I think I threw out my back the other day. Got up and dug out potatoes, had lunch, then split and stacked wood all afternoon. One of my best days in Kazakhstan, despite the stupidity for throwing out my back. The sun beat down on the asphalt that I occasionally bit my axe into, and it didn’t let up until late in the evening. After an hour, the steel handle was slick with my sweat and I started to fade. When I got tired, the whole thing struck me as absurd. I was using energy from food that got its energy from the sun to chop wood that grew using the same energy from the sun so that I could burn the energy this winter in order to keep my own energy from freezing. And chopping wood is probably the most basic thing I can do besides eat and reproduce.
As the second or third hour wore on (I’m still not sure how long it took), I adjusted my form. I set the little pieces up in rows of seven or eight and walked down the line chopping at them crookedly. For the big stumps, I swung the axe one-handed to get the rotation behind my back, caught it over my head, adjusted to dad’s safety stance, and then jump slammed it into the wood before falling on the axe for support. I am overwhelmed with empathy for those suffering from back pain.
On Thursday the 25th of August I moved from my temporary home into my latest residence. I was bumming out when I woke up because I really liked the family I was living with and would have loved to finish my service there if they just had an extra room. So I went running. Emotional running can mess you up, and that morning I did it good. After my warmup I went right into a five by five workout that I used to do. Five minutes as fast as you can go, then five minutes recovery; not a hard workout unless you’re stupid and out of shape. After four minutes I tasted pink, like I was eating my lungs. Then I jogged for five minutes, dangerous due to the illusion of recovery. On my next set I tasted pink again, a little more and a little earlier. I’m a slow learner.
During my recovery minutes I noticed that I was running through golden, waist-high wheat. So beautiful. The wind blew the heavy tops back and forth and it looked like the whole field was dancing to an orchestra of rustling feathers. I note the melodrama but I couldn’t care less, because sometimes life is so beautiful it’s mind-blowing. Then I started my next set and ate some more of my lungs.
Moving in went smoothly except for my rice bag splitting as I got it in the door. I took it be a good sign. I helped put in a new TV, organized my things, and then passed out on my pullout couch.
The next day I headed into Petro for a three-day weekend and end-of-summer party with all of the volunteers from our oblast. The city is always an adventure, lots of food, cooking, karaoke, and wine. When I can, I go to the nearest store and find the one bottle of dry red that they have for the odd foreigner who comes in. Other options are terrible beer, sweet wine, cognac, and vodka. I’m slowly learning the uncomfortable dance with vodka; eat your food, take your shots slowly, and be the first to stop drinking. This meant that my duets to Baby and Womanizer were done inexcusably sober.
I had a good time, but I was glad to be back on Monday, I wanted to meet the new woman in my life and adjust to my new digs. Galina is a 58 year-old grandmother who is just about to get pension, which means that in fifteen days we will be seeing a lot more of each other. Her house is small, airy, open, with a good vibe. There are old lady things all around, but for some reason it works. (note: “old lady things” is a reflection on the items, and in no way implies that being 58 makes one an old lady) We have bright kitchen, two bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom, a dog named Sharik, and a kitten named Murka.
Kittens are disgustingly cute. Something about the way that they run, or just kind of jump around makes it hard not to pick them up and nibble on them. This one is a princess who thinks she can speak human, and although I’m completely under her spell, I’m working on setting boundaries. Every time I lay down my ratty Lion King blanket to do push ups and sit ups, she plops right down in the middle wanting to play or cuddle. This usually ends in cuddling.
The dog is another story. For the first three days I was here Sharik would literally froth at the mouth every time he saw me, pulling at the end of his chain so hard that I thought he was going to choke himself. The one time that I accidentally got close to him, he bolted behind his dog house, snarling and hiding with spittle running down his snout. When I asked, Galina said that he was a lost cause and that I shouldn’t bother, because he acts the same with her brother who’s been coming over regularly for years. When I said that he seemed more afraid than anything, and she told me how she found her drunk neighbor beating Sharik with a pole in her yard one day after coming home from work, he stumbled back through the fence saying he was looking for his chickens.
I figured that I would just start by talking to him every day when I went by, giving him food, and being as nonthreatening as possible. I bragged that we would be friends in two weeks and I’d be petting him in three. By day six, I’d completely won him over. I like our new friendship, but I’ve cooled off a bit because he smells like a biffy full of dead animals. Big heart though.
Then I got to thinking, why am I so much more patient and understanding with animals than I am with people. I’ve dismissed people for far less than snarling at me and threatening to rip my throat out, but in the last month I’ve made friends with two dogs who’ve treated me like a t-bone. I’m not sure why this is, but I suppose it has something to do with the fact that dogs are so different from me. It’s sad that it appears as though similarity makes it harder to be compassionate, although it kind of explains things. I mean why in the world would Americans keep buying into Tea Party bullshit, ehm I meant rhetoric, that screws over their most needy countrymen. Actually all of us, but it’s hard to imagine that all the lower to middle-income whites, ehm I mean voters, would knowingly vote against their own interests.
The tragedy is that we seem to have so little compassion for our fellow citizens that instead of stopping to see the clouds in the paper, we automatically assume the paper magically appeared and manifested itself the way it did because it wanted to. What I’m trying to say is that I need reflect on the fact that I accepted that Sharik acted the way that he did because of reasons out of his control, and although I didn’t appreciate his behavior, I didn’t blame him and leave it at that, I showed him a little compassion every day and hoped that he would change. But people do this all the time with animals and rarely with other people, because we/I tend to focus on the behavior instead of the reasons for it, or even the end result. How cool would it be if I could stop and treat one person the way that I treated that dog, or if we as a human race could start looking at each other that way. Fuck, even if we get nowhere, it just feels better.
But enough on the moralizing, as my little brother always reminds me.
After lunch on Monday, Galina asked me if I could try to fix the plumbing in our bathroom and install a new faucet and euro-shower head. I’ve never done anything like it in my life so of course I said yes. The initial plumbing luckily only needed some tightening and new washers, and I figured I would just memorize how the old stuff went out before installing the replacements. It worked too well and now I’m worried that she has an unrealistic sense of my abilities.
It’s a different life now, and I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but I like it. On Tuesday I helped Galina pick cherries from the top of our cherry tree, and the ones she’s didn’t preserve in jam she put in a bowl and drowned in sugar. Although I have my own space and appreciate it, it’s also nice to sit back and have tea with her, learning about her life, this town, and just a different slice of life. She’s broken down twice during conversation, and I’m choosing to look at it as a good sign instead of a mental health indicator. All in all, I couldn’t be happier with my new home.