Easter Past

Easter is my favorite holiday.  Because of its significance, if I was ever asked the really most important holiday regarding the life of Christ, I would choose Easter over Christmas, but that’s just me.

And today I celebrated Easter with the family, at my brothers where everyone pitched in for a wonderful meal, a gazillion little kids did a huge Easter egg hunt and it was just one of my first Easters as a mom, rather than a lady without kids.  It makes me love Easter even more, even if A did, and always does, sneak off and practically intravenously inject herself with mass quantities of Smarties.

chuvashia.png

But it always comes back, one of the most memorable Easters I have ever had.   I found myself this easter of 1997 not even in Russia proper, but in an independent republic of Russia where Russian is the second language, English the third if it is spoken at all.   Iwas in Chuvashia.  It was away from the cities, the roads were dirt and deeply rutted.  Maybe the town was Shupashkar, maybe Alatyr or Shumeryla.  We traveled by the Russian equivalent of Land Rover to get there.  For several hours bounced and arriving dirty and heavily jostled.

I suppose I felt a little like I had landed on another planet.  I was already getting over a bit of culture shock fatigue of the first 5 or so months there, even though I said I was “already accustomed” to Russia when asked.

But I was slowly learning that my purpose there wasn’t as high and lofty as I had ever planned, but rather I was sort of being paraded around by my counterpart, her grandiosely announcing “First I brought you Soros money, now I bring you AN AMERICAN!” and then I was trotted out.  I felt like a prize poodle. This was Peace Corps.

It was in these country classrooms that I learned to look in their well-studied English textbooks and make lots of references to the things that they had studied.  If I actually talked about what they asked me about, my vocabulary would be incomprehensible to them.  For example, if they asked my favorite food, and I said tacos, they wouldn’t have a clue of what a taco was.  They would nod politely and the chasm of language and culture would gape between us.  But, if I said my favorite food was soup, salad and sandwiches, they would smile with glee because they liked that too! And suddenly, we had something in common. And it was true, I love soup, salad and sandwiches.

The people all were incredibly kind, gracious, gentle in the countryside. I felt ungrateful a bit for not being very happy, but kept on my game face.  But down in my heart?  I was wondering just what I had gotten myself into.

It didn’t help that in the hearts of teachers, my counterpart (my colleague who was my go-between in every work I did) was not well-loved.  She was a brusque woman with high expectations who everyone jumped to meet her standard.  She was a Soviet installment.  Kinda like an old tank, but it could still fire and was still dangerous.  She wore sweaterpants.

So in this place where I was greeted with so much Bread and Salt, and so many little girls who did fancy little dances especially for me, I smiled and talked about Helen Keller and Ernest Hemingway and drew an outline of the United States (which seemed very impressive I guess) and showed where Oregon was.  I shmoozed and smiled and I actually signed tetratchiki (the small notebooks used by russian students) like I was a rock star of some sort.  In exchange, we walked in the country side, ate Easter cheese, listened to many songs with the guitar and I listened to them sing.

At one point before we left touring the 6 schools where I was trotted out, we stopped by an Orthodox church.  It was Easter day.  The church was not empty, but it was not full of people sitting down.  There were stations where people lit candles and prayed.  Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE greeted each other with

“Hristos Voskreys!”

“Vayisinos voskreys!”

I finally learned what it meant.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

It all felt disparate, was Christ here?  My time there felt far from Christ, and yet this reminder from out of nowhere.

In addition to the beauty of the orthodox church which I came more to appreciate after my trip to Russia, was the ringing of the church bells

I am so pleased to find I was not the only one amazed, here is a video where the sounds of those bells can be taken in… if only in part.

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