also didn't stretch enough so my calves are killing me two days later. Still, I am glad I went especially since I got to hang out with Katya. We talked about teaching and our lives a bit, so it was nice to connect to someone new too.

That night I had Jeremy take me out for dinner. We go out about once a week. It's a weird experience sometimes to go out especially at this one Italian place we like. Everyone there thinks they're hot shit or something. Sorry, but it is just weird to me. Some people in Korea would be like that at the nicer restuarnts, but in Korea everyone goes out to eat. There is a wide range of eateries and prices and people party out, not at home. Here most people are too poor to go out to eat more than once a year. I think the standard of living must be higher in a city like Samara, but it feels so strange to feel pretty rich especially since I want to stay down to earth and I am no good at thinking I am the shiznit!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Lost but almost warm

Last night I heard one of the most beautiful sounds to come out of Russia, the puddling pipes in our bedroom. The sound is quite like going up the chromatic scale of a xylophone or as Jeremy describes, putting packing tape on a box. The sound only meant one thing when it woke us around 4 this morning, heat is on its way! Actually Jeremy went over to the vents and could feel warm air, but by the time we got up, they had been shut off already. Like other towns in Russia, you have to wait to get your heat. Some mysterious place decides which neighborhoods get to negate the cold and which ones have to really add on layers to their outfits during the fall. And theories about when and where abound. I've heard everyone will have heat by the 15th or after 3 consecutive days of it being less than 55F. The latter has been proven false, but maybe 15 will be our lucky number. Universities already have air pumping through their classrooms and if you are lucky enough to get a seat on the tram close to the window you are now gauranteed warm feet! Actually I am really not complaining since we have surrendered ourselves to spending most of our time home in the living room where our 12 inch heat/fan we bought is able to reach the circumfrance of the room. Last night was a tease, but a hotter fate lies in store for us!

About the Lost reference, Jeremy went off to another town which I have a feeling he will write about on his blog today, while I stayed home. For a bit I just sat to knit and thought I'd watch a little Russian TV. Lucky for me, Lost was on, of course sadly dubbed over in Russia and it was an episode from last season, but I could catch some bits here and there. Pathetically those bits were "I'm sorry?" and "Yeah, I know." besides question words, but I knew it was stimulating a few brain cells!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Independence, ho!

So this week has been exceptionally good as far as getting over my culture shock by venturing out a lot more alone. Yesterday I had to go downtown for a little class I am teaching. Right now I am taking a class with Katya at Yulia's school. In return I said I would teach. So while Jeremy was at his training class, I had to navigate myself around Samara. Usually I depend on Jeremy since he is a human compass. For some reason, the downtown area is a maze and I can't find the cheese! So I took a map with me and got there without losing my way. Then I went to a supermarket (oh how interesting) and walked home all by myself. I don't think I could have done it two weeks ago and here's why- those Russians are always asking questions! Maybe it was easier in Japan and Korea. Obviously I was a foreigner, but here everyone thinks I know where such and such a place is or what time it is! If my Russian was great, ask away, but since I am still learning, it's a dead give away I'm not Russian when I widdle out "Ya Ne Zna Yu"- I don't know. Although it's kind of funny that they take me for Russian. I thought I stood out with my bright orange coat, but maybe not.

So where was I? Yes, independence! Then today I had to go downtown again for my Russian lesson. Jeremy was still ill, so sans Jeremy. It was nice to have Katya all to myself. She invited me to go to her gym's aerobics class this Sat- fun! Aftrwards I thought I'd survey a larger area and try to get my barings which went well. Confidence, ho! I was also looking for a winter coat. Luckily in Russia, all the second hand stores say,"Second Hand" in English! I found one candidate, but Katya mentioned in class there was a store a few tram stops after our apartment, so I walked around my neighborhood too until I found it. I am winter coat-less, but by tomorrow I should be quite snug which is a good thing since it's forcasted to snow on Sunday- ya!

Monday, October 09, 2006

sicky poo in Samara

If you have been reading Jeremy's blog, you already know Jeremy and I were sick yesterday. I am doing much better, but Jeremy is (cough cough) still under the weather. This is my main reason for not writing yesterday. I'd like to write several times a week. At first, I thought every day like Jeremy would be good, but maybe I am already getting used to my life here, so it's not so interesting everyday. I know that I have some extra topics during boring spells...Anyway, today will be about being sick a little in Russia. I just learned Jeremy will write about something else tonight, so I am free to go nuts- hazaa!

