I’ve decided that my life should be one of superlatives. Best this, most that…that sort of thing.
Last year was a superlative one for me. I climbed the highest peak on the continent of Africa, lived in the country that has the most active volcanoes in the world, saw three of those active volcanoes and (miserably) climbed one, visited an island within an island, rode an elephant, circumnavigated the earth, beheld beauty and wonder, and gained a new top-quality friend. You see? A year of superlatives. Don’t get me wrong, it was also a year of challenges and some craziness but even then there were superlative lessons to be learned. The year before that was superlative too but I’ll tell you about that in a few weeks.
After two consecutive years like that, I don’t want to settle for anything less. I truly don’t think that I can live what most of us call an “ordinary” life anymore. I’ve gone against my natural inclination and done “ordinary” before and I’m not doing it again. So it is that in a few months, I’m off to Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic in Russia, literally at the top of the world, in the area traditionally known as Siberia. Yakutsk is also called the coldest city on earth.
On a side note, to be perfectly honest, when I started my job hunt I had no idea that I would end up in such a place. I had my sights set on going off to some place in Africa or South America. But when I saw the advertisement for this job, it just felt right and I wanted it badly. I wanted it so much, in fact, that while I was waiting to find out if I had gotten it, I realised that I couldn’t honestly say to God, “I really want this job. Still, not my will but Your will be done.” I just couldn’t say it, not without lying to God. When I realised that, I prayed for God to take away from me my desire for anything that He doesn’t want for me. “Lord, I only want to want what You want for me,” was my exact prayer. Please don’t be mistaken; I don’t share this to make myself look good because I actually felt shame at the time. Instead, I share it to make the point that the job hunt process didn’t only teach me more humility; it also taught me a lesson about getting caught up in my own desires.
OK, back to my new job.
So far, there have only been four people I’ve told where I’m going next who, I suspect, haven’t privately wondered if I’m off my gourd. Most of you have been supportive and unabashedly happy for me, encouraging and congratulating me from your heart. But I know that you’re also very likely wondering if I know what I’m getting myself into, asking yourselves why on earth I’d want to go to Siberia, for goodness sake, and feeling somewhat concerned about my sanity and grasp on reality. In other words, I know that many of you are probably low-level worried so let me try to put some of your anxiety to rest.
But first, the facts.
Yakutsk is located less than 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle. To put this in context for you, Jamaica is about 146 miles long from west to east, so Yakutsk is less than two Jamaica lengths away from the Arctic Circle. That’s how close it is. It experiences winter for about seven months of the year, with the average temperature in January, the coldest month, being around -38⁰F (yes, that’s a minus sign) but the average can dip to -43⁰F and has been known to go lower. The hottest month is July, when the average temperature is around 67⁰F, but it also gets up into the seventies.
The city is built on a foundation of continuous permafrost – ground that remains frozen – and spends a large portion of the winter blanketed in fog that severely restricts visibility to twenty or thirty feet. Apparently, the air is so cold that most residents of the city don’t stay outside for more than twenty minutes at a time during the winter; otherwise, they risk frostbite or even freezing to death. One source I read mentioned that glasses-wearing people who live there wear contact lenses because their glasses will become frozen to their faces very quickly once they step outside.
I know, to most of you it all sounds horrible, right? Why on earth would I want to go there? Why would I want to leave warm and sunny Jamaica behind for such extreme conditions?
Well, why wouldn’t I want to experience life in such a place? It sounds absolutely superlative! Why on earth would I ever let anything (except God) stop me from going there? I’ll experience things and conditions that I’ve never encountered before! Can you imagine living in such a place? How did people even come to settle there? Why do they stay? How do they survive and thrive?
I know, you think I’m being unrealistic about how difficult living in those conditions can be, that I’m taking a Pollyanna approach to this. I disagree. I know that it will be difficult and that sometimes I’ll be miserable. However, I’m not going to camp on the difficulties. Instead, I choose to believe that I can fight my way through them to appreciate with my own eyes – with my entire being, in fact – the beauty that must exist in such a place. I think it must be like living in a snow globe; there’s disconcerting shaking that leads to a stunningly beautiful scene but you can’t get the beauty without the disconcerting shaking.
I’m not fooling myself about how awful that type of cold can be. I know that it will probably be hard to adjust to it, especially because I’ll also be learning a new language (Russian, my first experience with a Cyrillic alphabet), going through normal culture shock, and adjusting to a new diet at the same time. But I’m good and sick of always living some place hot and it’s time for me to shut up about it and act. Besides, there are three hundred thousand people managing to happily survive and thrive in the arctic conditions of that city. Why shouldn’t I be one of them? They are clearly experts at living there so I’ll take their good advice, like I did Elly’s before I started up Kili, to ensure that I stay warm and safe and able to enjoy and appreciate the life I’ll have there. So please relax, I’m not crazy or unrealistic or naïve or any of the other things you’re worrying that I’ve become. I’m excited and optimistic and anticipating what’s ahead.
So in about four months from now, I’ll start my new life in the coldest city on earth. For now, I have no idea how long I’ll be there but it will be for at least one school year, which is about ten months long. As with all other things, we’ll see how long God chooses to keep me in that superlative place and what He plans to do with me there.
People may plan all kinds of things, but the Lord’s will is going to be done. Proverbs 19:21 (GNT)