favorite travel memories | n° 4

Tomsk, Siberia, Russia - Summer of 2006

So this one time, in Russia...

That was our "catchphrase" the whole trip. We were incredulous that we had the opportunity to go to Siberia. Siberia! Who gets to go there? The trip felt so avant garde. While all my friends were going to graduation parties, I was packing a carry-on for three weeks of teaching Vacation Bible School at some mission churches in Russia.

But the specific memory doesn't have much to do with the actual teaching of children. No, that is the story of the "death craft." A story for another day.

Today's story could be entitled "The Night from Hell."

The memory begins when we left rural Iskitim for the more urban Tomsk. With five universities (or so I'm told), there were plenty of opportunities for outreach and mission work. We were put up in a modern and chic apartment with a jacuzzi, modern appliances, and beautiful hard wood floors. We were thrilled with the accommodations, and ready to start our second week of teaching.

Summer in Siberia is much like summer in the midwest: hot, humid, and full of mosquitoes. It was no surprise, then, when we would have to slap at the occasional mosquito in our lovely flat. It didn't bother us one bit. That is, until night fell. One by one, we shut off our flash lights, and let our journals slide off the air mattresses. Drowsy, still a bit jet lagged, and with an early wakeup call, we expected sleep to arrive swiftly.

Instead, I went through all 5 stages of grief due to loss of sleep.

Denial and isolation: Dreamland was within reach when that first mosquito buzzed in my ear. I convulsed on my mattress, then pulled the blanket up over my head - annoyed, but not distressed. 250,000 repetitions of this scenario later, I realized that sleep would not come as easily as I had hoped. I gave my travel alarm clock a furtive glance - hoping not to wake the others.

I needn't have worried, for I was not the only one engaged in this battle of man vs. insect. We collectively tried to deny what was happening - that is until the cat started. Have you ever heard a cat in heat? Or perhaps a drunken cat singing karaoke in an alley? Or perhaps a cat having its claws ripped out one by one? I have. Probably.

Anger: This was the last straw. I sat bolt upright, scowling and huffing in the way only one who is dealing with a snoring roommate can. This time I didn't care if I woke anyone up - I was not going through this agony alone. Once again, I needn't have doubted. The others had similar reactions to the feline performance.  Plots of murder were hatched and fists were shaken. I rent my garments, donned a sackcloth, and beat my chest like a gorilla.

Bargaining: We couldn't end the cat's misery, but we could do something about the mosquitoes. Or so we thought. If you have ever owned a yellow lab and a black coat, and have tried to remove by hand each individual hair shed from your pooch off your coat one at a time, you will know how hopeless this task felt. Bug traps, bug crusades, bug genocide. We tried it all. And each time we crawled back under the covers, the mosquitoes had multiplied. It only confirmed my theory that when you murder a bug, its ancestors come back to haunt you. At this point, I promised to be a better person if only the cat would shut up and the bugs would die.

Depression: At this point I could only cry. I just wanted to sleep. Just. wanted. to sleep.

Acceptance: Finally, we came to terms with the fact that we would have a hilarious story to tell later. We were just not ready to laugh about it at that moment.

Sleep was a long time coming. I think the sun was coming up as my eyes closed, and I know I got ready in 5 minutes the next morning because I hit snooze so many times.

It was the night from hell. But at least the week could only go up from there. And hey - I got my story, didn't I?

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