Besides a big spicy vat of minestrone to help combat our health woes, we took this special medication Yulia suggested yesterday night. It's Anaferon. Supposedly it should build up your immune system super fast. Yulia recently had a cold and found the effects amazing, so we took a few doses yesterday and it's worked well for me. I was achey and had a bad headcold, but most of my symptoms have disappeared. Jeremy's is still mooching, but I have a feeling he'll be chipper tomorrow. I thought you might like to see how bad it's really gotten illness-wise. Jeremy's was more in his throat...

While mine is all over...

It's not bad being sick in Russia. There are more medications to take which lean towards prevention than the suppression of symptoms. Although a few medications might sound a bit weird to us, (one even has E coli in it!) Russians swear by them. We've learned through a few culture books that Russians love dispensing their knowledge of cures for all sorts of health issues. Since I wasn't interested in taking notes, we only asked Yulia about it. Unforntunately for Jeremy, he had a training course today, but the good news is that his class was super sympathetic and they all appreciated he stuck it out. Such a perspective was pleasantly surprising! It's nice to know Russians care so much, but then there is the expression "Na Zdarovya" which means "to your health!"

Friday, October 06, 2006

Scary Samara?

So you know how my last post was all about how I had a good episode of culture shock? Of course, I wanted to know where it was coming from, so I did a bit of soul searching. What I found is a sad but true revelation- Russian people are scary. I don't really feel that way now and I think by the time we come home (whenever that will be!) I'll have a much different perspective about Russians, but this idea is not altogether, for lack of a better word, ignorant. Just think about it. For several decades Russians were our major enemy, dare I say, comparable to El Quiada? Well, the government would have made you believe it. There were times in American history when we didn't know if the Russians would push that A Bomb button or not. Now, of course, we can focus our fear on another ridiculous boogie man. I'm sorry, I understand terrorists are real and all, but I think Americans are way too freaked out about foreigners!

OK, so even if we are "allies" now (who knows how long that will last?), I think we still percieve Russia with some caution. There was a time not long ago when people likened Putin to the future anti-christ. We hear more about the Russian mafia than we do about its culture or economy too. Plus, personally, when we first got into Moscow, Jeremy had a security workshop on how to stay safe in Russia. There are even accounts of major xenophobia leading to attacks on foreigners here in Samara, albeit it usually happens to Eastern Europeans. Still that sucks of course! All this most have been bobbling through my head when my culture shock kicked in.

Also, I couldn't help but compare Russia to Korea or Japan. In Japan, I've heard stories of drunken guys falling asleep on a park bench and waking up with their wallet still in their pockets! Basically Japan is one of the safest places I have ever been. But they have the Yakusa, right? Only if you want to find them, will you and even then I think you'll have to really search the under belly of Tokyo. In Korea, I only worried about drunk American soldiers getting too aggressive. I lived near an area frequented by many Korean business men and I only got a few strange calls when they were wobbling to the subway. One was "Beautiful!" which made me blush and the other was "Hello How are you? Sugar and Cream?" That was with my best bud Erica. I said she was cream because I really wanted to be sugar! Maybe I took that sense of safety for granted or maybe I was just accosted by more generalizations from America and a very anal embassy when it came to Russia...I realize this now that it is sad to think a country that has helped shape the world into a more beautiful place with its art, dance, music and food should be seen less as brothers and sisters and than suspicious "Reds" even if that term is history. I am confident while I am here that such riduculousness will become a silly thought from long ago for me. I mean how could it not? I used to be Kim Jong Il's neighbor and that didn't spook me for a second! Ah denial is a grand elixir!

Yeah, so like any place I've lived, there will always be places to avoid and a way to hold myself. I think I've mastered how to take care of myself, so please don't be worried. I swear my head's screwed on pretty tightly. Plus, I don't want to spook anyone interested in coming over. I promise to take very good care of you!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Shockin Samara

Well, I suppose it was inevitable. It just came a little earlier than expected. Last week, after a fantastic romp on Samaraskaya Luka, I was feeling slightly mad, as in wiggling out of a straight jacket. Really I was more pensive, trying to keep it from Jeremy and examine it by myself. Thinking it was just spending too much time alone, by the end of the week, it was clear. Culture shock surprise. It's funny though because even though I was altogether funky feeling, I got a lot of work done on my book.

Oh I didn't tell you I'm writing a book? Oh, you want to know what it's about? How does one answer that question? Let's just say it's a multi-cultural fantasy book I'm trying to write for children and hoping I can make it into a trilogy. You'd need to take me out for a drink to hear the detailed version.

