Posts tagged “Russia

Glimpses of Slaughter and Silence

Posted on 20 November 2016

There was a wall before me. I ran my hands along it. I peered over it. I spent months perched on top, dangling my feet over the edge, observing. I scraped my elbows and palms, gathering glimpses at foreboding pasts and awful alternative presents, collecting calluses. The wall is cracking beneath my palms. Genocide seems far away. Even when standing on its grounds, an inexperienced mind, sans memories, isn’t elastic enough to fully accept this truth. When I was there, I tried, I really did. I looked at everyone my age and older: Which side were you on? What memories do you hold in your body? Around me, motortaxis zipped by. Rwanda truly felt safe to me. Reconciling pleasant Kigali with what I knew…

Endless, Expanding Returns

Posted on 1 April 2016

Some places tug. This can be a problem: there’s a line strung between places known and unknown, and you can only set yourself at one point on this line. I stumble, here. I visit places for the first time and it only entices me to learn more. This year, in less than three months after returning from Myanmar, I’ve already read three books on the country. I visit a place again, and only get sucked in deeper. I studied abroad in Saint Petersburg, and years later returned to Russia by way of Irkutsk. This year, I’ve also read three books on Russia and keep scheming up adventures for far-flung corners. And then there’s Finland: I’ve been seven times and am looking forward to my…

Scratch at the Surface

Posted on 11 March 2016

About a month ago, I was sitting in a theater, surrounded mostly by fellow U.S.-Americans, all of us concentrating on the people sitting on stage: namely, Maria Alyokhina and Ksenia Zhivago of Pussy Riot, promoter Alexander Cheparukhin, and translator Mariana Markova. I had bought my tickets for this event something like half a year prior, and “the girls” and their witty, sharp, and compassionate answers did not disappoint. Pussy Riot: the name alone suggests a spectacle to native English speakers in its crassness. I’m sure some people came out of that curiosity, and others out of a genuine interest (and concern) for them. Others for sure came out of a Russia connection: studies, a friend, family. The level of enthusiasm and respect for Pussy…

Kto Znayet, Who Knows

Posted on 12 October 2015

I used to walk the streets of Saint Petersburg, propelling myself forward at a strident pace. Sometimes, passerby would stop me and ask me for directions. I told them I didn’t know where I was, where I was going. I’ve seen people travel to Russia with an image in their mind. A romantic image: a dark but gorgeous, majestic place, literary geniuses winding their way through the lamp lit streets, symphony notes hovering in the air, poetry in the wind. A harsh image: never ending Soviet apartment blocks, grey sky, grey streets, grey faces, a hush all around, a terror gripping you, reaching out from every pulled-aside curtain in the window. A chaotic image: mafia men roaming the streets, lawlessness abound, money exchanges on…

2014, Mountains of Everything

Posted on 28 December 2014

Dividing the year by months perhaps isn’t the easiest thing to do. This year, more than many others, stretched and shrank; some days did not end and some weeks flew by, for better and worse, all blurry and already past. My brain was not a reliable instrument. Some things it refuses to remember clearly. What happened to me in January, in February? It is hard to say. And then, what in August, in September, in October? Too much to say. Nonetheless, I split the year into twelve parts, simply because I like lists. January. The year turned over grey. February. I couldn’t hide. Everything was bleak was seemingly endless. That’s all I’ll say. March. It began with headaches, but gradually that passed. And I…

Baltic Chain, Remembered, or History Lingers

Posted on 28 October 2014

People with flags kept passing by us. Not just Lithuanian flags, which would be slightly more expected given that I was in Vilnius, but also Estonian and Latvian flags. Then it dawned: it was August 23, 2014, the 25th anniversary of Baltic Chain. Evelina and I walked to Cathedral Square and were surrounded by people mulling about with flags in hand and television crews zipping around. A stage had been set up for events later in the day. On August 23, 1989, approximately two million people across the three Baltic states joined hands, forming a chain from Vilnius, through Riga, to Tallinn, a distance of over 400 miles (about 675 kilometers). This was a peaceful protest against Soviet rule of the Baltics and was strategically…

Lake Baikal, Wreathed and Majestic

Posted on 23 October 2014

There is a shock to your system that comes from seeing natural wonders. Maybe you know it. Your chest constricts in a good, excited way. You grin. You can’t tear your gaze away. It’s as if your eyes know that this is something extra special, and they need to lock on as long as they can, soak everything in before you’re gone again. And even when you do return, the feeling is the same. Some things are, happily, hard to get used to. It was our “rest day,” though it turned out to be more adventurous than restful. No matter! After breakfast we gathered our day packs and began the two-hour hike to the electrichka train station. We were going to the shores of Lake…

Boggy Roots Hold Tight

Posted on 18 October 2014

Mornings came early. We reluctantly emerged from our sleeping bags, quickly trying to replicate their warmth by pulling on jackets and hats. Then, unzipping the tent and brushing against the dew, we emerged into the chilly Siberian day, still a shadowy grey under the trees. Warm kasha, porridge, of some variety waited for us in a big bucket under the green kitchen area tarp, along with bread, cheese, jam, and meat slices for the non-vegetarians. I fumbled with the instant coffee and topped its bitterness off with an overly generous helping of sgushyenka, sweetened condensed milk, my favorite. My thermos kept this gloopy beverage a little too warm a little too long, and by the end I was gulping it as to not be…

Volunteering Abroad: How to Make Sure You’re Actually Helping

Posted on 14 October 2014

  Volunteering abroad can be a wonderful experience –you get to travel and do some good for the world at the same time. Win/win, right? Unfortunately, not always. I’ve learned this lesson through experience on three different continents; I have completed volunteer internships in Peru and Kenya and I just returned home from a project near Lake Baikal in Russia. All of these experiences taught me something, but some volunteer projects are more effective than others. As an international volunteer, you may be doing less good than you think – or worse, even causing harm. International development is fraught with complexity that is still debated even among experts on some points. However, there are guidelines that you can follow when choosing a volunteer project…

An Adventure Words Barely Touch

Posted on 30 September 2014

An admission: I was reluctant to write about my time in Siberia. My words aren’t good enough to encompass the experience. I’m more accustomed to internal drama, to melancholy; I have those words. But this project in its shimmering, impossibly stress free gauze—it is beyond me. An admission: It is slipping away. Though glittering flecks of it all stubbornly remain latched on to my behaviors, gradually I shed them off. I can’t help it. That’s life. Ordinary days take over again; I have things to do; I should focus on the now, anyway. But I still reach behind. Ah, there’s the melancholy. It didn’t exactly look promising, but I already knew it would be just fine. The electrichka train doors slammed shut, with half of…