Sunshine Before Winter

I wrote this entry over a period of time, so I’ll list it journal style in the way that it was written.

Saturday the 15th of October

It’s Saturday morning. I’m sitting outside in the sun and soaking up all this Indian summer has to give me. After eating plouf (rice and meat soaked in oil) and singing to Disney musicals while making my coffee, I walked outside in my slippers to read in the sun. I drank a whole pot of gas station coffee and since no one is home I stood outside for number one, enjoying the steam that rose off the night-blooming flower patch. My host mother left for a pilgrimage to Turkestan (Kazakhstan’s Mecca), or at least I thought it was an important Islamic city, but I’ve since learned that it’s sought out by all kinds of people to cure their ailments, including my orthodox Christian host mother.

Haven’t figured out religion here or anywhere yet, but from what I can see, it’s a lot like culture, makes people feel special and different from each other, but ultimately results in everybody doing the same thing. Which makes sense then that people only freak out when they corner you and you’re pressured to admit that you haven’t got religion or any other orthodoxy, including atheism, blinded by fear to the openness that your position affords them in communication.

As I notice inconsistencies like this in the people around me, I wonder what inconsistencies they see in me. Health is another obvious one, people always searching for the magic potion, incantation, place, instead of sitting in the sun, eating vegetables, and exercising. But what do I do that doesn’t make sense? Actually, doesn’t make sense might not be the right term, because that implies there’s a “sense”. I’m curious about what do I do that brings me more pain than pleasure, or what I could do that would do the opposite.

Teaching is a mind trip. Every once in a while I like to sit with the students when my counterpart is reprehendalking to them and try to feel their place again. It’s scary how easy this is to feel without even trying, just the physicality of being in one of the chairs facing the chalkboard. I want to start chair circles. Teaching is kind of like growing up again, realizing the humanity of the institution that formed you. The wasted time, the crappy lessons, the flawed people, the imperfect ideology, are all scary when I think about it. But it’s not just the teachers, in fact, I’d say they’re often the ones who fight it the hardest. It’s our society, many societies, that have decided that education is just another thing, a shitty nine to five job for those who fell short of their ambition, instead of seeing it as the infinity complicated and magical thing that it is, the development of our next generation, the strengthening of what we are as a species.

Monday the 17th of October

So the past eight days have been perfect. Nights are cool, mornings are crisp, and the sun warms into the seventies during the day. Even if we don’t have a single other day like that for the rest of the calendar year I will be grateful. Each nice day past the first of October is a gift, because it could easily be total shit and misery. Not that our citizens don’t do their best to fight paradise by burning trash, creating the illusion, or maybe not, that Sergeevka is perpetually on fire. I didn’t feel bad about sneaking an evening cigarette the other day because I figured as long as I’m inhaling smoke, I might as well get narcotics. That’s not fair I guess, to the best of my knowledge we don’t have a waste disposal system here, so you do what you do. No, screw that, it is fair, you live in a town, your kids play in a town, clean that shit up. Anyways on Sunday afternoon, I sat cross legged on a granite cliff, looking at Sergeevka a few kilometers away, just breathing, breathing the fresh air into the bottom of my lungs, drinking it.

I went for a Sunday easy run in the brown steppe and stopped at the rock formation by the river to do yoga on my way home. I was only in my purple short-shorts and I figured that as any day could be my last, in the short-shorts, at least until spring, I’m gonna be naked as much as possible. Balance poses take a whole new kind of focus when falling means fifteen feet to granite.

So the last thing that I’ll say, is that becoming a short-term home owner makes me even more appreciative of the women in this country who do everything. I’m only taking care of myself and the dog, but between cooking, cleaning, working, and heating the house, I realize how precious free time is. It’ll settle down now I’ve bought groceries I know how to cook with, but these women… I’m impressed.

Saturday the 22nd of October

I talked up the weather on Sunday and then on Tuesday it mean-mugged me. The sky was gray, the air was damp, and my clothes weren’t warm enough for the first fifteen minutes of my run. My joints were uncomfortably cold and I wanted to get out and back as quick as possible. To avoid the wind, I ran into the village, crossing the main road to the other side of town. I snaked my way through the dead grass behind our tuberculosis sanatorium, aiming for the low-slung Russian orthodox church that I’d passed once in a taxi on my way our of town. The sanatorium looked simultaneously creepy and welcoming from behind, creepy because it’s surrounded by large trees and empty buildings, welcoming because in contrast to those other buildings, it was lit up inside.

The old church was beautiful; it sat low to the earth, the fat blue onion domes barely rising above the one-story houses surrounding it. Something about the church, the domes, the old-world stonework, the small windows, or maybe it’s angular grounds setup, seemed powerfully different and exotic to me. It made me think of a Jewish more than anything else, strange because it didn’t look like any temple I’ve ever seen, but the impression was still strong.

Running around to the other side of the church, I saw the cemetery stretching back into the brush, through the poplar trees, and finally into the steppe. I’d always been curious about our cemetery and it seemed odd that I’d never come across it, Sergeevka being such a small town, but it was one of those mild curiosities that just kind of simmered in the back of my mind. Each of the graves was lined with a small iron fence, usually painted white, and although the newness of many graves was evidenced by the photo impressions on the tombstones, the cemetery itself was overgrown and abandoned looking.

I kept running through the east side of our town, possessed by a kind of elation, the elation of discovering something new in a place you thought you understood. My head swiveled back and forth as I jogged through the streets, trying to absorb the atmosphere that felt increasingly old and Russian. The Soviet asphalt was mostly still there, the streets were long and clean looking, and the houses were tiny and new to me. I felt high by the time I reached home and opened my gate, completely changed from when I locked it an hour before. Fall might have touched down only to jump right into winter, but I have a good feeling about this year.

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3 Responses to Sunshine Before Winter

  1. jan Martland says:

    Hey Collin,
    Great to read your latest entry….You may have already seen this article on your mom, but just in case…(Like mother, like son)! Your dad and is artisans put a new stone retaining wall at our house and it looks great!! You will have to stop by and see it when you get home…I think you know he put the tree in the front yard too! (I was kind of hoping he’d be open to doing a little house work over here too!!;-D) We are hoping Pat will be leaving Iraq soon, we just found out that there is a possibility that his group may need to stay in Kuwait to finish out their tour. We hope not…uugghhh! He can’t wait to get out of there and neither can we. You hang in there…love to read your writings and hear your thoughts!
    XOXO,
    Jan

    http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/wellness/132280993.html

  2. Carol Markham-Cousins says:

    Collin,
    I am reading your blog sitting in the airport in Portland realizing that it is amazing how fortunate I am. Reading your thoughts about not only the magic, but the complexity of education I realize how important it is to travel and gain perspective.
    You paint almost a different picture of Sergevka every time you write, it keeps on getting better (except for the smoke!). NO excuse to light up and smoke!!!!
    Can’t wait for our trip to Turkey. I will call soon.
    love you much,
    mom

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