Anyway, back to my unnerving feelings...I had spent most of the week inside. One reason being there was only one copy of our apartment key and Jeremy needed to meet with Yulia several times and even if I had one, I don't know if I would have ventured out. After thinking it through I think my perspective of Russia had a significant effect on my mood. I'll get into that in more detail next post. It has all left me now, so let me tell you how.

Besides really examining myself thoughtfully and emotionally, I finally talked to Jeremy. He agreed I was "just not Jen-jen." He remembered a time in Korea that rang of the same notes too. Just talking to him helped, but the next day we thought we'd navigate through the downtown area. I was so tense and irritable. I suggested we hit a coffee shop, so I got a nice caffeine shot and Jeremy mentioned during high degrees of culture shock, we yearn for comfort food, hence the coffee fix. Actually, it helped a lot more than I expected it to. Another reason for the shock was that I was just feeling helpless, the main cause for shock. That same day we got a key from Vasili (our go-to man) so I could have a bit more independence. I am not the sort of person that handles being so dependent on people. I love shopping by myself and even going to restaurants or a movie alone doesn't bug me. I think my brain just had had enough waiting for life to settle. I had to remind myself that learning a language and becoming well oriented to my environment would take time. I understand mostly that I just need to be patient about everything on a new level. As a follow up, this week has had some small victories, which I will also explain later, so as is well with my head!

One note of interest- Jeremy has so far eluded this shockin' monkey, but it's nice we weren't in the boat together, so someone could get us to shore!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Samaraskaya Luka Sunday

This Sunday (September 24- I'm trying to catch up!) was a day I don't think I will ever forget. It was such a good day, in fact, I was a little bummed the following few days because they paled in comparison. Jeremy and I woke up early to meet Yuri and take a few buses down to a dock. On the way, we met up with Sveta, Yuri's friend, and we all boarded a large boat that would take us to the island, Samaraskaya Luka which is in the middle of the Volga. Yuri had told me scientists believe it has strange magnetic energy a la "Lost" because on one side, the current goes north and on the other, south. Think of it circling the island. The boat ride was colder than we expected, but the view was fantastic. I hadn't anticipated the leaves would have turned since in our neighborhood, most were still green. The spectrum of colors was just brilliant and with the morning light, the sights were tinged with gold.

Once we docked, the four of us hiked through some woods until we came to a large field. Jeremy remarked how the terrain was similiar to Wisconsin, so his mood was very nostalgic. Eventually, we came to a town which was made of old traditional houses. Yuri pointed out a whote box like building. It was the only store in the village and it was closed since it was a Sunday. As we walked past some houses, we could see all the vedgies and fruit the residents grew. they backyards were teeming with produce. It made me envy how simple life must be there. We also found a bush with a berry I had never seen before. Since it wasn't on anyone's property, we helped ourselves to a few. The taste was sweet at first, but then a tartness traveled all around my mouth.

Here is one of the prettier houses in the town.

After some more walking, we came to our first destination- a spring that is said to be holy. A church was recently constructed near it, so it had a fence around the area. Luckily the gate wasn't locked, but it particularly irked Yuri since anyone had been able to go and take water. Why should the church be able to claim it as their's? I totally understood his view on the matter. Hopefully, they won't stop anyone from going to the spring in the future. We all brought some container, so was could bring some back. They say the water never goes bad. If you wished, you could take a dip too, but it wasn't a hot spring, so we passed. Afterwards, we found a nice spot for a picnic. Each of us had brought something to eat and together we had a nice feast. There was bread, cheese, sausage Jeremy and I decided was more like bologna than sausage, pistachios, tomotoes, and a sour cheese that reminded us of chees cake. Next, we hiked up a hill to a place where we could buy honey. A barking dog met us and a man who looked like he worked at the church told us they no longer sold honey. It wasn't too much of a letdown, especially since we joked the dog had been trying to tell us that all along!

We continued walking for some time until Yuri showed us the trail he thought we could climb. I was having a hard time up it since it was incredibly steep. For some reason, I just couldn't seem to balance. Luckily we found a spot to enjoy the view. Yuri told us that only two boats come to the island usually, the morning one and the evening one, so we had a lot of time to kill. Jeremy suggested, we sit in a field nearby and have another picnic. He had brought our Gong Hee Fot Choy game, a fortune telling game, and some pinochle cards. First, we gave Sveta and Yuri readings and then we tried to teach the two the rules of pinochle. Luckily Yuri was my partner. He kept looking at Sveta's cards and acting beligerent everytime we one a round. I would have been pretty annoyed if he were my opponant! We then had some more picnic food and made our way back to the dock. Jeremy and I were so beat by the time we got home, but our moods were so relaxed and happy. It really was a perfect day- beautiful nature, fun people and great conversation!

