The Quarantine Crisis In Yakutsk

It seems as if every time there’s a quarantine in Yakutsk, I end up in a personal crisis. Last year, it was an existential crisis. This year, I ended up mad at God for a few days.

On Tuesday, January 22, 2019 a quarantine was declared in Yakutsk, schedule to begin the next day. Although we were expecting it because it comes every year without fail, we weren’t expecting it so early; after all, last year it didn’t start until some time in February.

Let’s recap quickly. What’s a quarantine and how does it work?

A quarantine is declared in Yakutsk when about 30% of children across the school system are ill.

Some council of people (the Mayor, the town council and medical advisors, I would imagine) meet and decide that there should be a quarantine and for how long it should last. Near to the end of the quarantine, they meet again and decide if it should end as scheduled or if it should be extended.

This time, the last day of the quarantine was scheduled to be Friday, February 1, 2019. During the time of the quarantine, all school and extra-curricular activities are suspended for school children. However, the pre-kindergarten aged children still attend their activities because their parents have to work and there aren’t always viable babysitting options.

Four of my seven groups were included in the quarantine. I felt torn. On the one hand, I was happy to have several hours freed up each day to get some of the urgent things crossed off my never ending to-do list.

Those freed up hours also meant that I would have the opportunity to give my attention to a couple of other personal projects that I’ve been trying to get off the ground but for which I just haven’t had the time. On the other hand, I knew from last year’s experience that once the quarantine ended, makeup lessons were going to kill me and I would have to work practically seven days a week.

You can see why I felt torn: embrace the free time to catch up on my administrative work and personal projects but pay the piper later with unending hours of makeup lessons, including working on my days off.

I decided that there was no point dithering about it. I couldn’t do anything about the situation except make the best of it and not worry about the impending makeup lessons. They were coming anyway so there was no sense in worrying.

I resolved to embrace the opportunity that had been handed to me and make every single day of the quarantine as productive as I possibly could. Totally reasonable plan, right? Right.

Wednesday – Something Is Happening

On Wednesday morning, I woke up after eight solid hours of sleep still feeling tired. I figured it was just residual exhaustion from Monday night when I had stayed up late finishing up a craft project, so I drank a cup of coffee to perk me up while I did my Bible study then I went off to work, ready to implement my plan of productivity.

By mid-morning, I was feeling sleepy again and wondered why I was struggling. I threw back another cup of coffee and continued plowing my way through the day’s to-do list.

By mid-afternoon I was back for another coffee and had accepted that this was no ordinary tiredness; I was coming down with something. Once I accepted that fact, things seemed to progress quickly.

By mid-afternoon, I was dragging and I made it through the rest of the day and my two evening lessons by the skin of my teeth. As soon as I was done, I packed up my things, went home, brewed some ginger tea (my latest flu remedy) and got into bed.

I don’t remember a thing for the rest of the night.

Thursday – Down The Rabbit Hole

I woke up feeling like death warmed over. I never knew what that meant until that day. I was weak and feverish and I had no appetite. I didn’t even want my blessed ginger tea, which did not seem to be helping at all, anyway.

Thankfully, I had no lessons that day so I messaged in sick because I literally did not feel as if I had the strength to get dressed much less to walk to work. This was a landmark day for me because this was the first time since I’ve been working here that I’ve taken a sick day.

No matter how unwell I’ve felt over the last year and a half, I’ve still been able to go to work. Not so this day. I spent all day sleeping, fighting a persistent headache, and stumbling between my bed and the bathroom.

By that evening, my visits to the bathroom were of the hug-the-bowl variety; considering that I had eaten nothing all day, this just meant that I was heaving and heaving and nothing was coming up. But I couldn’t stop myself; whatever was plaguing me wanted me to throw up so off to the bathroom I’d go to tiredly heave for no good reason.

Friday – At The Edge of Life

It was when I awoke on Friday morning that I thought for the first time during my single life that I wish I had someone to take care of me at that moment.

I’ve never wished that before; no matter how badly I’ve felt, I’ve still been able to manage on my own. But I was so weak and exhausted that all I wanted was for someone to soothe me and tell me everything would be fine and to bring me some water.

I decided that I couldn’t fight this illness on my own and that I needed a doctor, so I asked a colleague to make an appointment for me at my nearby clinic. Unfortunately, the appointment was for late afternoon and I had even less strength than I had the day before so I knew I wouldn’t make it to work.

And this was when I reached the second landmark of my life here: I had to have someone substitute my two evening lessons. I knew that even if I could make it to class in time after my doctor’s appointment (which was iffy, at best), I absolutely wouldn’t have the strength to teach one lesson, much less two. This is unheard of for me. I’m controlling when it comes to my lessons; I don’t want anyone else teaching my kids and I feel that my kids depend on me to be there when I’m supposed to be. But I just couldn’t. I literally did not have the strength.

I spent all day sleeping and shoring up my energy to walk the two blocks to the clinic, which I managed to do, thank God. After hearing my symptoms, the doctor told me that I definitely didn’t have the flu; I had the virus which had apparently caused the quarantine. Dr. Leonid looked down my throat, shook his head and tutted, then he listened to my lungs and pressed my abdomen to see if anything felt sore. Finally, he prescribed me an antiviral tablet, an antiviral dissolving solution and something to settle my stomach so I could eat, and he told me to come back in a week. I thanked him and trudged off to the pharmacy. Then another pharmacy. And another. Until I had been to all five pharmacies between the clinic and my house because no-one had the antiviral tablet that I needed. The last pharmacist told me that all the sick people had bought up most of that drug. I gave up and went home because I was too weak to continue anyway.

At home, I called my colleague and told her about my medication predicament and asked for her help in tracking down the missing medication or a substitute, and I asked if the pharmacy could have it delivered because I honestly had no strength to go out again. She said not to worry. Within thirty minutes, another of my precious colleagues had shown up on my doorstep with the medication in hand. I was so relieved, you cannot imagine.

By this time, I hadn’t eaten in two days because I had no appetite. But now that I had medication to take, I choked down two bites of leftover pastry, downed the medicine and went to bed. Thirty minutes later I lunged out of bed and threw it all up in the toilet. I hugged that bowl and I heaved and I sobbed out my feelings of wretchedness and I cried, “Why, God, why??” I wasn’t even sure what I was asking at the time but in retrospect, I think I was asking why God had allowed me to be brought so low. It was a stupid question then and it’s a stupid question now, because who of us is guaranteed an easy life? But somehow when trouble struck the first thing I wanted to know was, “Why me?”

In any case, my stomach settled after that and I was able to start re-hydrating myself with small sips of weak lemonade and water. The fever also left me but the weakness and headache remained and let me tell you, it was throughout this night that I got an inkling of how Elijah must have felt when he told God it was better if he was dead. This virus had me feeling so bad that I imagined that death couldn’t be as bad as this. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t praying to die but I’m not afraid of death and if it had come, I wouldn’t have fought it too hard; that’s how awful I felt that night.

Saturday & Sunday – It’s Still Too Dark To See

I expected to wake up on Saturday feeling wrung out but ready to get back on the horse of life. I didn’t. Sure, I woke up feeling wrung out but that was about it. I had no energy to do anything except remove a container of frozen chicken soup from my freezer to defrost. I lay on my couch all day alternately sleeping and binge watching sitcoms and Hallmark movies, not because I wanted to but because I literally had no strength to do anything else. My to-do list started looming at the edge of my consciousness again but I had nothing to give to it. Sunday was pretty much a repeat of Saturday, except I had to wash my hair. I knew that I would have to drag myself to work on Monday and four days of bed head was not going to cut it. I went to bed on Sunday night praying that I would wake up on Monday morning feeling less weak and sucked dry.

Monday – Here Comes The Sun

And finally, I started to see the light again on Monday. I woke up before my alarm and took my time getting ready for my day. I took my time and walked to work and I took my time doing everything that day. I had an intermittent cough and I was still far below my full strength but the headache was gone, my appetite was improving and I wasn’t in the hospital, as so many people were. It was at this point that I realised that I was annoyed with God. It wasn’t because I had been sick; I was already over my, “Why, God, why?” question. No, I found myself annoyed because I hadn’t felt Him while I was sick.

There have been countless times of trouble over these recent years of my life when I’ve felt as though God surrounded me with His love as I walked through those battles but this time I felt all alone.

