March has arrived and the weather forecast says “bitterly cold.” The boys laugh. When it is this warm in Ulan-Ude, we go cross-country skiing. So far even on the mornings when the temp is well below zero (F), we still walk to school.
Our quick trip to Russia at the end of December/beginning of January seems like it existed in a different reality. Trying to answer when people ask about those two weeks is difficult. In one word: intense.
After two nights sitting on airplanes, we arrived at the Ulan-Ude airport in the deep darkness of a winter morning. Although Darin and Ryan were still wearing their travel sandals, they skipped out into the -35 C cold with only sweatshirts on. As we all stood around the van with our bags and bundles, the unlocking mechanism’s battery failed, so the van could be turned on, but we couldn’t open the doors until someone ran back into the airport and bought a new battery. We shivered and waited while billows of car exhaust hoovered in the air as too many vehicles tried to find their way through the tangle of people, bags and taxis to the exit. Once the new battery was installed, there was still the question of how to turn off the alarm and Alan ended up jumping inside to work on it while the rest of us stood in the now less-crowded parking lot and looked up at the display of Siberian stars. Finally we were all seated, luggage piled in around us, and headed home to the city. Of course, when the temperature is that low most of the heat has to go on the windshield to keep it from frosting over, but we were all too travel weary and too deliriously happy to be home to be bothered by our feet freezing for another 45 minutes.
Except for Kandid who drove the van and 8-year-old Lina who came with him, the rest of our teammates were waiting in our apartment with a breakfast feast. Joyful conversations filled every inch of space as we caught up on one anothers’ lives. As the morning wore on, some people left, but others stayed and helped us begin the huge job of packing up our belongings.
The packing part took every spare part of almost every day we were there. By the time we left two weeks later, everything we owned except a few bare pieces of furniture had been packed in to our bedroom. How strange to see our sofa standing on end alongside the fridge, washing machine and stove in our bedroom. But with all that put away, our place was ready to really become home to our teammates while we are gone.
The other part of our time was relationships. We had great times connecting with many special people. Each night we were exhausted beyond words, but each morning we were back to full speed with packing and visiting. Each moment, each hug, each laugh and each tear shared with the people we love felt like it was being engraved into my heart. We were so glad to be there to celebrate the holidays.
In the midst of everything else, we took a few hours to be family and celebrate on December 25. The boys will remember 2013 as the year we did not “have” Easter or Christmas. The Russian Orthodox Church follows the old style calendar, so the entire country celebrates Christmas on January 7 (see http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/evans/his241/Notes/Calendar.html for more info). Technically, we did have Christmas in 2013, but it was in January of last year! Due to this same calendar discrepancy, the date for Orthodox Easter can be different, too. Anyway, we made our special trek up “Easter Hill” behind our house on that morning.
The hill is actually just the closest of several high, rugged hills around the city. We named it Easter Hill because usually that is the first day we go up it in the spring. In winter, we had only climbed it as far as the washed out road. This time we went all the way.
The loose snow came up nearly to our knees. The air was so dry that the flakes were crispy, falling away from each other like piles of sand. Alan and I went up the final ridge ahead of the boys and quickly hid 9 bright colored plastic Easter eggs. We have hidden these eggs up there in all seasons and all weather, though this was the first time to do it in snow. Each boy was told what color eggs he was to look for. The bitter cold breeze made it hard to keep searching. In the end, we had to laughingly give up on finding the last egg.
Inside the eggs were Russian coins. We had a game to play and some Christmas gifts in our backpack, too, but the bite of the wind and three hours outside already, drove us quickly back down the hill to the welcome warmth of our apartment. Another great memory made. And fun gifts to play with…after a late lunch, a few hours of visiting people and a little more packing…
And that seems to be all the pictures I have time to find today….Happy 2014…Or maybe now it’s about time to say Happy March 8! (Do people on this side of the ocean know what that means?)