I’m struggling. Nats in my eyes got them streaming and it won’t stop. They got me yesterday when I biked up the river to a summer camp that I’ve been working at in Sergeyvka. Summer camp is a loose term, it’s mostly just a cluster of houses by the river that the kids eat, run, sleep, flirt with each other, and play volleyball at. After numerous requests for my services, I borrowed my host-brother’s bike and rode up there two Monday’s ago. My work wasn’t mind-blowing, a couple days of introductions, and then a sing off between the girls and guys to some pop/hiphop, but I had fun. I even got some of the older guys to get up and shake their money makers with me, you know you’re doing something right when kids are ready to make fools of themselves. The oldest girls on the other hand were so silly and giggly that we all voted them off the island after the first day. The whole thing kinda jazzed me to get back to teaching.
At first I thought that their idea of camp was ridiculous. I mean almost nothing planned, just sitting out in the woods getting eaten alive by bugs and running around like wild animals. Then I realized how awesome that would be. We can’t have a camp like that back home because of liability, but man, just running around and doing whatever you want with your friends with almost no adult supervision? I bet it’s a blast for the campers.
As I was biking over on Friday last week, I noticed a dirt road that curved off to the left and followed some power lines into a fores. It looked just like the Birki ski trail, and I wondered what it would be like to run it and see where it goes. So I ran back there on Saturday. I put on my purple short-shorts, laced up my shoes, and padded out into the cool, iron-gray morning, pretty much ideal running conditions. I wanted to go for a long run, two or three hours, but my muscles aren’t quite lean enough yet for that kind of endurance to be pleasant, so I tried for an hour and a half. I ran the power lines for about a half a mile before they dipped into a little meadow out of which a village materialized from the mist. I slowed down from a cruise to a jog when I entered the village, scanning back and forth as I my legs swung, trying to absorb everything I was seeing.
The silence was loud, and everything around me seemed soft and muted by the misty weather. It was like I had gone back in time or entered a different realm. Part of the magic came from the poplars, which were bigger than in Sergevka and almost scary in their beauty. I won’t try to recreate it any more, and I’m sure there are many days that Karatal seems like hell, but there was such a thick calm to the place that I feel like I lost part of myself running through it. Coming out on the far side of town, I switched gears and sped off down a wide dirt road. Almost immediately however, I slowed back down because the nature around me was so stunning. The wetlands, meadows, and poplar groves got thicker and wilder the farther in I went, and it felt like if I kept running, I was bound to see elves. I eventually turned around and headed back, but I saved that moment as a snapshot of beauty to get my soul through the winter.
I won’t drink Green tea in the winter, because it’s a terrible substitute for coffee, I’m barely over three days without it and my brain is just not working right. Running has been better with the slowed down metabolism, but pretty much everything else sucks. I was up to four or five cups a day, and was experiencing a significant drop in evening productivity, which is saying something because productivity for me right now is reading and yoga, that I figured I should cool it a bit on the coffee. By no means is this a permanent self-ban, more like I’m trying to get a hold of a beautiful habit that’s gotten out of control.
So yesterday I was walking home from a strange boxing lesson and a saw a kitten following some lady in the middle of the street. I was kinda eying in the kitten to try to get an idea who it was with or where it came from, and the woman looked at me and said, Hey, you want a kitten? I told her no, and that I wasn’t planning on staying in Sergevka permanently, but asked who’s was it. She gave me one of those kinda crazy looks of someone who doesn’t talk to people too much and told me that I could have him if I wanted. I smiled while giving her the ‘what are you on?’ head tilt and asked her again if she knew where the kitten came from. She flashed me such a wide smile that the sun from her grill seemed to burn into my eyes and said, He’s a good kitten, take him home. I promise, he’s a good kitten. And then she walked away.
The kitten was about ten inches long, black and white with matted fur, and just plain tiny. He was sitting in the middle of the street, looking around and every once in a while giving a little shudder. I didn’t know what to do, and stood there for a second just looking at him, but when he looked at me, it was all over. We were in front of the hospital, which isn’t that far of a walk from my home, so I picked him up, gave him a nuzzle, and carried him home with me. It’s been cold and rainy outside for the past couple of weeks, so he snuggled up in my chest and started purring.