I couldn’t identify God’s presence at all and I was mad about that. As wretched and miserable as I had been feeling, He’s God and He could have found a way to comfort me when I needed it so much. And this was when I started to get Job. This illness is the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. I don’t recall ever feeling worse, including after surgery. This illness was so bad that if I was the type of person to have enemies (I’m not), and if I was the type of person to wish evil on others (I’m not), I still wouldn’t wish this illness on my worst enemy. This was a time when I needed God the most but I couldn’t find Him then. I wanted to know where He was when I was feeling so desperately ill. I wanted to know why I felt so abandoned right in the middle of needing Him most.

In my mind, I knew that it’s not my place to question why God didn’t do this or that for me while I was sick, and that it’s my job to trust Him and not my fickle feelings. But my fickle feelings were hurt and God wasn’t in a rush to soothe them. In fact, He never did soothe them. He just waited for me to get over myself and come back to Him. It took me about four days to do it but it finally dawned on me that God had never left me because He’s immovable. So what, I didn’t feel Him during my storm; that doesn’t mean He wasn’t there all along.

The quarantine ended up being extended by another week so I was still able to be productive at work and with my personal projects, and I ended up getting even more done than I had planned. I never want to go through an illness like that again but the experience was good because it showed me a weak spot that I need to work on – my arrogance in thinking that I’m at the centre of God’s universe.

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

Job 38:1-3
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How To Patiently Endure All Things Through Christ

I knew it was coming.  I knew it!  Didn’t I say last time this happened that it was going to happen again? 

And didn’t I hope that I’d be ready for it this time?  And I found myself not at all ready. 

Again!

At this point, I’m wondering if I can ever truly be ready.

Those of you who are long-time readers can probably guess what I’m talking about.  For the newcomers, welcome to my struggle to love the unloveable.  It’s what God is currently working on with me. I failed big time in 2018…twice!

But as you may know, when God is working on a particular issue with you, He keeps sending tests your way until you learn your lesson.

After my last failure during my Baikal camping trip last summer, I knew the test would come again. It came twice more before the end of the year.

The first came through work.

Some time around mid-October, a new foreign colleague arrived. At first, he seemed fine but within a week we were all pretty much shell-shocked by his attitude. He complained about everything and was condescending, rude and disrespectful to just about everyone in some way.

As the Head Teacher, I tried to remain neutral, professional and helpful in order to minimize his unhappiness but that ground to a halt when he told me to shut up. To be fair, he didn’t say it in so many words but, “I don’t want to hear what you have to say,” and “You talk too much,” pretty much amounts to that.

So I shut up and left him to it. I remained cordial and polite, greeting him when I saw him, but I stopped seeking him out to ask him if there was anything I could help him with. I left it to him to approach me for any help he needed, which I willingly and promptly (and hopefully, professionally) provided as requested.

He tested my patience again on another day when one of our assistants was trying to talk to him about a class and he mistook her for a teacher. Her English isn’t very good and I could see that she was confused so I piped up and said, “She’s not the teacher, she’s your assistant,” and he snapped, “I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to her!” I looked him blankly, apologised for trying to help, shut my mouth and got back to work, afterwards bringing his foul attitude to the attention of my department management team. I blamed myself for that one because he had been pretty clear on the previous occasion that he didn’t want to hear anything from me.

As rude as he was to me, I know he was worse with other people. But to the credit of my Yakutian colleagues, as Yakutians do, despite his rude and disrespectful behaviour, they treated him neutrally and still tried to help him as he expressed the need. In many other places in the world, he would have been soundly shunned and left completely to his own devices.

A few days after the second time he told me to shut up, I realised that someone must have tried giving him a reality check because he cornered me in our break room, shook my hand and apologised for any offense he may have given me and any hard feelings that I had. It was sort of creepy and weird, actually; after his arrogant and condescending attitude of the previous weeks, this sudden humility rang false. Still, I thanked him for his apology and assured him that I had no hard feelings towards him.

I truly didn’t have any hard feelings because this time around I had found that my struggle wasn’t to not take personal offense at his offensiveness; my struggle was how to demonstrate love to his despite his offensiveness.

I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. I thought I should find ways to be kind and thoughtful towards him but the best I could do was to maintain a polite and cordial attitude while honouring his request to shut up. It didn’t feel like love, though, so I struggled. While I was struggling, I found myself feeling sorry for him. What had his life experiences been up to this point that had caused him to behave in this boorish way towards people who were trying to help him?

Soon, another foreign teacher arrived whose attitude was the total opposite and everyone treated him as they always do – they offered their help without him having to ask for it and they were lighthearted and talkative with him. I watched the rude guy watching an interaction between the new guy and some other colleagues and I felt even sorrier for him. He was so clearly standing on the outside and had put himself in a position of not receiving that kind of attention from the people with whom he had come here to work. By the time he left Yakutsk several days later (not surprising, he didn’t survive his probation period), I was sad for him but not at all sorry to see him go. He was a toxic element in our team who would have only brought discontent and unhappiness, and it was better for him to not be a part of it.

My final love test of 2018 started about thirty minutes into my Oymyakon trip. Our group consisted of fourteen people, including the tour operator and his wife plus our driver and his wife. So there were ten of us as paying customers on the trip. Of those ten, two of us were foreigners. It was the other foreigner who brought the test. This young woman had come to Yakutia specifically for this trip so she was brand new to the region. As our trip got underway, we started out by playing an introduction game where each person said the names of the persons who went before them then their own name. She was the last person up so we were all trying to help her recall the many names that had been called before it was her turn. She was sitting right behind me in the bus so I turned around and joined the chorus of voices telling her the name of our tour operator’s wife. At first, she ignored me then she looked me dead in the eye and snapped, “Stop patronising me!”

I’m sure my eyes widened in surprise. I felt it happen. The invective was so unexpected and startling that I immediately stopped speaking, turned around in my seat and wondered what the heck had just happened. Everyone had been doing exactly the same thing that I had – prompting her with the names – so I couldn’t understand why she would choose to say what she had to me. As we continued on the journey, I ruminated on the incident; I was well aware that this was a love test and I didn’t want to fail again. I looked within myself to see where maybe I had done something wrong. I know I can be bossy and I told myself that perhaps I had come across in a way that I had not intended, so I resolved to try to get her alone at our next rest spot to apologise for offending her. I had no desire to have our five days together tainted be with bad feelings.

So that’s what I did. I approached her at our next rest stop and said, “Excuse me.” She held up her hand in the universal ‘talk to the hand’ sign and said, “Wait.” So I sucked it up and I waited. Once she was ready to speak to me, I re-introduced myself to her and got ready to impart my apology. I was again startled when she flatly said, “Nice to meet you,” and walked off before I could get more than the introduction done. As I do not chase after people – man, woman or child – I decided to take the hint that she wanted nothing to do with me.

I sank back into thought as our journey towards Oymyakon continued. I prayed on it, rebuked the devil that was trying to get the better of me, and decided that I would not allow her attitude to affect my enjoyment of the trip. I was in the middle of fulfilling a yearlong dream and I wouldn’t let a snake slither into my garden. Over the next few days, she insulted and snapped at me twice more and, truthfully, I was more than ready to put my foot up her you-know-what. But I held firm to my resolve to not allow her to ruin my trip in any way, as I continued to pray it up and rebuke her.

Besides being determined to do better on this love test and to not allow my trip to be affected by her, I also knew that our tour operator had put a lot into making this trip an amazing one and I decided that I wouldn’t allow one stupid girl to ruin that for him either. So I kept my foot firmly in my reindeer fur boot and out of her you-know-what, threw myself wholeheartedly into every planned and unplanned event of our trip and had a whale of a time despite her. I also recognised that me talking about it would only bring discomfort to the situation for everyone so I kept my own counsel and didn’t give away a hint of her attitude towards me, save for briefly and in very broken Russian answering the questions of one person who saw what was happening and asked me about it.

In this girl’s case, I think I loved her by ignoring her. I know that doesn’t seem like love but I think in this case, it was. I had realised that she was determined to be offended by my presence so anything I said set her on edge. I tried telling her good morning as we were passing each other on our second morning in Oymyakon and she walked past me, studiously keeping her eyes turned away, and totally ignored me. Before you ask, we were passing each other in a narrow passage and there was no way she thought I was talking to someone else or that she didn’t hear me. Another time, she was blocking my way and I politely said, “Excuse me,” and she glanced at me then ignored me. I repeated it and she started swiveling her neck and saying, “Uh huh, uh huh,” like she was getting ready to curse me out for needing to pass by her. So I put my hands on the shoulders of the person she was conversing with and gently shifted that person out of the way so I could pass. I was not about to throw down with this silly girl in the middle of our host’s home.