Here's a pic of Yuri, me and Sveta

2nd Saturday in Samara

On Saturday, not far from our apartment, there was a special English conference where local English schools set up tables and had info for perspective students. It was also to be Jeremy's first highlight as an English Language Fellow. I just came along for the free stuff. I only got a few pieces of chocolate but a nice pen! We mainly sat at the ELC table (Yulia's school) and we met Lubmila who, besides being the Longman Publications rep for the Samara area, is an expert at testing and assessment of English students (a real mover and shaker). We got to talking a bit and she said she may accompany us on some of Jeremy's trips which is fine by me because she seems like a cool lady. While we were there, we also tasted pierozhi which is like a pierogi but with bread. We had the meat and cheese which we enjoyed. Jeremy did a short informal presentation mostly about himself and being a fellow. Of course, I was very proud- like I always am!

That night I attempted my first pot of Shchi, the cabbage soup I mentioned in "Samara, our home away." I had only half read some recipes online, but it turned out quite well and only got better each day that followed (I made a lot). I think I'll make it for all those visitors I'll have in the future...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Internet Fiasco: At least we don't have dial-up!

Tuesday, September 20th was the beginning of our journey into the information supere highway, but there were many roadblocks before we met our destination. Was that painful for you to read? That morning, Yuri took us took us to the other side of the city by bus and marshrutka (a van taxi, kind of like a dolmush in Turkey). Then we hiked a bit looking for the office building before we found it. After deciding whose name went where with the paperwork, we went to another spot to pay (stretching out the work gives everyone a job!) and then headed back home hoping the guy who physically connects us would be able to come by that afternoon. While we waited, I fed Yuri and Jeremy lunch which these two skinny men devoured. Then I talked Jeremy into getting some cookies at the nearby supermarket. Yuri waited until 3:30, but no fix-it man came, so he said good-bye.

The next day a man came named Rishot. Do you know the English equivalent? That's, right- Richard! Anyway, lucky for us, he could speak English very well. He fiddled around for 3 hours but still couldn't get us hooked up. He promised to call us that night, so Jeremy and I went downtown crestfallen to meet the woman from the Ministry of Education in charge of getting us registered. Oksana, the aforementioned woman, has become my style idol. I think she's around the same age as Jeremy and myself which was a shocker for us. We imagined someone in this position carried a certain age. She also was very cute, but it was her outfit that made me realize some Russian women kick fashion ass! She had on a cute gray skirt with piping and a slit on one side, a collared shirt with a short fat tie, gray fishnet stockings with very small netting and white heals. It could not have been a more put together outfit for the office. Quite impressed was I!

The next day we expected to see Rishot by 2, but he never showed, so we went into town trying not too become too disappointed. After all, there was a time when we did without the internet, right? Yulia had pointed out a well stocked craft store the day before, so we went to check it out. After getting a new embroidery hoop and some yarn for a future Christmas project, we headed to La Cucaracha- a Mexican restaurant. We had read about it in our travel guide, so we really couldn't help ourselves. The guacamole wasn't as good as the guide claimed, but it was nice not to have to cook! After dinner, we met up with Yuri and his sister Anna, his buddy Misha, and his classmate Sveta for some classic jazz at the Philharmonic Hall. The group was great and we were in the third row! Yuri had seen them before; they are well known in the Russian jazz circuit. One interesting cultural fact- Russian women get a lot of flowers in this country including female singers. During the second part of the performance, the singer received flowers after almost every song she sang! Afterwards, Sveta left and the rest of us enjoyed a long walk around the city. We got to see a better view of the Volga from the Victory Park where there is a famous Samara landmark and a gorgeous Russian Orthodox church which was illuminated with night lights. There was also a portrait of Jesus looking rather bummed. Maybe he was sad because this church is only open on special holidays...

Friday was our day to celebrate. That morning two men came- oh before I go any further, this was this morning's phone dialogue (ring ring)

a: Hello
b: Hello, This is Sam Telecom
a: Hi, This is Jeremy.
b: No German, only English!

I hope it made you giggle. I think it's super funny! Anyway, low and behold the big problem wasn't that we had a Mac, Rishot's theory, it was an old cable wire to connect us. Once they put in a new one, we were up and running! Now I can call my loved ones for free!

And so ends our internet saga, but wait until the bill comes!