When I opened the gate into our yard, I realized that my plan stopped there. I literally froze for a few seconds because I had no idea what to do next. Ten minutes were spent looking for our neighbor’s cats and kittens, to no avail. Then I tried twice to put him in with the chickens until I had thought of a better idea, but they seemed a little too aggressive. Finally I saw the babushka and asked her what she thought I should do. It was crazy to see the change in her when she saw what I was holding; her face got real ugly and she snarled I don’t care, it’s just another mouth, don’t even think about bringing him inside!
This surprised me because (a) we have cats in the house, and (b) this family wastes more food than I have ever seen. But who am I to argue, so I took him outside again and left him in our neighbor’s yard. Then he followed me home and up the stairs, his little paws bounding as best he could to keep up with me. Screw this, I thought while breaking up some bread crumbs for him in the porch, he’s not technically inside. Soon after however, the whole family came back, including the guests that have been staying here for an extended period of time. The kitten was quickly put out by my host-sister, who told me that she’d find a place for him. Anyways, I’m rambling, long story short I came back from my run the next day and saw him shivering on one of our fence posts. As soon as I picked him up I heard banging on the window and saw the babushka screaming at me from in the house, soon accompanied by my host mother yelling at me that I was going to get diseased and die if I touched him. I told her that I wasn’t just leaving him, so I’d sleep with him or she could tell me where to leave him. She suggested the cafeteria by the hospital, close to where I found the little guy in the first place. So I picked him up again and began the trudge back through the mud.
After going on a long run and playing the piano, I wasn’t thrilled that I was back out walking through the mud. I was in a bad mood and my heart was breaking as a felt him purr and snuggle up against me. It was almost as though he felt by my firm hold and steady walk that I was taking him someplace secure. I wished I was. I mean I get it, you don’t want an extra cat, but just leaving him outside to die is not cool. And it’s not like the people I live with are strapped for time or money, huge portions of every day are spent watching TV and/or drinking vodka at night, so it’s not like the little time it takes to alleviate the suffering of a kitten will really set you back.
I folded through the fence at the hospital and made my way to the building that looked like a cafeteria. On my way I was eyed hard for about fifty meters by three guys smoking cigarets and drinking vodka, one dressed in a suit. This was at noon on a Thursday. I saw a woman outside the cafeteria and told her the semi-truth that I found the kitten wandering outside the hospital and wanted to know if he was theirs. She flashed a kind smile and told me to set him down outside and that there were other kittens there. I asked her if she’d give him any food and she smiled again and said yes.
I cannot stress how good that interaction was for my heart, and started walking back home feeling light and good all around. Then Hey you there? Hey you? What do you think you’re doing? I turned around to see where the anger was coming from. It was from the three that were drinking, the older man in the suit. I walked slowly toward him, Excuse me, I asked, What’s the problem? He narrowed his piggish eyes at me and puffed his fatness up to his full height. Take it away now, take the kitten away! What are you doing leaving kittens here? Take it away! He was yelling and he smelled, but I tried to explain to him that I found the kitten by the hospital and that I didn’t want it to get hit in the street. He kept yelling. I explained to him that I was an American and that I don’t have a home here, so I couldn’t take the kitten with me. He kept yelling and turned around to get another drink. Then I was done, I was tired of people being angry and mean. I grabbed him and spun him around to face me, I found this kitten in your (English swear words) hospital!! I’m not from here, I’m here as a guest!! This kitten is not mine, and will not affect your life!! Now stop (more English swear words) talking to me!!
I came home depressed at the prospect of spending another year of my life in this country. I mean, I had even thought about killing the kitten just to end its suffering, because every one else seemed content to just let the little guy die a long slow death. My host mom later told me that she’d put him by the dog on purpose. Ugh. Oh, and later that night everyone was laughing about this guy in a village close by who got drunk the other week and ate four or five kittens because he thought they were stuffed cabbage (galupsie). I get the dark humor, but in the face of the lack of empathy and the worst societal drinking that I have ever seen, it wasn’t funny to me.