These incidents told me clearly that no matter how I tried to approach her, she wasn’t having it. By this time, I was also convinced that she’s a closet racist because she was sweetness and light with everyone else on the trip except me. Since my rope is only so long, my loving her meant me honouring her demand to leave her alone one hundred percent. So that’s what I did.

Let me pause here to say that all of my negative experiences since I moved to Yakutia have been with foreigners. Every. Single. One. There hasn’t been one Yakutian who hasn’t been gracious and kind to me, or even just neutral. Even that one time when the drunk guy called me a nigger, he wasn’t Yakutian. I’m not making any assumptions or drawing any conclusions; I’m just stating my observation.

Anyway, as we made the return journey to Yakutsk from Oymyakon, I sat in my usual seat in the van with her behind me and I thought about Jesus and Judas. Jesus must have known that Judas wasn’t a good person and I wondered how He dealt with him on a day to day basis. This is what I struggle with. We’re all bad in some way. We’re human so we aren’t perfect and we occasionally, at least, say and do things that hurt others. But generally speaking, most of us are good people who don’t go around intentionally trying to be foul in our attitude towards others.

Then you have the people who just aren’t good. They don’t care that they’re rude, offensive or disrespectful and they get some amount of pleasure out of being that way. They get a thrill from the control they have over our emotions when they insult us. I don’t get this type of attitude and I’m still trying to figure out what love in action looks like when it comes to dealing with these people. Maybe it means not giving them that emotional control, allowing their insults to roll off me like water, and seeing them as wounded souls who lash out because that’s all they know to do. It’s sad, really, when you look at it from that perspective. And surely that perspective leads to kind actions towards them, despite themselves.

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil.

2 Timothy 2: 23-24

So in both cases I managed to not be quarrelsome or deliver a verbal beat down, and I endured this particular brand of evil. But I wasn’t particularly kind and I’m pretty sure I didn’t teach anything. In any case, I think I did better with these last two love tests of 2018 than I did with the first two, since I at least managed to not let any negative feelings get down on the inside of me and I was able to control my reactions and responses to them.

As to actively loving the unloveable, I guess I’ll wait for the next test to help me get started on that. I’m getting there, little by little.

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Visiting Oymyakon – The Coldest Place on Earth

So, how did your new year start? I hope you started 2019 in the way you intend to continue. And if you didn’t, we’re only a few days in so it’s not too late for you to turn that around.

Meanwhile, I’ve got quite a bit to tell you about the start to my own 2019.

For over a year now, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of visiting a place in Yakutia called Oymyakon. It’s also known as the Pole of Cold because it’s been officially deemed as the coldest inhabited place on Earth by the Russian government.

Another place called Verkhoyansk still argues that the title should be theirs but it isn’t; the title belongs to Oymyakon, which holds the record low temperature of -71.2°C.

Last February, I started making inquiries about going there in the winter but couldn’t find any winter excursions there. People thought I was crazy but I didn’t – and still don’t – see the point of going to the coldest inhabited place on Earth when it isn’t cold.

Anyway, I put that dream to the back of my mind and figured that it would happen when the time was right. This winter was the right time.

The company that I usually go hiking and camping with was organizing a five-day trip to Oymyakon. I heard about it in October and I immediately signed up to go, of course.

The itinerary went something like this:

  • Leave Yakutsk on 30 December and drive to Oymyakon
  • Arrive in Oymyakon on 31 December
  • Spend 31 December to 2 January in Oymyakon at a homestay, doing various things and participating in various events
  • Leave Oymyakon on 2 January and make a few stops along the way
  • Spend the night of 2 January in Khandyga
  • Complete our journey back to Yakutsk on 3 January

A few people here were a little concerned about me making the journey. Travel in this gigantic Yakutia isn’t always easy. When people visit their family villages they travel for hours and hours by car over unpaved roads, stopping every few hours at roadside cafes and petrol stations to refuel body and vehicle, and to answer nature’s call in outside pit toilets or just on the side of the road.

These journeys can be difficult on the body.

Last summer I made the trip to Churapcha in five hours and the trip to Amga in about the same time The journey to Oymyakon would be far more taxing than that.

The village of Oymyakon is located eighteen hours away from Yakutsk by car in the winter. I say ‘in the winter’ because of the fact that the two rivers that we would need to cross (the Lena River and the Aldan River) freeze during the winter so we drive across them, which is much faster than having to wait for a car ferry.

In fact, I timed our crossing of the Lena on the way back and it took us about seventeen minutes to cross on the ice road. Compare that to the usual one-hour car ferry ride, not counting the time spent waiting around for the ferry to fill up and get underway. I’m sure that driving to Oymyakon in the summer takes longer.

We started our journey on December 30 at about 10 am and we arrived in Oymyakon at 4 am on December 31. Taking into account the fact that Oymyakon is one hour ahead of Yakutsk, our trip took seventeen hours.

We stopped to eat about three times during those seventeen hours, and we stopped a couple more times than that to refuel the van and to pee on the side of the road in the dark. Yup. To pee on the side of the road. This was my first time using the bathroom literally beside another woman without a stall divider between us but it was pitch black and we all needed to pee and this is normal in Yakutia when travelling so I didn’t think on it too much.

Tamara Yegorovna and me plus the dog

For our three days in Oymyakon, we stayed at a homestay run by Vasileva Tamara Yegorovna. This woman is amazing. She almost singlehandedly won the fight to have Oymyakon named the Pole of Cold.

In true Yakutian style and with an almost dry and practical attitude, she kept us warm and our bellies so full that I know I put on weight (by our third day there the snap on my ski pants kept popping open if I stretched too much).

For most of our time there, the temperature hovered around -55 °C.

That sounds unbearable but, honestly, when you’re properly dressed it really isn’t. I didn’t even have to layer up that much. Most of the time, I had on a t-shirt, a fleece hoodie and my coat, with a nice warm scarf to protect my neck and mouth. I also wore fleece tights, wool thigh-high socks, wool ankle socks and my ski pants, and, of course, my reindeer fur boots. I was so thankful for those boots! My feet still got cold but it would have been much worse if I didn’t have those boots.

So what did we do on this five-day trip of a lifetime? Well, I hung out with Chyskhaan, the Lord of Cold himself, who gave each us a certificate signed by the mayor of Oymyakon saying that we’d been there.

Chyskhaan and me in the centre of town just after the arrival of the New Year

We visited both local town halls (on different sides of the village), did a little performance that our group had devised, and handed out toys and other gifts to the children.

Handing out toys and gifts to the children

We made silly videos of noodles freezing outside then we threw water in the air and watched it freeze.

The water wasn’t even hot, it was lukewarm by the time I threw it

We went dancing at the local club, which was actually the town hall transformed into a disco. Chyskhaan shed his costume and joined us on the dance floor. He seems like a really nice guy; he doesn’t speak English and my Russian is still pretty terrible so I couldn’t chat with him as I would have liked.

We also rang in the new year twice – first on Oymyakon time then on Yakutsk time.

Our first New Year celebration in the town square, hanging out with Chyskhaan

And Tamara Yegorovna waltzed me around the dance floor at one of the village celebrations then around her kitchen later that night.

When we left Oymykon on January 2, I did so knowing that I had thoroughly squeezed the juice out of our two full days there. I also knew it was my favourite New Year celebration so far in my life.

This was for a couple of reasons.

First, I was living a dream.

Second, I felt thoroughly surrounded by the love and welcome of the people I was with.

Third, there was a simplicity to our celebration that resonated with me. I’m not particularly into fancy so a noisy supper at home followed by popping champagne in the town square followed by more supper and gift exchanges followed by setting off fireworks in the other town square followed by dancing in the town hall turned disco until the wee hours was a perfect celebration for me.

Fourth, I had no internet service there and it was wonderful to not be distracted from the beauty of each moment that I was living.

But holidays don’t last forever and before we could grow tired of being in Oymyakon, it was time to leave. At about 9 am on Janury 2 we piled into the van and started our two-day journey back to Yakutsk, which included planned stops along the way.

