Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Creating Unusual Harmonies to Peter Paul and Mary's "All My Trials, Lord"...

... while your host family listens confusedly from below: A complete guide to winning popularity. I know that I already published one post today. I'm terribly sorry for this, but as you may have noticed, most of my writing described the events of Wednesday. It is now Monday--almost a week from then--and besides, you still haven't heard about my beautiful weekend in Listvianka and my ingenious new weight-loss program that involves consuming poorly cooked Siberian fish (I mean honestly, why did no one tell me about the effectiveness of using food poisoning as a way to shed pounds?)
            On Friday night, I stayed up later than usual chatting with my Host Mom, Sarah (I think I called her that last time, right?) again. Every time I have these conversations, they remind me of nights spent in the kitchen of my older sisters' homes whenever I was in town for a few days. I'm sure you realize this, Kathleen, Lisa (Can I add Dan in here too?), and Liz but these are times I really cherish spending with you, and when I conjure up an image of your homes, I usually think, among other things, of these late night chats and the peacefulness that can only exude from a home where little children sleep. (So like...if you don't have kids, your house isn't actually as peaceful as you think it is.) I always think of the dim light above the kitchen sink which reflects your face as you dish out some kind of wisdom about motherhood (/fatherhood) or life whenever I listen to Sarah talk about her youth, about her children, or about soviet times. I'm not being poetic or whatever here. I really mean that. (Also, if you are related to me, you have your own house, and you are not listed above: (Sarah, Bridget, Amy, Mary, and Colleen, it is merely because I haven't spent a lot of time in your kitchen recently...or ever...Mary. So anyway, don't hate.)
         The next morning, I slept in late and eventually headed down to the university to meet with some other Americans and a tour guide (it was part of our study abroad program). From there we left for Listvianka, a town forty miles from Irkustk, that rests on the Lake Baikal. I can't even begin to describe how beautiful this trip was. Everywhere there were mountains covered in trees decked out in their autumn finery. Back in the city, things were mostly still green, but here there was every shade of red, yellow, gold, and orange imaginable. Furthermore, we stayed in a little place right near the Lake Baikal, which is a body of water so clear that one can see forty meters deep into the water at its clearest times (right after the snow melts in the Spring.) Even without its peak clarity, I could see the exact shade of  every stone and every peddle; it was beautiful.
        I don't really feel like describing this trip in detail (although, I will add here, because I have nowhere else to write it, that we hiked up a mountain and rode the ski lift down, the view of the autumn trees, the water beyond, and the frozen mountains even farther beyond that was AMAZING), but I will say that overwhelmingly, I was left with the impression that it is not Irkutsk, but the entire world, that is completely gorgeous. Is that bad to think while traveling? Maybe it is, but I couldn't help thinking it. And I've been thinking it a lot since I've came here.
        I sat on the sand and watched the waves go in and out on this huge beautiful lake, and I just kept thinking, "This water is clearer than the water at home. Its bluer and sweeter, and more impressive, but for some reason, it has the same exact effect on me as the water on the shore a few blocks from my house. The sunset, too. It seated itself behind the mountains, and the sky then took on icy blue with touches of pink in response. There are no Mountains and Wildwood, and nothing but tall sad buildings in Philly to frame my view, and maybe there isn't even this particular shade of icy blue with touches of pink. Still the sunset there makes me feel as quiet and as honest as this one here. And in the end its all kind of equal to me, you know?
          There's this poem I used to like by Samuel Coleridge about a guy who wants to go for this beautiful walk with his friend but sprains his ankle and is obliged to wait in his garden instead. While he sits, bumming about this cruel fate of his, the sun starts to set and he looks at the light playing on the leaves around him, and suddenly, he feels like his old garden is just as pretty as the walk he would've taken with his buddy. I remember this one line in particular, because it really struck my fancy when I was younger, where he says, "No plot so narrow be but nature there," and you know, I think about this line often, especially when I wander around Philly.
           I'll be walking down this crumbling sidewalk where determined little dandelions poke their way through the cracks, or at some hideous, dilapidated old chain link fence with leaves climbing through the spaces, and in my head I'll hear this line, and I think, he's write. Nature's still here. They've tried to build over it, to snuff it out to make room for the poor and the unwanted, but here it is still, thriving and wonderful. And even if they managed, even if that determined little dandelion were finally bested by the asphalt, still that poor little unwanted person is a part of nature. And as long as their are humans, there is creation, and it is all as equally wonderful here as it is in Zimbabwe as it is in Wildwood, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, PA.
         And that's all I keep thinking here, that I am exceedingly, exceedingly happy here, but this "travel abroad experience" isn't really what people make it out to be in movies and in life. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret coming. I think is really the right move for my life right now. I'm finally learning the language whose grammar and vocabulary I've spent the last few years memorizing. I see goodness in my absence from America, not just for me, but for the people I'm absent from, and most of all, as I lay in bed the other night, chatting for hours with another American girl who came to Listvianka with me, I knew that this was exactly, exactly where I was supposed to be. It just feels very right right now.
        You'd expect my opinion would've changed about that Sunday Night as I sat in my host's bathroom, vomiting out some bad fish for the fifth time that evening, but I didn't. As I was busy defiling the bathroom in all sorts of ways, I still felt grateful and...can I use the word happy? I mean I obviously wanted to die, too. I was certain that it was "the most sick I had ever been in my life," but if you've lived with me, you've heard that one before. Still, somehow, in between heaves I actually found myself thanking God. And in the in between times, I offered up the ugly stuff for the peace and joy of my compadres back home. And by the way, Mom, I was kidding about the weight-loss program. I didn't actually lose any weight.
With Love from the Middle of the World,


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