Monday, June 6, 2016

Travel Log: Days Nineteen, Twenty, and Twenty-One

Courtney in front of the Dacha
Shukhudrinovo, Russia 6/3-5/2016

                 This weekend was one of our less structured ones; it was more about relaxing and experiencing rural life in Russia than about going to a lot of places and doing a lot of things, so I'm going to make one blog post detailing the highlights of the weekend.
Ehtna doing some manual labor
     In order to even begin to think about the great time we had in Shukhudrinovo, I have to first fight through memories of the mosquitoes. I thought I knew about mosquitoes. I thought I'd seen the worst mosquitoes had to offer. I thought I'd already walked through Mosquito Hell in the summer of 2014 and come out the other side, itchy, scarred, with significantly less blood, but stronger, and unafraid. I never anticipated how wrong I was. Russian mosquitoes are the worst things in the entire world, enormous monsters that will stop at nothing to make your legs look like a topographical map of the US. These suckers are at least twice as big as their American cousins, and exponentially more clever: they're harder to catch, harder to kill, and know exactly where that one door in your dacha isn't completely sealed and how to get in and wreak havoc. Also, while the pests with which I am familiar are usually active primarily in the mornings and in the evenings, these suckers are on the hunt 24/7; bug spray was a necessity at all times, and I would manage to kill at least 8 mosquitoes before falling asleep at night, with the sound of their wings buzzing in my ears.
Dog friends!
                 Other than that, this weekend was great! It was more relaxing while still requiring a lot of team effort (we had to make our own meals and do all the cleaning; we also hauled a lot of logs and helped Andrei out around the house), and we got to learn a lot about rural life in Russia. Andrei, an acclaimed history teacher, was a veritable fountain of knowledge, and told us about everything from the history of the region to ancient Russian family life to how thread is made from sheep's wool. He was also a really funny guy, always ready with a joke or a story, and went to great lengths to make sure we were comfortable and happy. His love for teaching and hosting and serving the people in his neighborhood was evident, in how wonderfully he treated us, in his friendships with all the neighborhood kids, in his great concern for the work he did and for the little village's survival. He showed us around all weekend, taking us on bike rides and on a tour of a nearby farm, and had us make a Powerpoint of his many pictures from our stay, making us promise to keep up our international friendship after we leave Russia.
The neighborhood kids! Prokhor
on the left

                     He is also a very talented man; one of the two masterclasses we got to participate in this weekend was in woodcarving, which is his favorite hobby. The little dacha was decorated all over with carvings of various animals and people, and we, along with a bunch of the children from the neighborhood, all got to sand and paint some kind of pre-made sculpture (mine was a rooster). It was the second time we got to be creative that weekend; on Friday one of our first activities was a master class in toy making, in which we made a little clay chicken that whistles. We were all very skeptical as to whether we could actually get our creations to make sound, but with time (and a lot of help from the teacher) we ended up with a little chorus of toy roosters. These classes played into a big theme of rural life in Russia, which is making things by hand: we also got to talk with a woman who makes much of her own clothing and sells her knitting at fairs, and a woman, Masha, who taught us how to make thread from wool.
Clay chicken before 
Clay chicken after
                    The neighborhood kids were a blast as well; like I mentioned, they hung around the house all the time, joining us for tea and playing with us. Prokhor, a small 13-year-old boy, befriended us and came around to hang out with us a couple times; he was a funny kid, he and I formed a little friendly rivalry through a couple games of Monopoly. He had a little bit of a troubled past, Andrei told us: his parents got into a violent fight right after he was born, his mother stabbed his father, and, though the two are still together, they are alcoholics, and it is not a happy home. It is good that Andrei is around for Prokhor to be able to be in a happier environment for some of the day. A lot of the other kids only spoke Russian and therefore were pretty shy at first, but eventually we found common ground in the little litter of puppies that one of Andrei's dogs had about a month ago.
The babushka we got to speak with
                      One of the coolest and most humbling moments happened on Saturday, when a local babushka came to visit and talk with us, along with her daughter and her friend. This woman, 87, had been taken hostage by the Nazis when they invaded Russia during World War II, and would've been taken all the way to Germany to be a slave if the Russian forces wouldn't have rescued her and others with her in Belarus. She was an incredible woman, but the starvation and abuse she faced was horrifying; she teared up while telling how hard it was during this time, how they weren't allowed the clothing to stay warm in the winter, how her and the other children would have to dig through the trash to find the food leftover from the dogs, how many men she saw die during battle and how near she and others in her situation came to just being shot and killed. Almost everyone she knew died, and after she was rescued she grew up alone in an orphanage. Despite all these horrors, she started out the talk telling us how important being good people was, how family is the greatest joy in life and how hard work, hope, and faith are the keys to living a long, happy life (she was also an extremely loud, fiery woman; while she was telling us all this she was mostly shouting and repeatedly slamming her fist on the table, it was awesome). She spoke of how grateful she was that God sent the Russian army to save her and get her through this ordeal, and then how much joy she got in the family and life God gifted her with after the war. When I asked whether it was difficult to keep her faith throughout all she went through and during the communist regime, she responded with a simple 'Nyet.' It was incredibly inspiring to see someone go through unimaginable circumstances and retain their hope and passion for life.
                   A final great thing about this weekend was all the time we got to spend together as a group. Like I said, we had to cook all of our meals and wash all the dishes by hand, and as such ended up working as a team quite a bit. We also got to end both nights just sitting and laughing and talking in the girls room, which was a blast. I'm really happy to have gotten such a great, easy-to-get-along-with group of people to go on this trip with.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful blog, especially the part the babushka shared about her experiences. Absolutely amazing to hear of her resolve in the midst of horrific circumstances.