Our first stop was in the village of Tomtor, where we visited a really nice (if tiny) museum, where a lot of history about Oymyakon Ulus was shared with us.

The tiny but very informative museum in Tomtor
Inside the permafrost place

Then the museum manager hopped into our van with us and guided us a few minutes away to the local permafrost kingdom, which is a series of tunnels excavated into a hillside. There was super thick frost growing out of the tunnel walls and there were different antechambers housing ice sculptures. We hung out there for about an hour before we set off again.

Once we left Tomtor, we headed off to do something that I’m still processing days later. A local reindeer herder took us for a ride on reindeer-drawn sleds across a snow-covered field and into the nearby forest. It. Was. AMAZING!

I thought we had stopped on the side of the road to admire the sunlight shining down into a beautiful snow-covered valley but it turned out that we were waiting for the reindeer guy to show up.

So imagine my delight when I heard jingling and Kolya, our driver, gave a shout and pointed off into the distance. Nothing could have looked more idyllic in that moment than to watch a team of reindeer trotting towards us across that snow-covered field.

Reindeer romp…yay!

Also, I’m here to tell you that reindeer pant like puppies after they’ve drawn two women on a sled across a field and into the forest, with their tongues hanging out of the side of their mouths and everything. It’s kinda cute.

Once we bid the reindeer guy farewell, we continued on our way, stopping once or twice in beautiful spots to take photos, and also making our usual refueling, food and toilet stops.

We arrived in Khandyga at around 8:30 pm and we spent the night bedded down in the dormitory of the Geology department of the university. Showers were available there and, having not showered since we left Yakutsk on the previous Sunday (most houses in villages don’t have inside bathrooms and showering outside in sub-zero temperatures isn’t a thing), we all jumped at the chance to freshen up a bit.

We also had decent internet service in Khandyga so I let my sister and friends in Yakutsk know that I was fine and on the way back. The next morning, on January 3, we started the final leg of our journey at about 9 am. We had our usual stops and crossed both rivers by the ice roads then we were back in Yakutsk. I stepped into my flat at 4:30 pm.

As we headed home, I contemplated the previous few days and decided that this was my second favourite trip in my life, behind my Tanzanian safari where God healed my heart (it’s near impossible to beat that) and ahead of my Alaskan cruise.

My trek up and down Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t on this list because it’s on a list all its own.

What made this trip so wonderful that I would rate it that highly? The journey was difficult and the accommodations weren’t particularly modern. I used outside toilets – not in private but usually with another woman squatting beside me – in the extreme cold for five days straight and, in that time, only showered once near the end of the journey. How could this trip be anywhere near the top of my list?

I’m not sure that I can adequately explain but it has everything to do with the people and beauty of Yakutia.

Its vast, unspoiled, raw beauty pulls at me every time. The once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I have here continue to boggle my mind; that I, a simple girl from a small and inconsequential island in the middle of the Caribbean should be here having those very experiences makes me weep with joy almost every time.

Added to that, the grace and warm embrace of Tamara Yegorovna and the twelve other members of our group who are from Yakutia caused me to fall even more in love with this place than I already was.

They didn’t treat me like a visitor; they embraced me as family and I never once felt like I was on the outside looking in, despite our language barrier.

This trip rebirthed in me a gratitude and happiness that I’m here. It also reestablished the peace that comes with knowing that, despite the fact that I’m fairly sure this isn’t my forever home, I’m still exactly where God wants me to be at this time and in this season of my life. What greater blessing is there?

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:5b

I started this post by expressing my hope that you started your year as you mean to continue it. As for me, I started my year by living a dream and I mean to continue it in exactly that way.

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Can You Do Me One Little Favor?

Happy New Year! I hope 2019 has started amazingly and I pray that this will be a year of big dreams and big accomplishments for you. I’m aiming for the same, myself, and thankfully I’m off to a good start. I’ll tell you all about how my year began very soon.

Today, I need your help.

I’ve been writing this blog for a couple of years now and I want to make it better for you. I can’t do that without some information, and that’s where you come in.

How Can I Serve YOU?

I’ve got a couple of questions that I’d really appreciate you taking the time to answer:

  • What are your biggest challenges that you come to my blog looking for help with?
  • What value can I add to your life and experience when you visit my blog?
  • What would you like to see more of here, and what would you like to see that you’re not seeing now?

Your answers will help me improve this blog and make it one that meets your needs better. Can you help me out and post your responses in the Comments section below?

Thanks so much for taking a few minutes of your valuable time to help me out. I’m excited to get your feedback, whatever it may be!

A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.

Proverbs 1:5
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Why You Need A Spiritual Mentor For Your Life

I believe that a vacation is a time for rejuvenation. 

It’s a time to rest my body and my mind, to recover from the demands of my regular life.  It’s a time when I step away from my normal responsibilities and allow myself to breathe.  

During my last vacation, I covered everything I needed to in order to rejuvenate my body and my mind, and I was pretty sure that I had also covered everything I needed in order to rejuvenate my spirit.

Almost as soon as I stepped off the plane in Jamaica, I was at my gynecologist and my dentist getting my body checked up. 

I spent six days of each week that I was there with my trainer getting my body tuned up.  Also, over my month-long break, I spent quality time with my family and friends catching up, sharing and reinforcing bonds that tuned up my heart and mind.  As to my spirit, I thought that I had planned a solid tune up.

Before I left Yakutsk at the beginning of August I was feeling really spiritually dry, which isn’t surprising.  As I’ve said before, during this current period of my life, I pastor myself. 

I do my best to stay immersed in God’s presence mainly through my personal Bible study, and by listening to sermons and Christian music (like, all the time when I’m not working or socializing). 

What I haven’t been doing is attending church – most churches here are Russian Orthodox, which isn’t up my street at all.  I also haven’t been part of a biblical community, that is, a community of people who meet to study God’s word together, help each other in different ways, and hold each other accountable.

I recognized my spiritual dryness a few months into this year, so when I was planning my summer wanderings I decided that what I needed was an extended time of praise and worship with fellow believers. 

It never once occurred to me during my planning that the main thing I needed to combat my dryness was to go get my spirit checked up, then follow that up with a tuneup of praise and worship. 

So I planned my first stop for the Joyce Meyer conference in San Jose.  It was wonderful but I left there with a sense of having not gotten all that I had expected.  I mean, I felt moved several times during the weekend but I didn’t feel full to overflowing as I thought I would.

Then I proceeded to Jamaica, where my stay included two Sundays, both of which I spent at my church having good, tear-inducing, hand-raising times of worship with my fellow believers. 

After that was done, I got on a plane back to Yakutsk, happy that I’d had those times of worship but still not feeling full the way I thought I should. 

Here, if I needed it, was proof that Sunday church is wonderful but the Christian walk is far more than that.

What I subsequently realized was that I had missed scheduling a vital, up close and personal spiritual checkup.  Totally missed it and didn’t even realize it until about a month ago. 

In retrospect, this was stupid of me because the last time I headed west, after my extended stint in Indonesia, the most important thing that I did was to meet up with my spiritual mentors to get that spiritual checkup and tuneup.

Actually, back in May and June when I was sitting in my flat laying out my summer holiday plans, I had briefly thought of going to Atlanta to visit one of my favourite churches and to see Spiritual Mentor #1 but I didn’t think that was what I needed. 

I figured that the last time I was there, I had received guidance and direction which I’m still working through, so I dismissed the notion of adding that stop to my journey, figuring that they wouldn’t have anything new to share anyway. 

I thought that if I just immersed myself in worship with other believers then I would be good.

To be honest, I haven’t kept in as frequent contact as I should with my two spiritual mentors.  Perhaps if I had, they would have been able to prompt me to come their way and I would have gotten what I really needed.

So there I was, back in Yakutsk from my holiday, living life as usual – giving my all at work, continuing to immerse myself in God’s word – but still not feeling full.  I was also feeling stuck on some decisions I’ve been needing to make but I lacked clarity and wasn’t finding any direction, no matter how I prayed and sought it. 

I was blocked and had no idea how to get unblocked.

Thank God for the obedience of Spiritual Mentor #2, who called me one night because she had felt a strong prompting by the Holy Spirit to do so. 

