After a few hiccups, and a lengthy visa process I have finally made it to Chita! It is gorgeous here, like Minnesota in the spring. I could see the dense evergreen forests as I flew over, along with spotted birch and even a few lilacs.
The city itself is rich with color. Entire buildings colored pink, blue, orange. Even the rod iron that is in front of the windows is painted bright colors like turquoise and yellow. Both buses and tractors share the road, along with a blend of European and American models. They all seem to know where they are headed, even though I cannot spot a single street sign!
As we head further from city center you can see log cabins with thatched windows and tin roofs.
Upon arrival I’m greeted with such enthusiasm! The children envelope me in a giant group hug yelling “Marie! Marie!”. It is quite apparent that my presence is much appreciated. With the older children a trend rises. They all want to know why on earth I wanted to come to Chita. Some of the counselors tell me if I can survive Chita I can survive anywhere.
For me this is strange. In the first few days I had experienced nothing but the highest standard of hospitality and delicious food. Perhaps Chitans’ perceptions of themselves are still firmly rooted in their past. They’ve been behind so they expect to be.
As I spend more time with the children, I am asked a million questions. Most are simple, about the things I like, what my family is like. But two themes appear quickly. Each and everyone of them want to know each and every thing about me. They also are using all the English they know to talk to me and include me.
I find the children’s fearless, endlessly enthusiastic curiosity inspiring. When I had a chance to talk with the other counselors I try to imitate that curiosity. In return they ask me if I know about this person or an era and time and time again I have to say no. I felt ignorant and a little rude. How could I know so little about this massive superpower when they know so much about me?
I had never met a Russian person in the states, or if I had, the level of assimilation was too great for me to recognize it. In school I learned only of Russia as it relates to the Cold War. There was no talk of culture. Even in my studies of WW2 there was no appreciation for the effect on Russia.
That’s what makes missions like that of Siberian Bridges so important. Ignorance is fertile ground for fear to take root. And fear turned outwards becomes hate. The same hate that almost led us into nuclear war.
And the best way to understand people is to share time and space, which I will continue to do at camp. And I hope I can bring a further understanding of Russia back home with me. Both through this blog/website, and through my own conversations with people.