Since I moved to Yakutsk one year ago, I’ve spent most of my time in and around the city. Of course, I’ve ventured out for various adventures but, other than brief camping trips, I’ve always returned to my flat at the end of the day. So there I was, teaching summer camp in the city back in mid-June, when my department head asked me if I could go to a village called Churapcha, which is a few hours away from Yakutsk, to spend a week teaching summer camp there.
Side note for you: several weeks after I returned from Churapcha, I learned that it is located on the Kolyma Highway, which connects Yakutsk to Magadan. This highway is called “the Road of Bones” because, as Wikipedia puts is, “the skeletons of the forced laborers who died during its construction were used in many of its foundations.” Wow. OK, back to the matter at hand.
As weird as it may sound to my new readers, I’ve said before that I’m not a big fan of change. Like, in that first split second when I hear of a possible change in my circumstances, my initial inclination is usually to say no. It’s weird and stupid, I know. I have no idea why it happens but I’ve come to realise that people as a whole don’t like change so I’m putting it down to that. In any case, I was just running into a class when my supervisor asked me to take on this assignment so I asked her to give me until after class to answer her. That way, I bought myself fifty minutes to ponder the idea and get used to it. I quickly prayed about it and found myself warming to the idea, so I bounced it off my sounding board, and by the time the fifty minutes were over, I wanted details of what to expect but was pretty much on board with the idea. There were two reasons for this. First and foremost, I moved to Yakutsk to work for my employer. If they needed me to go to the far reaches of the republic for a week in order to do that, then that was what I needed to do. Secondly, it occurred to me that this was a wonderful opportunity to see a little bit of life outside the city for more than just a day.
The details would have been a little bit daunting if I hadn’t already made up my mind to take the assignment. I would likely be the only teacher going to the village, so I was totally on my own with my severely limited Russian language skills. I would stay with a host family, where it was possible that I would have to use an outside toilet, as is the case in many rural villages. And I would be teaching a group of children for three hours in the morning and a group of teens for three hours in the afternoon. Well, the outside toilet didn’t stump me because just two years I had to use a roach-infested squat toilet every day for several months, so I figured that was no biggie. I did balk a little at teaching teens (I so much prefer teaching children) and at having to teach six hours per day, plus preparation. For you office workers, that kind of time committment may sound like no big deal but the teachers out there feel me.
In any case, I took on the assignment and prepared as many of my materials as possible ahead of time, including gathering all the teaching aids I thought would come in handy. Arrangements were made and I packed my things. By this time, the local teacher who had covered the first week of camp in that village had reported back that the hosts’ home was very nice and there was no outside toilet. However, I asked her not to give me details because I didn’t want to set any particular expectations.
On the last Sunday of June, I got home from yhyakh at around 4:30 am, threw my stuff in the washing machine and had a shower, then I got about four hours of sleep. I got up and put the finishing touches on my preparations to be away for a week, and got into my chartered taxi at around 11 am.
We set off for the car ferry, which we took across the Lena River to Nizhniy-Bestyakh. On the ferry, I got out and, of course, attracted some attention. I ended up chatting with a very nice woman and her husband for the entire one hour of the ferry ride. Then I got back into the car and it was time for my first extended experience on rural Yakutian roads.
People, in my admittedly limited experience, long distance taxi and bus drivers in Yakutia do not play. It seems to me that many of the rural roads are unpaved (I’ve only been on a few of these roads so I can’t speak with definitive authority about it) but the drivers make no allowances for that. They drive fast and they drive hard and all passengers can do is uncomplainingly hang on for the ride. Surprisingly, on this particular ride, I was able to fall asleep in the back row of the station-wagon, likely because I was exhausted from only getting four hours of sleep over the previous thirty-six hours. I had brought a book to read but I dismissed the idea of doing so without even trying; although I never get car sick, I didn’t want to take a chance what with all the bouncing that was happening in that car.
I arrived at my hosts’ home at around 4 pm and was pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous home that greeted me. I spent the next week very comfortably ensconced there, being treated like an honoured guest by the host family and having many entertaining and interesting conversations at their kitchen table, where they fed me abundantly. They wouldn’t even allow me to wash a dish.
For the next five days, I caught a taxi each morning with one of the family members to the building where our classes were held. There, I happily taught eight girls between the ages of seven and eight for three hours. I think I enjoyed our classes as much as they did; their energy and attitude were wonderful. At 1 pm, I would wrap up their class and take an hour for lunch; the host family always had that waiting for me, too and I didn’t once in the entire week have to spend my own money on food. Then I’d return to my classroom where I’d teach a group of eleven teens, between ages twelve and fifteen, for three hours. I tried to make these classes engaging and fun, too, but five days of these lessons reinforced for me that teaching children is my jam right now. Whereas I feel energised after teaching kids, I feel positively drained after teaching teens and adults. I have no idea why that is and have tried to explain it to myself but I’ve decided to just accept that, at least for now, it’s my preference.
After my afternoon class was finished, I would return by taxi with one of my hosts to their house, where I would spend some time preparing for the next day’s lessons and socialising with my hosts. Then I’d sleep like I was in the Olympics. Best week of sleep I’ve had in ages. Maybe it was the country air and living with people. Who knows?
On the last day of classes, Friday, I took my luggage with me in the morning, since one of the young women from the host family and I would take a taxi back to Yakutsk immediately after classes were over. The grandpa of one of my little morning girls gave me a lovely gift, as did the girls from my teens class. The mom from my host family also gave me two jars of homemade jam. This may sound like a little thing but it was a huge deal for me because I love Yakutian homemade jam so much that I’m unable to eat the store-bought kind anymore; I just can’t stomach it.
Another station-wagon taxi picked us up and we set off again for Nizhniy-Bestyakh, bouncing over the rural roads while the driver blasted dance music on the radio. I laughed out loud when a Jamaican club song came on because what were the odds of a Jamaican song coming over the radio of a random taxi in rural Yakutia, for goodness’ sake, while a random Jamaican is in that taxi?
Anyway, by 11 pm I was back in my flat and feeling good from a week spent with a wonderful family in a very friendly village, with great kids, doing what I thought was a good job for my company (subsequent parental feedback confirmed that). All in all, I was really happy that I didn’t give in to that first instinct to say no to this experience because it turned out to be so much better than I could have ever hoped, thanks to the truly excellent people I met that week. After all, where would I be without new experiences and beginnings?
The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9 (NASB)