Straight truth: I had my first “everything is dirty, I hate everything, I will never be happy/comfortable/clean/sane/myself ever again” breakdown. And it happened in the toilet of a 30+ year old Russian train. It only lasted a minute or two but it was real and it sucked.
We took an overnight train from St Petersburg to Chereprevets, an industrial town halfway between St Petersburg and Moscow. After five days of being with the team non-stop we were all feeling pretty stressed and emotionally spent. The tight quarters of the train were the final straw for me.
Our arrival in Chereprevets marked our first experience with host families. Svetlana is hosting Nibitu and me. I have my own room and a real bed (after sleeping on cots or fold out couches this week). And check out this bathroom. I took the best bath ever this morning.
At noon we met up with several other Rotarians and headed out to dacha. We spent the afternoon barbecuing and getting to know people. Once again, the food was extremely plentiful and totally delicious.
The Chereprevets Rotary Club is so warm and welcoming. I’m so happy to be here. Yuri, a psychiatrist, was telling me about the project he started to teach yoga to children with Down Syndrome. The class mixes children with and without the disease, rare in Russia, to help teach the mainstream kids tolerance and help build confidence and socialization in children with the disease. Yuri will also be my host during a vocational day later this week. I’m really looking forward to seeing the hospital and learning more from him.
On our drive back from dacha, Yuri remarked on what a fantastic evening it was and suggested we drive out to large lake. The translation made it seem like he was kidding around so I said “sure!”, turns out he was completely sincere. Off to the water we go.
A word on driving in Russia: shit is crazy. Everything is a suggestion, speed limits, lane markings, passing zones. I generally prefer to put my seatbelt on and start chatting with the person in the passenger seat and pretend like everything is cool.
We arrived at the lake and stopped by the dacha of a friend of Yuri’s. I learned later that we were there to pick up warmer coats. The family has two adorable kids, Mathev, 3, and Dasha, 7 mon. True to form, I cuddled the crud out of both of them. The lake was really beautiful, especially as the sun was setting. The sometimes frantic pace of this trip has really made me appreciate the reflection that comes from natural beauty even more.
Upon returning from the lake we got another example of Russian hospitality. Despite our totally unexpected visit, our host produced tea, cognac, wine, bread, sweets and chocolate for us to have “tea”. The hospitality is truly overwhelming. Elena and Sasha, our impromptu hosts, asked us questions about our lives and our families. They let us play with their kids. Seeing the Russians on vacation has been a great work/life balance reminder for all of us on the team. Meeting Sasha and Elena today helped underscore the importance of openness and a willingness to be present and engage with opportunities.
Today was a good day.