By that time, we hadn’t spoken for a few months so we spent a while updating each other on the nitty gritty of our lives.  I shared with her how I was still feeling dry, even after the measures I had taken over the summer, and she told me that what I needed was to get a spiritual checkup with Spritual Mentor #1 (who is also her mentor), because I hadn’t done so for almost two years and I need to get that done regularly. 

I had no idea I needed that kind of regular checkup but as soon as she said it, I knew that was what I had missed.

So what’s a spiritual checkup, exactly? 

Well, I go to the doctor for my annual physical, where he tests my blood pressure and blood sugar levels and carries out other tests to ensure that things are working as they should. 

I may feel fine when I go in for my checkup but something could be off.  Or I may feel off and be unsure of the cause.  Either way, he can pinpoint any issues through the various tests he does.  If he does find that something is off then he prescribes medication to help me get things back on track. 

My spiritual mentor does something similar.  I spend time with her examining myself and allowing her to pull things out that I may not even be aware are festering inside me, then I accept her guidance on how to deal with the issues that arise. 

I leave the process with renewed spiritual energy and a feeling that cobwebs and dust (and sometimes uglier things than that) that thrive in darkness and neglect have been exposed to the light and cleaned up.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)

Having gotten this revelation of the need for a spiritual checkup and having realized my mistake, what could I do about it now?  Not that much, actually. 

My thankfulness for technology and telephones meant that I reached out to a couple of possibilities for assistance in this area but that thankfulness was short-lived because I haven’t gotten anywhere with that as of now.  So if nothing works out over the next few months, I’ll get myself sorted out when next I have an opportunity.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

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Let God Work Miracles In Your Life

Before I left Yakutsk for my summer vacation, I was offered a promotion at school.  I was asked to take on the position of head teacher for children, and I accepted the offer.

Actually, the person who recommended me for the position had told me about her recommendation several weeks before the offer was officially made.  

When she told me about it, I felt flattered to be thought of as having proven myself to the point that my employers thought me capable of holding that position, particularly because I have so little experience as a teacher. 

But more than flattered, I felt an overwhelming sense of awe that God could have taken me so far in so short a time. 

I mean, come on; up until two years ago I wasn’t even a teacher and I consider this to be my first real teaching job (Indonesia was my trial-by-fire internship so I don’t count it as my first teaching job).

Meanwhile, I was thankful for the heads up that I was under consideration for the head teacher position because it gave me more than adequate time to pray and seek God over the decision. 

It seems like it should be a no-brainer for me to accept a promotion but these types of decisions are no longer no-brainers for me.  I’ve learned the hard way that God’s plans for me are far greater and far better than any plans that I could cook up for myself. 

I’ve also learned the hard way that making my own decisions without God’s input is a surefire way to eventual disaster. 

Another consideration for me was that God has planted a few dreams in my heart and I don’t want anything to interfere with me accomplishing those dreams.  That is to say, a promotion is nice but if it happens to be a distraction from what I’m really supposed to be doing and if it comes at the price of missing out on even the smallest of my God-given dreams, then I don’t want the promotion.

At the heart of it all, I have no desire to do anything that isn’t a part of God’s will for me. 

This is why I was grateful to be blessed with the opportunity to pray about and contemplate the potential offer at my leisure before the actual offer materialized. 

Within a few days of getting the information about the possible promotion, I felt sure that accepting it was in God’s will for me.  Reasoning wasn’t involved in my contemplation process but after the decision was made, it became clear to me that accepting the position could result in benefits to those same God-given dreams. 

At the very least, I believed that it would give me the opportunity to have a little more godly influence in my place of work.

With my prayer and contemplation done, I was prepared to answer on the spot when the offer finally came near the end of my time working through summer camp

Even though I’d had time to process the possibility and wasn’t surprised by the offer, it still moved me to the verge of tears when it was finally made.  Only my ingrained professionalism held those tears (mostly) in check. 

The reason for my emotionalism was simple: I felt that overwhelming sense of awe again at God’s goodness and grace and my awe tried to leak out through my eyes.

So the offer was made, I accepted it and went off on holiday soon afterwards.  Totally in opposition to what I would have done during my corporate years, I didn’t think about my new position at all while I was on vacation

In fact, I put it so far to the back of my mind that I almost forgot to tell the important people in my life about it when I saw them over the summer (not including my sister and Emma; I told them right away when I got the heads up of what was possibly coming). 

I knew some of the things that I would need to get done early in the school year and I knew that if I got started on them during August, it would make my September much easier.  But I also knew that I needed to fully rest and rejuvenate in preparation for the new school year, so I focused on enjoying myself and didn’t let anything related to work invade my mind. 

When I returned to Yakutsk at the very beginning of September, I still had a week of vacation left but I jumped right into my new duties with both feet anyway.

So what changes have this new position wrought in my life? 

There have been several, actually. 

Unlike last school year when I had a weekday off and worked on Saturdays, I now work all five weekdays and have full weekends off.  That’s two days off in a row, which will come in handy if and when I want to take on certain excursions or adventures.

My teaching hours have also been reduced to about seventy percent of my hours from last school year.  That doesn’t mean I’m kicking back on Easy Street, though. 

Those non-teaching hours are filled with problem solving, process improvements and administrative work.  Considering that those are strengths that I developed throughout my corporate years, this part of the role isn’t new territory for me, even though it’s still intensive work.

Another change is that I no longer teach students who are older than twelve years old.  Thank you, Jesus and amen!  Nothing against teens and adults, but last school year and my visit to Churapcha made it abundantly clear to me that my teaching sweet spot is children so I’m more than happy to be totally focused on them when it comes to the teaching part of my job.

I’m also held accountable for the quality of the product that we deliver to our clients.  That is to say, I have to make sure that our children’s teachers are giving high quality lessons to our students, so that our clients (the students) succeed in their language acquisition process. 

This responsibility includes making recommendations for improvements in lesson delivery, as well as conducting training seminars for our children’s teachers.

The last major change that this position has brought about is that I spend a little bit more time in meetings.  This is also reminiscent of my corporate years so I already have the skill of knowing how to ensure that my time spent in meetings is as productive as possible.

How have I been adjusting to my new position? 

Not badly at all, actually.  Some of the things that are required are new to me but are nothing that I can’t figure out.  In fact, by the grace of God I’ve been delivering on my responsibilities at a pretty high level so far and I fully intend to keep that trend going. 

My intention is to raise the bar so high for this position that when it’s time for me to vacate it, the requirements and expectations for the next person to fill it will have risen to new levels.

Having said all that, I admit that I have more on my plate, which means that my days are rarely calm and are fairly busy.  But, as a trained engineer, I try to continually evaluate my situation so that I can keep organizing myself in such a way that I fulfill all of my commitments and responsibilities without running myself ragged and burning out. 

The fact is, I still have my other God-ordained dreams to work on, as well, so finding and maintaining a balance is very important, and God is helping me in that regard. 

Mainly for my part, I don’t skimp on my daily one-on-one time with Him because that would end up causing more difficulty in the rest of my day.  For His part, He gives me inspiration for all sorts of things that make my efforts in the various spheres of my life that much more effective than if I was trying to do this all on my own.

This school year will surely be busy until the end but my prayer is that I will end it having accomplished all that God has set out for me to do, while still enjoying my leisure time and keeping my sanity and work-life balance in check.  With the Holy Spirit going ahead of me, behind me and beside me, it will happen.

Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.  Psalm 143:10 (NASB)

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How Worldly Comforts Can Affect Your Spirituality

On the very first day of September, I boarded a flight from Kingston, Jamaica heading back to Yakutsk.  Two days later, after three flights and a long layover in Moscow during which I did nothing significant, I finally arrived back in Yakutsk to a wonderful welcome from my colleagues and from the weather.

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There was a wonderful nip in the air but my welcome back couldn’t have been warmer

Before I left Yakutsk for the summer, I checked out the flat I’d be assigned to upon my return.  For various reasons, I wasn’t being reassigned to the flat I had lived in for the previous few months.

The newly assigned flat was perfectly fine and I noted the things that I would need to buy in order to make life there comfortable for me.  I did that while I was in Denver with Emma (that was included in the five-hour mini shopping spree).

Then while I was sitting in the Moscow airport waiting to board my flight to Yakutsk, I received a message from one of my colleagues letting me know that my flat assignment had been changed.

Honestly, I wasn’t bothered.  After the rat and roach infested mess of my Indonesian living experience, any place that’s clean and decently maintained is fine by me.

