Wintering in Siberia
Firstly, I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it was cold. The region where I lived, in the Sakha Republic, has record lows of -100 F. Unknown to some, Siberia also has hot, humid summers. In fact, just before I left Yakutsk the temperature reached 90 F. (Interestingly, I didn’t realize how hot it was and kept wearing my winter coat out of habit, as did many on the streets.)
I studied at Yakutsk State University, my specialization the language, history and culture of the Sakha, the largest ethnic group in Siberia. Locals often told me that I was one of only a handful of westerners who’d come to study their language. While in Yakutsk, I also had the opportunity to work for the Ministry of Education.
With friends by bus to a small coal mining town on the edge of the Lena River. We trudged through thigh-deep snow on the frozen river, barely seeing both shores from the middle. We picnicked there.
A few key scenes:
When one of my Sakha language professors invited me to her home for lunch: a quick walk to her Soviet apartment building, up the stairs, through the large dark door, and then a soup of small, whole river fish served by her young son.
Learning to sing a Sakha folk song with some friends after participating in a reindeer festival. That was the day I rode – and fell off – a reindeer.
Sitting with my host mother in her kitchen at night after helping with the dishes, drinking tea and sharing stories. The kitchen was the warmest place in the house – with temperature and with love.
The coat check ladies at the Natural History Museum concernedly rebuking me that I wasn’t wearing a warm enough coat. They weren’t accustomed to my hiker’s jacket because most everyone wore fur for its warmth and availability.
On Victory Square near a port towards the Lena River, where I used to sit and reflect. The area schoolkids took the first step to introduce themselves, and there were a couple that I talked with often.
In traveling – whether far or near, I like to soak in the place, get a feel for life, not just a feeling for passing through. My time in Siberia was a crucible, and I came out a better person.