Since I got back to site on Monday, the weather’s felt like the dead of a Minnesota winter, and as I walked home today with the cold wind blowing snow this way and that, I marveled at my adaption to Siberia. My fur hood keeps the cold wind off my face, I skate the roads like a babushka, I heat my own pechka, I speak Russian, and so hence therefor and so on and so forth, I am finally, no longer, a complete baby. Last year I was rarely delighted with my life, last year when it snowed in October, I thought “oh shit, here goes four months of hell.” But when I arrived home on Monday afternoon, coming off a week-long trip of crazy down south, my change of attitude shocked me. Little things like seeing people in the street, teaching, and jogging home from boxing with a fresh loaf of bread curled in my arm like a football, that all just seems awesome now.
I’ll write about my odyssey to Almaty in sections, sticking as much to the story as appropriate. So here goes, and I guess it makes senses to start at the beginning, a Saturday night snowstorm. My train ticket was for 11 pm, scheduled to arrive in Almaty on Monday morning. A cold snow storm was ripping through Petropavlovsk, making the old Soviet city harshly beautiful. After getting a questionable haircut from my favorite stylist, I met two friends for the only good dark beer on tap in this entire country. Coming off a pretty severe cold, I let them do most of the talking in our train station bar, and just tried to eat meat chunks and drink beer without coughing or making disgusting noises with my nose. It was pleasant, and I got on the train and passed out.
The next morning I got a better look at my section companions and noticed that it was a Russian father and son, another Russian guy, and a Kazakh babushka. I’m talking ethnicities (whatever that means), they were all citizens of Kazakhstan. The men were unusually civilized and compassionate for men, and we were all treated to a holiday breakfast by the Muslim babushka, it was the first day of Kurban Eid. I’m not really a fan of the moral behind the story of Abraham offering to sacrifice his son, but the holiday itself manifested in a pleasant multi-cultural breakfast, always a treat.
Two unfortunate things followed. First, halfway to Almaty in the former-gulag city of Karaganda, the single Russian man was replaced by a Kazakh man with a penchant for beer and salted fish. He was harmless, but he stank and was irritating. The fish didn’t help. The second unfortunate event was that I had a completely inappropriate thought while standing by the bathroom. I was listening to music and staring out the window when the this thought just popped into my head: “Taylor Swift is the musical voice of our generation.” Don’t know where that came from, but the feeling was uncomfortably sincere. Then I started reading Little Women