I don’t quibble over furniture or what’s missing from the kitchen supplies; I just work with what I’m given and try to fill the gaps that I can’t live with, like the absence of a good kitchen knife.

I responded to her message, saying that was fine with me and asking how far away from our school the new place was.  I was more preoccupied with reminding her that I had left my things stored in my recently vacated flat and would need some help with moving them.  She assured me that was not a problem.

I did eventually (like, several days later) get around to asking why my flat assignment had been changed and was told that it had been reassigned to a new foreign teacher who would be arriving soon, in order to cushion their adjustment to the climate.  That is to say, if you’re not used to -50°C, walking three minutes to work is far different from walking even a minute longer.  That was fine with me, since I like going walkabout during any season anyway.

So I arrived at the Yakutsk airport, my lovely colleagues greeted me and we got a cab to my new place.  I was impressed from we hit the lobby; my comment was, “Oooohhh, so fancy!”

When I got up to my flat, I was a little bit blown away but, frankly, I didn’t really process it all until about two hours later when my colleagues had gone back to work and I had popped over to my old flat and retrieved my things with some help.  It was after I showed my moving helper out that I stopped, took a breath and really looked around.

First of all, the place is fully and properly designed, furnished and decorated.  Considering that the owner had moved out literally two or three days before for an extended stay overseas, this fact shouldn’t have been surprising.  To my benefit, the owner not only lived in the flat – which makes a huge difference, which I’ll explain in a minute – but he is also an architect and a designer.

People, the place NICE!  The care and attention to detail that he put into everything is obvious from the front door to the balcony.

Second of all, the kitchen is almost fully stocked with proper quality stuff.  I recently realised that there are no baking tins, which I’ve already rectified, but other than that and a small pot, I needed to add nothing else.

Which brings me to the bedroom.  For the past couple of years, I’ve been sleeping on mediocre or terrible beds.  Considering that I’m a recently developed bed snob, this could have easily been a source of misery for me.  But I accept that a lush bed isn’t a necessity in life; it’s a luxury.

So I sleep on whatever has been the designated bed in my assigned living quarters.  Last school year, that was a futon then it was a thin mattress on a decent enough bed frame.  In any case, I didn’t lose any sleep over my bed situation.

Come now to move into this flat and there’s a lovely queen sized bed with a scrumptious top quality mattress.  Thank You, Jesus and amen!  People, I have been sleeping like even more of a dream than I already did.  Sometimes I wake up in the mornings to find myself comfortably stretched diagonally across the bed with my head buried in the mound of pillows that I’ve also inherited, and I have to thank God for the blessing of this bed.

Interestingly, back in January when I was thinking about how I wanted my 2018 to shape up, I included, “Sleep in a lush bed,” as number four on my list of seven goals.  I thought I had accomplished that goal with the few hours that I spent in my San Jose hotel room king sized bed back in August, but I see that God had bigger plans for me than I had for myself!

On top of all of that, there’s a nice, compact all-flooring vacuum cleaner.  This means that I’m currently on hiatus from my mop and bucket.  Thank You, Jesus and amen! There’s also a comfortable couch, which means I can relax some place other than in bed.  You don’t know how much this means until you live in a way where the only relaxation place you have is your bed.  Blessings around every corner.

Two days after I moved in, I found myself awake in the middle of the night because of jet lag.  As I stood in the kitchen surveying my living space, I felt a strong sense of gratitude for the blessing that is this flat.  It really sank into my consciousness then just how well-loved my flat is by its owner, so I sent a message to my colleague asking her to convey a message to the owner that he need not worry about his place because I intend to look after it with the care that he obviously did.

It couldn’t have been easy for him to decide to rent out his masterpiece and I didn’t want him to regret that decision because of my negligence or lack of respect for his place.

This brings me to an important point that occurred to me a few days after I moved in.  There’s a huge and stark difference between a flat whose purpose is rental and a flat which has recently been occupied by its owner.  HUGE difference.

The first type of flat is usually furnished with any old piece of broken down crap that the owner can get away with using.  It usually doesn’t have all the essentials in the kitchen, and it always has an outdated feel.  The second type of flat is the opposite: the furniture is nice or at least decent, the kitchen has the essentials and the flat overall feels well maintained.

And finally on my list of wonderful things about my current flat is that my ten-minute stroll to school is filled with peace and beauty.  I have to walk across a lake to get to work, via a really nice wooden suspension bridge.

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This is what my commute to work has looked like for the past month

I walk to work with Christian music or a sermon playing through my earphones.  By the time I get to school, I’m able to start my day in a pretty mellow mood, which lasts until my first class starts, but more on that next time.

As with any place that I live in which I don’t own, I’ve been trying to keep my attachment loose.  I don’t want to grieve moving when it’s time for me to go.  To be perfectly honest, I’d love to keep living some place like this, where all my creature comforts are met.  But I also know that if my living situation has to change again to something less well-appointed, I’ll adjust and be content there, too, because my happiness is a choice that I make and doesn’t have to depend on my surroundings or on stuff.

When I think about it, I feel that God provided this place for me because He has several things for me to give my attention to right now and He’s allowing me to be physically comfortable while I do that.

I, the LORD, am your God, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide and I will fill it. Psalm 81:10 (NASB)

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the heck out of living here and I have no intention of allowing concerns about a future possibility that may not even come to pass to detract from that!

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Being Black In New York City – My Story Of Visiting This Place

I love living in a place where my skin colour doesn’t matter and, in fact, is a source of fascination.

People stare at me quite a bit when I’m out and about but they’re almost always respectful.  The rare idiot pops up from time to time but most people are welcoming and are obviously just curious about seeing a type of human being to which they’re unaccustomed.

I also feel proud to be an excellent representative of my race here in a place where my type aren’t particularly common.

I don’t say that to boast; I say that because I know that, once I leave my flat, I conduct myself in a way in which I can stand before God and my fellow Black people (and any other persuasion of person) without feeling shame.

On the other hand, when I’m not out and about on the streets of Yakutsk, I totally forget that I’m Black.  I don’t mean that I think I’m another race; I mean that the colour of my skin just does not matter.

No-one with whom I interact regularly, at work for example, treats me in ways that cause me to think that my race has influenced their attitudes and actions towards me.

Additionally, I grew up in a country of mostly Black people so on a day-to-day basis, race wasn’t an issue for me.  In fact, before I started living in countries where people who look like me are few and far between, I only ever rarely felt my race, and even then it was usually because I wanted long, straight hair (thankfully I’m way past that phase because can you imagine how many more hair products I’d have to travel with??).

Don’t get me wrong, subtle racism exists in Jamaica but it rarely touched me.

“Why are you talking about this, Kris?” you wonder.

It’s because of New York City.

In the thirty-nine hours that I spent there during my summer wanderings, I almost felt ethnic shame for the first time in my life.

Wait, Black people, don’t get your back up.  Hear me out before you judge me.  It took four incidents to bring me to the brink of this shame and, interestingly, each incident included a Black woman.

It started with a bus ride.  For the first few hours that I was in New York, it rained heavily enough that I busted out my cute new pink rain boots that I had bought a few days before in Denver.

I had to catch the bus a couple of times during that day and on one of those trips I was, unfortunately, not surprised to see a fellow passenger aboard the bus wearing one of those hotel-style shower caps, presumably to protect her hair from the rain.

The ironic thing was that her hair was cut pretty short – I easily observed that through the see-through shower cap – so I’m not sure why the shower cap was necessary.

I also had to ride the subway that day and that’s where the other three incidents took place.  There I was, sitting on the semi-crowded train, doing my usual people-watching, when an older Black woman came into the car with a deep frown on her face.

She sat on the seat across the aisle from me.  She was muttering under her breath, clearly annoyed about something.  When she started taking tissue from her cleavage and wiping down her flip-flops and damp feet, I surmised that she was annoyed because of the rain.

I don’t know why she would be since it had literally been raining since an hour after I landed there at 5:40 am.  Whatever circumstance lead her to be wearing flip flops on a rainy day, it seemed like a waste of energy to be annoyed about her inappropriate footwear.

I rolled my mental eyes at her unpleasant countenance while I allowed my actual eyes to continue roaming around the train car; she continued to wipe.  I looked back at her just in time to see her furtively glance around, purposely drop the used tissue onto the floor under her seat, then settle back into her seat with her frown now gone.

