Sunday, September 6, 2009

Giraffe travels for Dima!

So, lots has happened since I first landed in Colorado several weeks ago. Here's a recap of some recent journeys, with pictures of my new giraffe friend for Димачка back in the Motherland!

After spending about a week at home in Colorado, I hopped on a train to Arizona. Here's a (rather blurry) picture of the Denver train station, one of the most beautiful train stations in America.

This picture was taken in Raton, New Mexico, halfway between Denver and Flagstaff, my final destination.

The ultimate destination, of course, was the Болшой канён (probably spelling that wrong), better known to Americans as the Grand Canyon.

The trip was amazing, lots of good adventures and nights in the forest. Here's a picture of giraffe friend on the way back, enjoying a cup of complimentary Amtrak tea. (Again, failing to rotate the picture; my apologies.)

And, going home after the great adventure, feeling sad but excited to be going back to Oberlin!

I'm in Oberlin now, working and going to class and all the rest. Stay tuned for the announcement of the final presentation in Russian House, hopefully some time in the next two weeks. And hello to Dima! Привет, Дима!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Final project recap, and home safe!

Greetings from the mountain plains of Aurora, CO! I've been home safe in the U.S. for more than 24 hours now, and though the jetlag has hit me pretty hard, things have been going fairly well. Here's some photos and details from my last project, as promised, with more summary to follow in the next few days. Also, look for an announcement about my presentation in Russian House some time in September!

My final two-week project was located a few kilometers north of the summer village of Bolshie Kotiy, whose name alternatively means "Big Clogs" or "Big Cats," depending on who you're talking to. It was a work-camp gold mine during the Gulag era, and now houses rich бизнезмены from Irkutsk during their summer holidays. Below is a photo of our work site, where we built a set of 33 stairs from the existing trail to the lakeshore below, turning the course of the trail away from a dangerous ridgeline trail to the much more safe rock steps built by a previous project this summer.

Building stairs is even harder than it sounds, because as you build you have to carry materials higher and higher up the steps you have already built. By the end of the project, no one was willing to carry more than two or three bags aof gravel a day because it involved so much effort. The hard work was worth it, however, as at the end of the project we had transformed an extremely dangerous slope into a passable series of steps acceptable for backpackers. Though the stairs will no doubt require maintenance as soon as next summer, we're glad to know that the brunt of the work is now completed.

In addition to the work we did on the trail, there was time for a lot of good times at camp this time around. We had three days of hard rain, two of which were my cooking days, which was hellish but funny in retrospect. About halfway through the project, I had a long-awaited haircut on the beach. An fuzzy rainy-day photo is shown below.

I also had the chance to visit my second campsite on one of our holidays. It was a long walk, but totally worth it for both the scenery and for seeing Dima, pictured below. Though we had rough spots at times, Dima has grown to be one of my favorite acquantainces from the trip. He's got a great personality and a sense of humor filtered through beautifully limited English. We had a nice cold lunch on a cloudy day, which will do until I can host him somewhere else in the world.

Here's a photo of one of my last looks at the Lake - hard to believe even now, more than halfway around the world, that I won't wake up tomorrow morning to hear waves crashing on its shores. I camped on Baikal for 21 days, and I experienced at least 21 different lakes. I drank gallons and gallons of its water, and no doubt a fair amount of my own body is carrying its mass around this desert landscape in the Rocky Mountains... and, slowly, it is adjusting to its new watershed and transforming accordingly.

I'm missing Russia desperately, and my friends there even more. Something tells me I won't be able to stay away for very long. After the trauma of a 36-hour travel day on Tuesday, however, I think I'll have to find a way to make the travel really worthwhile again, by an extended stay and a worthwhile cause. I'm looking forward to the adventures that lay ahead, in all shapes and sizes, and slowly adjusting to the realities of Home.

Thanks for reading, everyone - there will be a few more posts, so stay tuned for updates! And of course, if you're in the US, give me a call! It's crazy to be so connected again, but I'm trying to make the most of it by having those valuable conversations that were impossible this summer. Much love!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Last day in Russia!

Hello everyone! Just got back from a fantastic project near Bolshie Koty, building over 30 steps from the lakeshore to the trail above. I'm feeling exhausted, but strong, and proud of the things I've accomplished while here. Unfortunately, my camera doesn't appear to be connecting to my computer, and I'm trying to be as budget-minded as possible on this irrational final-moment day here in Irkutsk, so I think I'll keep this entry brief - look forward to more updates from Stateside. Wish me luck with my 32 hours of travel time tomorrow (all tomorrow, thanks to the International Date Line) and the recovery period before returning to Oberlin in a few short days. Sending all my love, and looking forward to seeing/talking with you soon!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dacha visit, new project!

In Irkutsk today, preparing for my third and final project on the Lake... helped some American ladies around the city who arrived by train this morning from Mongolia. Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting a Russian дача (dacha) with a volunteer from Angarsk.

We travelled there in a Japanese car that had been recently stolen by the Russian mafia - and therefore we were at a high risk for being stopped by the police. Nadya and I were crammed in the backseat behind a camping mattress and my airline banket, peeking out to give directions and catch a glimpse of the scenery.

Here is the dacha, which Nadya's family built themselves, about 70 kilometers south of Angarsk. The energy of the place is stunning; it's a true home.

Here is a picture of part of the garden, which was vast and bountiful with things to eat. We ate more greens than I've ever seen in my life over the course of 15 hours.

