OK, last time I started to talk about two events that I was involved in a couple of weeks ago but instead I got sidetracked by the issue of everybody’s nerves being on edge from fatigue. Now, I’d like to go back to talking about those two events. These events were based on things I typically do – one was bridge-related and one was school-related – but they weren’t my usual activities.
I’ll begin this report by saying that spring weather in Yakutsk is really changeable. On Saturday night two weeks ago when I went to bed, the sky was clear and the temperature was a balmy -4⁰C. I had ditched my hat, gloves and heavy coat a couple of weeks before for my light jacket, and I’d been tramping around town in my hiking boots, seeing as the melting snow had gotten to the slushy stage.
Our bridge club had plans to spend our Sunday afternoon at the dacha of one of our members, located on the outskirts of the city; she had invited us over for a potluck barbecue and bridge. I slept in that morning, feeling tired after a hectic week, and somewhat lazy. When I finally rolled out of bed and pushed open my curtains at around mid-morning, it was to a Yakutsk that was covered in falling snow. It seemed like winter was giving us another blast. There had been a flurry of conversation in our bridge WhatsApp group the evening before about the forecasted snow and whether we should cancel the barbecue, so I wasn’t surprised that it had snowed. But I hadn’t expected a blanket of it and a transformation of the city back to its winter beauty. In any case, I had quickly piped up during the WhatsApp debate that if we can go to work with no excuse in -50⁰C weather then we can have a barbecue in -4⁰C snow.
I knew from my past experience visiting Lena Pillars and dog sledding that the same temperature in open spaces can feel much colder that in the middle of the city. So as I pulled myself together, I resurrected my winter coat, as well as my hat and gloves, bearing in mind that I would be spending the day in the suburbs.
Our host made the rounds and picked up our party at around noon; there were five of us altogether. Her dog also joined us. His name is “See You Again” (seriously, that’s not a joke, it’s what’s in his passport; and, yes, he has a passport) but his nickname is Stefan. He spent the ride on my lap because dogs love me. Dogs and small children, actually. I have no idea why.
We arrived at her dacha about twenty minutes later and were wowed by the beauty of it. This was no simple and basic cottage, but a proper weekend getaway place, including a separate building that serves as a sauna (we didn’t have use the sauna that day because it’s currently under renovation). Traditionally, a dacha is a country house where the family used to spend the summer growing and harvesting the crops that would see them through the winter. These days, some people live in their dachas year round or stay there frequently, like Masha and Marat from our winter jaunts. I imagine that it’s also a good occasional respite from living in a flat with people all around you making their various strange noises at all hours of the day and night.
Anyway, once we got to the dacha, we fired up the barbecue grill in the yard and roasted the foil-wrapped potatoes I had brought, as well as the chicken breasts that our host had provided.
We also roasted lamb and pork chops in the oven inside the dacha, and topped it all off with a salad.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, in between countless rounds of bridge, we kept going back to the table to nibble more and pick at various sweet treats that other members had provided. We also had wine, Kahlua and Irish coffee. In all, we spent about ten hours at the dacha. At the end of the night, we divided up the leftover food and the four of us visitors bid farewell to our host and Stefan and climbed into a taxi back to town, since she had decided to stay at the dacha for the night.
When I arrived home, I was pleasantly sated from a wonderfully relaxed wintery afternoon and evening spent in the company of good women, good food and good conversation.
Two days later on May Day, the Sunday snow was a distant memory. May Day, which is on the first of May, was a new concept to me. It’s a public holiday here; offices close on that day and most schools give their students about three days of holidays. At first, I thought the holiday was simply a celebration of spring but it turns out that the other name for May Day is International Workers Day, also known as Labour Day. I understand that, on that day in Russia, there are parades of workers in just about every city and town across the country. That’s the case here in Yakutsk. Of course, I’m used to having Labour Day in Jamaica but there’s not a parade in sight. There, we either relax at home for the day or, if we work for a corporation, we participate in a corporate charity Labour Day project (it’s almost always painting or cleaning up a school in a poor area), or we participate in a community project, like painting the community centre. In my old life, I did two these three things on Labour Day. What I’ve never done before in my life is march in a parade for any reason.
The day dawned sunny, bright and relatively warm, at 4⁰C. This was unusual, apparently, because historically May Day is cold and windy. Our parade group were meeting at 9 am at a location close to our starting point. It’s actually only about twenty minutes’ walk from where I live but another teacher and I decided that, since we would be on our feet for several hours during the parade, we would take a taxi to our meeting point. We may as well have walked because so many streets were closed for the parade that the poor taxi driver had to practically drive around half of the city to get us there. In any case, once we got there (and gave the driver a nice tip for his trouble), we helped blow up balloons, had our faces painted and used the bathroom one last time before heading out into the chaos of the parade. Our group had a hippie theme so we all wore flowers in our hair and denim jackets.
At around 11 am, we walked to the nearby square to take our place in the parade line-up. And then we stood around for the next two hours before our section started moving. At first, I couldn’t understand why it was taking so long for us to get underway but later I was told that different parade groups were starting from different parts of the city so our section, coming from the square that was our starting point, was only one of numerous sections participating in the parade. Even as tiresome as standing around was, there was also a festive, social air. While we stood around for two hours, several people took pictures and chatted with me.
We finally got underway and marched, singing and cheering, down the street to the main square, where we hooped and hollered when our company’s name was called out over the loud speaker set up for the occasion. Along the way, people shouted and waved at us too, and we shouted back. We continued to the end of the street and exited the parade line at that point. In all, we spent less than thirty minutes actually marching in the parade. Then we took a few group photos then went our separate ways. A small group of us wandered away from the parade route to a Georgian restaurant, where we had a late lunch and recovered from standing around in the street for two hours.
There was nothing particularly exciting or unusual about these two events that occurred over the span of three days, except three things. First, they were a much-needed respite from the daily routine that was wearing me out. Second, they were both firsts for me. And third, they were both outside the realm of what I’ve ever known or expected life to be like for me. When in my life did I ever think of spending a lazy afternoon playing bridge in a dacha, of all places, on the outskirts of a Siberian city? Or marching in a workers’ parade where, unknown to me, a picture of me would be taken that would end up splashed across a popular regional newspaper? Never, that’s when.
The pleasures of life don’t only come because of a big accomplishment that few ever experience. These two events reminded me that sometimes the pleasures of life come from what is a regular part of most people’s life, if I only allow myself to be put in a position that makes me available to experience these little moments.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits…Who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle. Psalm 103:2, 5