I couldn’t believe it.  The woman had to be at least fifty-five years old and should have known better.

A few hours later, back on the subway, I collided with the next incident. 

A woman and her young son entered the car I was in and again sat across the aisle from me.  Nothing particularly interesting was happening in that quarter so my eyes kept roaming the car as I tried to stay awake after about forty hours with only short airplane sleep.

It seemed like my eyes were directed away from them for only a few seconds but when I looked back she was wearing a satin sleep cap.

Seriously, I’m not even kidding.  In fact, she was not the first Black woman I had seen that day walking around the city wearing a satin sleep cap.

What the heck is up with this practice?

This woman boarded the subway car with her normal hair (well, it was a weave but you get what I’m saying) and left it wearing a sleep cap.  For goodness sake, why?  It can’t be that putting on a sleep cap takes so much time and effort that she had to get it done on the train because she would be too tired to do it once she got home.

And a thin cloth cap clearly can’t protect from rain – also, it had long stopped raining – so she couldn’t have put it on for that reason.

Help me out: what am I missing here?

The final incident walked into the same subway car just as Sleep Cap and her son exited.

The new arrival looked at the seat on which Sleep Cap had just been sitting, took a tissue from her wristlet, wiped off the seat, sat down and casually dropped the tissue under the seat.  No other litter in the car, only her used tissue that was now lying on the ground.

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, sigh and shake my head, because why?  If you create trash, why can’t you wait to dump it in an appropriate place, like one of the numerous trash bins provided in New York City subway stations?

I know, I know, these are small things and some people may even say they are insignificant things.  Also, worse happens every day and other races do the same dumb stuff.

Be assured that I sigh, roll my eyes and shake my head when they do dumb stuff too because I’m an equal opportunity eye roller.  No matter who does these kinds of dumb stuff, it’s unacceptable.

The thing is, no matter how little I feel my race in my day-to-day life, I am Black.  And when people from my tribe are the perpetrators of these kinds of dumb stuff, I’m prone to taking it personally.

Excellence in small things is practice for being excellent in big things and it annoys me to see people from my tribe being anything less than excellent.

This is why I almost fell over the edge of shame.  I didn’t actually fall but I easily could have if I didn’t have a strong sense of my own identity.

I almost felt embarrassed by and for these specific people because their behaviour said things about them that were far, far less than flattering.  I definitely felt that I didn’t want to be associated with these specific people.

I mean, come on.  Where’s the sense of pride?  Where’s the excellence of spirit?  Why act down to people’s expectations of you?

On the plus side, I was happy to realize that no incident that I observed that day involved Black men behaving in untoward ways.

In fact, a few of the Black men I saw that day inspired spurts of pride in me: the young man who gave a few dollars to the beggar wandering between subway cars; the man who gave a few coins to Sleep Cap’s young son just because; and the older gentleman who offered me his seat on the subway (I didn’t take it, he’s an older gentleman, for goodness sake, but it was sweet of him to offer).

How to end this mini-rant?

I suppose the point is that I don’t like feeling even the vaguest hint of embarrassment at the behaviour of someone who belongs to the same people group as me, be it’s my race, nationality, gender or workplace people group.  I think I’m susceptible to feeling the race one more, though, because Black people are literally at the bottom of the ethnicity barrel.

I mean, do you know any non-Black person who wishes they were Black?  Because I don’t.

But you can’t throw a stone without hitting a Black person who wishes they were something else.  They may not say it and they may not think it but their actions – like skin lightening and hair straightening – usually give them away.

Meanwhile, I still don’t really understand how we came to be at the bottom of that barrel (slavery doesn’t fully explain it; I mean, how did we come to be considered inhuman enough to be enslaved in the first place?) but I know that we don’t have to act like that’s where we belong and it annoys me in the extreme when we do.

A woman of excellence, who will find?  For her worth [is] far more than precious jewels. Proverbs 31:10 (LEB)

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How To Unintentionally Circumnavigate The Globe

OK!  So you’re finally caught up on how I spent the month of July.  Let’s do August, but we’ll do it all in one post.

One major thing to know is that during August, I circumnavigated the globe within one year yet again!

And yet again, it was one hundred percent unintentional.

The reason why it even happened that way was because I absolutely had to go to a Christian conference to rejuvenate my gaspingly thirsty soul, and I had to see my bestie, Emma.

It was long after I had done all of my bookings and about a week before I started off on this round of journeys that I realised I was heading for circumnavigation.

Anyway, that aside, August was pretty great.  It started with that Christian conference.  I chose Joyce Meyer Ministries because she’s been one of my online pastors for the past few years since I became a nomad.

In terms of timing, there was only one viable option for me to attend her conference this year and that was for me to go to the one in San Jose, California, in early August.

This was why I left Yakutsk at 2 am on August 3 and, after travelling for about thirty-six hours, I finally arrived in San Jose at around 4:30 pm on the same day.  Time zones, go figure.

It took three flights for me to get back to the west from Yakutsk and, again, I went east to do it.  The first flight was from Yakutsk to Seoul and lasted for almost five hours, followed by a nine-hour transit stop.

I used that time to go on a tour of Seoul.

It was alright but my mind wasn’t blown or anything.  The second flight was from Seoul to Los Angeles and lasted for an exhausting and sleep-deprived eleven hours.  I still hadn’t found a way to sleep on long flights, and I also can’t do the usual things I like, such as reading or solving puzzles.

This is why I spent the entire eleven hours from Seoul to LA watching movies and sitcoms, listening to music, and occasionally dozing fitfully when I felt like I just couldn’t keep my eyes open for one more minute.

By the end of it, my butt hurt; I walked around as much as I could during the flight but I was sitting in a middle seat so getting up every time I felt like it wasn’t happening.

This flight was followed by a five-hour layover in LAX, which I spent walking around as much as possible.  My last flight from Los Angeles to San Jose was blessedly short, lasting just over an hour.

The whole thing from hour one to hour thirty-six (counting from when I left my flat in Yakutsk to when I arrived at my hotel in San Jose) was exhausting but it was more than worth it to be at that conference.

I had no “come to Jesus” experiences but God certainly had several words in due season for me.  The worship was so good that it brought me to tears at least once in each of the three sessions so mission accomplished overall, I’d say.

I left San Jose on a red eye flight in the wee hours of Sunday morning headed for Denver, Colorado because my best travel partner ever bar none – Emma, of course – and her dog Nala live there now.

In just under a week, she, Nala and I took on Denver and got up to a shenanigan or two that have now joined the others in the annals of our you-had-to-be-there-but-it-was-totally-hilarious-really-it-totally-was stories.

On Sunday, we did a moderate amount of shopping; Emma disagrees that it was moderate since it took over five hours but it was totally necessary so that I could replenish things that are either unavailable or too expensive in Yakutsk.

On Monday, we drove south to Garden Of The Gods, a National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs, where we ambled around the rock formations then ended up in a sudden hailstorm.

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View of the rock formations from the visitor centre at Garden of the Gods

On Tuesday, we went to the Denver Botanical Gardens

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The botanical gardens are gorgeous and it’s easy to spend several hours there

…followed by axe throwing in the evening.  Best.  Time.  EVER!  I didn’t know that throwing a deadly weapon could be so much fun, or that I had all that aggression in me.

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We weren’t excellent our first time axe throwing but we also didn’t suck

On Wednesday, we hung out and didn’t do much except eat.  On Thursday, we drove south again to Seven Falls, which features cascading waterfalls and a huge number of steps to get to the top of the canyon where they’re located.

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View of the canyons at Seven Falls from halfway up the many stairs

That evening, we went to a Rockies baseball game and had fun acting like we knew what was happening (Emma) and belting out “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” with the rest of the crowd (me) during the seventh inning stretch.

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Denver Rockies vs LA Angels. We arrived during the 4th inning and left during the 8th before traffic. Clearly, we aren’t dedicated fans.

We spent all day Friday moving Emma’s newly-arrived (after much drama) furniture into her new apartment and getting her things organised and put away.

And suddenly, our trip was over.

Lots of excellent coffee was drunk, lots of new restaurants were sampled – we ate out for every meal, with no restaurant repeated – and several activities were thoroughly enjoyed.  We had heart-to-heart chats, comfortable silences and quality time with Nala.  On Friday night, they saw me off.