Here is Nadya and her Babushka, by the prized flower garden in front of the house. They have an incredibly close family, though it's normal for Russians to be cross-generationally close. I was amazed at everything I saw - an incredible serendipitous visit that I can't imagine missing.

Tomorrow it's back to Bolshie Koty - looking forward to sharing stories once I'm back in the U.S.!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Back from English Camp!

Hello again from the Irkutsk Penguin Hostel, where I am spending a few days relazing before my next project which begins in three short days. I came home early from the Eco-English camp project, located about 9 kilometers north of Listvyanka, because I needed some time to gather my wits before the completion of my time here. And so I am here, in the quiet, quiet hostel, enjoying some privacy and some peace.

I was recently informed that my blog is now linked to the Oberlin blog - so to all you prospective Obies, welcome! I added a link to the much-underused (and long unedited) website for OCREECAS, the fund that provided me with a grant for this summer's work, which you should definitely check out as a huge available resource for you if you are at all interested in travelling, working, and learning more about Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. I'm not a REES major myself, in case you were worried about pressure to major in Russian in order to get funds.

I have no pictures for you as of yet; unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries early in the trip and I have yet to procure them from shops in town. The region we were living in was one of the most biologically diverse regions that I've ever seen, as well as one of the most beautiful - it was easy to see over 30 species of wildflowers in half a kilometer of trail, or 10 species of butterflies in one place, often landing on your hands or face, on sunny days by the lake. We camped right on the shore, which was a powerful experience, though not quite powerful enough to overcome my sense of disorderly boredom that eventually drove me back to the city. The project was frustratingly run, with little organization and no real role for me as a native speaker of English, and though I had fun teaching lessons about America - more contradancing and singing were involved, as well as a spontaneous rendition of "Cotton Eye Joe" - I found that my experiences this time around weren't expecially rewarding.

In three days I embark on a new journey in the same national park, this time just a few kilometers north of Bolshiye Koty, though the project will have a similar feel to my first project, clearing trails and doing purely physical labor with a mixed group of Russians and foreigners. I think it will be better for me to be in a situation where I am not the only native English speaker, and especially where my ability to speak English isn't the focus of my volunteering. The new friends I made were really great, and I look forward to seeing them here in a few short days... and for now, some rest.

Stay tuned for updates, possibly pictures, and lots of love from Siberia!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pictures! And an update.

In Irkutsk now, spending a night in the Penguin Hostel and enjoying mjy last few moments with my friends from my first project in Tanhoi. My next project is the Eco-English camp, which I thought was a program for children, but as it turns out, I will be helping out with the education of five native Russians in addition to being a loval native expert for sign translation and lesson planning for future projects. I'm fairly disappointed, but hoping that it will be a productive project in which I learn a lot and make good connections for the future.

Here are some pictures from the previous project that I wanted to share with you. The first is of me working on the trail that we built - a full 175 meters of fresh trail through the temperate rainforest along the Southeastern shore of the lake. This is me with a shovel, digging into the light brown earth there.

This is a picture of our river, the Ocanovka, or Aspen, River. It was perfectly clear and absolutely drinkable for Russians and foreigners alike.

Here is a picture taken over the village of Tanhoi, about 9 kilometers' hike from our campsite. This is a sunset over Lake Baikal on our first night out of the woods.

And, of course, here is a picture of our team, bananas in hand as bananaphones on the shoreline on our last day together.

It has been an incredible experience so far, and I'm looking forward to more fun times on the lake in the next ten days. Look forward to more updates, probably at the end oа this project and in the days to follow... missing America lots, and excited to be home soon!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Hello my dearest fans,

I write to you from an Internet Cafe in the city of Ulan-Ude, capital of Buryatia, two days away from the beginning of my SECOND project, which is truly hard to believe. The project I just finished, "In the Jungles of Khamar-Daban" near the village of Tanhoi, was absolutely spectacular. I don't have a cord for my camera, which is sad, because I have lots of incredible photos, but here's some brief highlights to hold you over until I am back in Irkutsk:

  • First day: our "marshrutka" or minibus breaks down on the highway, and we don't make it to our campsite until 10 pm, with no dinner and after 9 kilometers of hiking, and having to set up camp
  • Living and working in temperate rainforest for two weeks, by the cleanest, sweetest, most beautiful river I've ever seen
  • Swimming daily, sunbathing after lunch, and sun almost every day
  • Teaching 9 Russians to contradance on American night
  • Singing "Bananaphone" over and over again to the delight of my campmates, leading to the title "BananaSan"
  • Chopping down 20 trees in a day, and helping clear 175 meters of trail over the course of the project with only shovels and pickaxes for us to use
  • Having a Russian kiss my boot during an awkward ice-breaking game
  • My largest injury: a sliced finger from a rainy-day attempt at a carved spoon (not a recommended activity for the weak of heart)
  • Swimming in Baikal, eating fresh-caught "omul" (the Baikal fish) and sunbathing for our last day together
All in all, it was a life-changing experience. I made incredible friends, did lots of hard work, and simply had an incredible time. Now I have two days with new friends in the city of Ulan-Ude, home of the world's largest head of Lenin in addition to an incredibly interesting community of Russians and Buryats living together in an urban environment. I'm really excited for the adventures ahead, and looking forward to writing more to you from this big, beautiful country!

C liobovio iz Rossia! With love from Russia!