Monday, July 6, 2009

In Irkutsk, finally

Hello, everyone, and my warmest regards from Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia! It has been a long time since I last posted, so I'll try to explain the events of the past five days (really, it's only been five days?) as well as I can at this hour.

I was in Yekaterinburg for three days sort of, two full days in reality, with these two lovely people: Ksenia on the left (my right) and Nastya on the right (the tall one - 6 centimeters taller than me!). This is a picture we took at the train station, right before I stepped on to the worst experience of my whole life - ah, but that comes later.

I stayed at Nastya's house for four nights, where I recieved generosity and hospitality unmatched by anyone I've ever stayed with before. She lives there with her mother, a dog named Daisy (say it with a Russian accent), and a cat named Basia, which makes two animals named Basia that I've met here so far. Nastya was an incredible person, full of energy and good will, and really easy to talk to, despite the language barrier. I felt toally comfortable being her guest, and found that I could understand what she was saying - and respond in a meaningful, comprehensible way - about 85-90% of the time. The gratitude I have for her is beyond explanation. Below is a picture of us on my last night in Yekaterinburg, wearing matching hats. Ksenia had bought one in America and one in Russia, but they really were the same hat. She claims that they were from the same factory in China.

The picture itself was taken at Ksenia's flat, my true host, my Russian TA from Oberlin. It was incredible to be shown around her home town, chatting in Russian and English, and becoming true friends. Below is a picture of me and Quentin, Ksenia's cat, probably the sweetest cat in the entire world.

Ksenia served an incredible dinner the last night I was there, which featured authentic Russian salatiy, an incredible cheese pie, and planbir, the traditional Russian ice cream. We also watched Cheburashka, an old Russian cartoon, in English, which was abolutely hilarious. I had seen them all before in Russian, which was much more comprehensible and cute - the English was truly entertaining, though. It was a fantastic night.

Then came the train ride. I was forced to buy second class cupe tickets after all, because the platscart tickets were all sold out, and I ended up in a four-bunk cabin with three Russians, Vladimir featured above. The knife is mine; he is preparing to cut the block of fat sitting on the table next to him - see it, the one that looks like a loaf of bread? It was probably the worst 53 hours of my life, but they're over.

Now I'm in the Penguin Hostel in Irkutsk, enjoying the company of some very kind volunteers from both Russia and America, and a giant white rabbit named Kroshk. (Picture to come.) Below is a picture of the city that I took at dusk from the balcony of our 10th-story flat near the central market of the city.

Irkutsk is a beautiful and distinctive city, with a lot of old wooden architecture and a complicated sprawl that doesn't resemble the other cities that I've visited. I'm eager to learn more about the city and its history in the next few days. My first project begins on July 9th, in three days, and will feature the temperate rainforest on the other bank of the Lake. I've already met one other member of the team, a professor from New York, and the leader of the project, who seems quite lovely herself. I'm excited to be here and looking forward to visa registration, encephalitis vaccination, and attempting to cash traveller's cheques tomorrow.

All the best from the Wild, Wild East, and happy to finally be on solid ground!

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