It’s over. I have returned west.
One hundred days in Russia comes hand in hand with one hundred stories to tell; and yet no hundred thousand words could do justice to the country and its people. Still, I would like to give you one more snapshot of Siberia, before we travel together through Moscow to Austria.
It was a long day in Siberia. It began before the sun rose: we left our halls of residence at half past eight in the morning, without even a glimmer of daylight to greet us (the clocks don’t go back in Russia). Snow had fallen again in the night, and the wind had covered up the workmen’s efforts of the previous day to clear the path: we trudged through knee-deep snow, still half-asleep, not at all ready to face an hour and a half of Russian grammar.
Now it’s five o’clock in the afternoon and already dark, and I don’t want to go outside again where the temperature has dropped once more from the little warmth gained during the day. But at seven o’clock is my cross-country skiing training session, and it will take over an hour to get there: rush hour is worse than ever since the snow arrived. So I wrap up warm (two pairs of tights, two pairs of leggings, two t-shirts, two jumpers, two scarves… you get the idea) and steal myself to confront the crowded bus and the cold.
Several hours later, I return to my room tired, hungry and so happy.
You might already know that sport is an important part of my life. It gives me routine. It makes me feel good. And in a new place such as Siberia, this helps me feel settled. I am therefore so grateful for the opportunity I had to take up cross-country skiing; so glad I persevered in spite of the language difficulties, the darkness, the cold. Thankfully, the training sessions also took place in daylight, and this was the time to marvel at the outstanding beauty of the woods enveloped in a robe of silver.
Cross-country skiing helped carry me through. And then it was time to bid farewell.
Goodbyes are always hard. Does it hurt less the older you get? Does your heart become colder the more goodbyes you say? You spend time somewhere; you build up relationships – and then you leave. Goodbyes are especially hard when faced with unanswerable questions regarding the finality of the parting. Tomsk is a long way away, and who knows if I will even return? Yet somehow, instead of coming away feeling empty, I was blessed with goodbyes that left me feeling content.
The final goodbye: my friend Polina invited me to her family’s home for dinner on my last evening in Tomsk. She had sent me a message earlier in the day: ‘I don’t know whether you like surprises, so I will forewarn you. Today we are going to mine. My dad has promised to cook something tasty.’ However, I never received this message, so when I met her at half six it was nonetheless a surprise to find that we weren’t just going for a walk as usual. For me, though, the unexpected pleasures are all the more special for not being anticipated.
We chatted, we exchanged presents, we played with her little brother. First mini bowling, and then he tried to explain a second game to me, but burst into tears when I couldn’t understand him. We explained that I am all the way from England and don’t speak Russian fluently, and he stared at me thoughtfully. ‘If you don’t understand, then I will repeat,’ he said, and held up one finger: ‘but I will only repeat once.’
We ate and ate, and ate some more. Polina’s dad fulfilled his promise, and had even made his own chocolate; he watched as I tried it, and pressed on me a selection to take home upon seeing that I, too, thought it was delicious. Then we played charades. I had not laughed so much or so freely in a long time.
Without doubt, a story of joy. There are many others, ninety-nine at least: but they will have to wait for another day.