Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Adventures of Yesteryear

Kazakhstan, 2002-2004.

Lisa was the wheels and I was the mouth. That is to say: she had a car to spare, and I spoke the language. So between the two of us, we could go pretty much anywhere in the country and have big adventures.

Lisa was definitely the adventurous one. She was forever calling me and telling me to get my shoes on because we were going to find some weird outdoor market, or some hidden backcountry hiking trail. She and I went to the banya together and got totally naked, letting some large Russian woman beat us with steaming birch branches and then dump ice water over our heads. I thought I was going to die of heart failure. She just laughed. She and I decided to go hiking one winter morning - "just up to find the frozen waterfall; don't worry, I have extra snowshoes" - and we almost got the car stuck in a frozen creekbed. I thought we were going to die. She just laughed. She invited us over for a Fourth of July bash, at which her guards set off industrial strength fireworks just meters away from where we were all standing. I thought we were going to be blown to bits and die. She just laughed.

We went shopping at the green market together, bartering over the vegetables and sampling the pickles. She bought some wild mushrooms from an old babushka one day. We both thought the mushrooms were probably fine. As it turns out, her husband almost died after he ate one. Bygones.

We didn't buy any more mushrooms after that. But we went to the Korean restaurant and the Hare Krishna restaurant together. We went to the grocery store. We went to the car wash, and we went up Medeo, and we got lost on some hiking trails.

It was only my third post, but it was her 300th, or so it seemed. She taught me so much about how to live properly in the foreign service. (I have a teacher at every post: In Moscow, Paula taught me to serve the community; in Yerevan, Laura taught me to be myself, with joy and without embarrassment; in Beijing, Jen taught me to laugh until it hurt. Here, too, I have many teachers, reminding me to laugh and love and dream and be kind. I'm still working on that last one - story for another day.) In Kazakhstan, Lisa taught me to have big adventures Every Single Day. No matter how bad the weather, or how scary the Embassy alert messages, have fun. No matter how icy the roads, or how annoying the traffic, go somewhere. No matter how big the vicious barking dog in the middle of the road: keep walking. She was brave and adventurous and I loved tagging along anywhere she wanted to go, just trying to keep up.

But then, you know, Aidan got sick and we curtailed out of Kazakhstan. She and her husband moved back to the States not long after we did, but we didn't see each other all that often. We were both busy with kids, after all, and life in the States just isn't conducive to dropping everything in search of a big adventure: there are bathtubs to scrub and groceries to buy and dinners to cook and the adventures somehow fall by the wayside.

We keep in touch occasionally, Lisa and I, and I still like looking back at those photos from our Kazakhstan days.

What a surprise when her (now ex-) husband called us up this week to let us know he was in Amman for the evening. We met him for dinner last night, and we picked up exactly where we left off, reminiscing, telling stories and comparing notes about where the last nine years have taken us. It was a really nice evening, despite - or perhaps thanks to? - the freak thunderstorm that rolled through Amman as we were enjoying dinner outside.

And now today, I find myself thinking back on those crazy adventures we had all those years ago, and trying to think of a way to have some new big adventures here. Every Single Day.

Me, in front of the frozen waterfall. (Just please don't laugh at the haircut. It was a language issue.  I said, in Russian, that I wanted my hair "shorter." She heard "short." It was an ugly few months there, waiting for my hair to grow back...)


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