My time remaining here officially has expiration date. As of yesterday, I’ll leaving my beloved Ulan-Ude on June 24. That gives me 112 whole days to do all there is to do. Or just 112 days, depending on how you look at it.
The new finiteness of my time here really gets the make-the-most-of-it juices flowing. It seems to give my life new momentum, direction. Just as I’m starting to feel the tug of Purpose and the Future for the first time in a while, time is starting to escape me almost before I’m aware it exists. Now that I’ve envisioned a sort of pathway for myself, I’m hurtling down it full-speed, machete in hand.
Near on the horizon are my upcoming birthday (which I intend to make a big deal of) and International Women’s Day (which is already a big deal). Maslenitsa is coming and I look forward to a solid week of copious pancake ingestion. Then before I know it, it will be St. Patty’s day and then “Catholic” Easter—and as quite possibly the only person of Irish descent and Catholic person in town, it’s up to me to represent.
April’s still pretty fuzzy, but it’s bound to fill up. I’ve had allusions to promises of ice fishing on Baikal, but I won’t hold my breath. The thing about spring here is that, once it’s here, everyone turns a blind eye to winter. Everyone expects it to instantly warm up for good. Four days into the official season, I’ve already heard complaints that this is a “cold spring.” Though we haven’t quite made it above freezing yet, I’ve been promised that the snow and ice that has accumulated since mid-October will disappear by tomorrow. And, to take the cake, despite piles of completely un-melted snow, this weekend I was told that I couldn’t go skiing because “all the snow is gone.” I’ve always been a Spring Skeptic, not trusting this season and its fickle warmth, but I find this stubborn spring optimism quite refreshing—not to mention amusing.
So then it will be May. There are a number of major holidays in early May, and I’d like very much to take advantage and get out to Vladivostok if I can. Then, at the end of May, I have a trip to Beijing in the works! China, here I come!!!
Suddenly, it’s June. After classes end, I’ll make one last visit to Baikal (Olkhon? That’s a must see, whenever I go!). And then I’ve been invited to visit my colleague’s village Baragkhan—which brings me to this week’s highlight: the Baragkhan Zemlyachestvo (narrowly beating out ketchup-pizza from Pizza Shuttle, a “beer-o’-clock” sign in an Irish pub, and trying to convince my students that Jim Carrey didn’t make “I Believe I Can Fly” famous). This was billed to me as a concert, but don’t let that fool you. “Zemlyachestvo” is a word used to describe a gathering of a group of people from the same homeland—a village reunion, if you will.
It had all the makings of a concert, of course. Dozens of performances of Buryat songs and dances, comedy skits, and speeches by important village leaders. There was even holy water, home-made jam, milk, and grain for sale from Baragkhan. The only trouble was that—unlike all other events in this city—it was conducted entirely in Buryat, so I didn’t understand a thing. The songs were pretty but meaningless (I became fixated on one of the singer’s gold teeth, glinting humorously in the stage lighting). The seven lengthy speeches dragged on and on (all I could understand were the many wishes for a happy new year and the occasional Russian code-switching teaser-clause thrown in to shake things up). And the skits had the audience in stitches, roaring with laughter, but I couldn’t grasp more than the basic premise. It was like being in a foreign country.
The whole evening, I had the uncomfortable impression that I was a sore thumb, and this was far from an illusion. It was a full-house, and not only was I the only non-Buryat person present, I was also the only person without any real connection to this particular village. One glance, and anyone could tell I didn’t belong. The impostor feeling was exacerbated when my colleague, who in real life speaks mainly Russian to me these days, decided to deviate from this norm by introducing me to everyone—all her relatives, friends, and neighbors—in English. The stream of unnecessary “this is my classmate” or “this is my uncle” created the impression that I don’t understand any Russian, which just added to my sense of isolation and un-belonging.
But if spending a year abroad is about anything, it’s about persevering and pushing through the feelings of awkwardness and misfit-osity, facing your fears, learning all you can, and soaking up these new and unfamiliar experiences like the brilliant spring sun. This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and, even with the awkwardness, I’m really glad I was there.
In any case, that brings me back to where I began: a 36-hour journey home at the end of June.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In any case, I guess what I’m trying to say is that time really does fly. So hold on tight!