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Nala doesn’t pose for photos; so much personality, this dog

My next stop was New York city, where I spent exactly thirty-nine hours.  I arrived early on Saturday morning, saw my eye doctor for my annual checkup, met up with a friend from Yakutsk who was visiting New York at the same time, and dropped in on Auntie.  When my thirty-nine hours were up, I boarded a plane to Jamaica.

Now, I should make a point here that may be obvious, but perhaps isn’t for newer readers.  I’m from Jamaica but it’s not my home.

That seems like a stupidly obvious statement because I clearly don’t live there, but I mean it in a deeper sense than just where I happen to live at the moment.  Jamaica was my home for most of my life but when I broke free from it three years ago, it ceased being my home.

With absolutely no disrespect meant to Jamaica, I can say in retrospect that it was never my heart home.  I’m still searching for  that.  This was why, when someone sent me a WhatsApp message to ask me when I was “going home for the summer,” I responded by saying, “I’m going to Jamaica in a couple of weeks.”  I never call it my home anymore.

That’s not because I hate Jamaica or anything like that, although many Jamaicans would likely judge me as doing that because of my very neutral feelings about it.

It’s the country of my birth where my family and a couple of very good friends live.  It afforded me most of my education and it’s where I gained all of the corporate work experience that still serves me well today.  However, it’s not a part of my heart.

To be honest, the only reason I went to Jamaica this summer was because I had my family and two friends that I wanted to visit.  If not for them, I would have visited Georgia (the country, I’m pretty much over the state because of over-visiting in my previous fake life) or Kyrgyzstan instead.

Maybe next year; we’ll see.  So I went to Jamaica around mid-August and spent almost three weeks visiting my family and my two friends, plus a couple of others, stocking up on my hair and skin products, getting myself pampered by various aestheticians and beauticians, and getting an average of ten hours of sleep every night for the first week or so.

Hey, the exhaustion from ten and a half months of non-stop work was real.  I also ate lots of good Jamaican food, went to the beach twice (on two perfect beach days), and went to the mountains once.

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Ahhh, the perfect beach day, including the perfect escoveitch fish and bammy

When the time came for me to leave, I felt that I had accomplished what I went to Jamaica to do, so I bounced without a backward look.  Maybe next time I’ll meet my friends some place else and spend a shorter time in Jamaica with my family.

Anyway, that’s what happened in August.  I saw my family and a handful of friends who made the time to be with me, and I accomplished my second yearlong circumnavigation.  Given that this was done twice within the last three years by a woman who mainly used to trample and re-trample every beaten path to America, I can say without hesitation that it feels darn good.

The Lord says, “I am making a new earth and new heavens. The events of the past will be completely forgotten.”  Isaiah 65:17 (GNV)

And that’s August in a nutshell.

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The Christian RBF & Why I Regret Using It

I was in a beautiful setting, enjoying the experience of hiking around a small portion of the largest and most ancient of lakes.

How could there be a snake in my garden?

Well, by day five I was pretty much over the trip and I just wanted to be done.  I didn’t want to see one more hill and as much as I genuinely enjoyed my very warm and pretty comfortable sleeping bag, I was ready for the lovely bed I knew was waiting for me in my hotel room back in Irkutsk.

I learned on that trip that six whole days of just walking with no final goal except to finish isn’t my thing.  That was the same day that my love fail came.

Sometime during the night, it had occurred to me that I was unwittingly pushing myself on the German family.  Don’t get me wrong, they were cordial and pleasant, but I finally realised that I was the one asking all the questions and trying to get to know them.

They answered my questions very nicely and even asked a couple in return a few times.  But I realised that, while they were perfectly polite, they didn’t seem to have a genuine interest in getting to know me.

They would often break off into extended periods of speaking German and ignoring the guide and me.

I got that they were a family on vacation at a crucial time in the children’s lives but it seemed rude to me to purposely exclude the solo traveler in the group.

From my Yakutian camping experiences, I wasn’t used to this type of exclusionary behaviour at all.  It was kind of a bummer when I realised what was up.

I decided to put my theory to the test.  For all of day 5, I didn’t ask any getting-to-know-you questions.  I kept my countenance pleasant but I initiated no conversations.  And no conversations were had with me that day so my theory proved correct.

Except for their exclusionary family conversations in German, silence reigned over our group with my decision to zip my lip.  It annoyed me to no end.

I found myself ridiculously irritated and offended by the realisation that I wasn’t as fascinating to this family as I’ve been to most other people I’ve met over the past couple of years.

I didn’t see it at the time but in hindsight it’s obvious that my pride was just as wounded as my feelings.  Unfortunately, as much as I prayed to God to take the negative feelings away from me, I just couldn’t shake them.

So for days 5 and 6 I was quieter and markedly not as social as I had been for the previous four days.

This isn’t to say that I ignored my companions.  I still made a few comments and I even ran and helped the daughter when she took a tumble in front of me, while her dad, who was closer, sauntered over.

Obviously, I didn’t wish them harm in any way but I was still irritated.

This is what lead to a sour parting of ways at the end of our trip.  After our minivan ride back to town during the evening of day 6, the family were getting dropped off at a flat they were renting for the remainder of their vacation and I was getting dropped off at my hotel just a couple of blocks away.

The family also wanted to stop at a supermarket to stock up on supplies.  With dreams of a hot shower and a lush bed dancing in my head, being mentally done with the trip, and more than ready to say goodbye to my co-hikers, I asked the guide to have me dropped off first.

He ignored my request and proceeded to the family’s rented flat, where we then had to wait around for the landlord to show up with the key.  I was not amused and I didn’t even try to hide it.

During the first twenty minutes that we waited, I paced the opposite sidewalk and didn’t say much, trying to distract myself by catching up on the phone messages I had missed while I was out in the wilderness and away from mobile service.

When that time was up and we were still waiting, I went over to the guide and told him that I didn’t appreciate being the one to be inconvenienced for no good reason, then I hit him with my RBF.

You’ll need to Google that, if you don’t know what it is.  I know I have one because my colleagues at school are always hilariously asking me to do it, saying that it scares them; but this was the first time that I consciously used it to get someone to fall in line (not counting one or two of my more unruly kids).

I stared at him for a full five minutes until he succumbed to the force of my RBF and decided to send me to my hotel with the driver, while he stayed with the family as they continued to wait for the landlord.

The family had observed all of this.  On top of my silence since the previous day (again, not an angry silence but totally not how I had behaved for the first four days) and this small conflict, I’m pretty sure they were uncomfortable and just as ready to see the back of me as I was ready to go.

Thus followed the quickest and most awkward goodbye that I’ve ever experienced in my life.  I had planned to wish them well for the rest of their vacation, for their return to Germany, and for some new endeavours that I had found out in my questioning phase were coming for their family.

They didn’t give me a chance to say any of that.  I turned from the guide towards them and they all threw out, “Bye,” with looks in their eyes that were practically begging me to go.

There was no way I could nonchalantly wish them well after that.  So I said an equally awkward, “Bye,” hopped into the van and sped off with the driver towards the wonderful promise of my hotel room.

It was then that I started feeling guilty.  I knew that I hadn’t acted right for two whole days.  I hadn’t been pouty or mean, as far as I know, but I had in no way represented Christ to these professed non-believers during those two days.

In fact, I may have done harm since they knew that I’m a Christian.

Within an hour of our parting, I was praying for forgiveness.  I know, it sounds like a lame cop-out, but what else could I do?  I had basically burned my bridges with the family with that last awkward scene.

They literally couldn’t get rid of me fast enough and imagine the added awkwardness of trying to explain by WhatsApp why I had acted the way I had.

For hours that night I replayed the previous two days in my head, seeing where I could have done a few things differently.  As always, hindsight proved to be 20/20.  I still feel a guilty twinge when I think about it so I clearly haven’t accepted God’s forgiveness yet and the whole episode still bothers me, at least a little bit.

What is it about loving people who offend me that I struggle with so?

I’ve learned over the past few years not to take offence at haters or insensitive people on the street; those people’s offences roll right off me and I regard them with a sort of wry amusement and pity at their ignorance.

So why can’t I do the same for people who come a bit closer?  Why do I pick up the offence and carry it like my 16 kg rucksack, unable to put it down again until they depart from my presence?  It frustrates me in the extreme!

I am so looking forward to the day when I learn to love unlovable people.

I’m not looking forward to the fire I’ll have to walk through to get there but it’s got to be done, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:20-21 (NIV)

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