Monday, June 30, 2003

Dinner with Sasha

Semester at Sea, Port 3: Kamchatka, Russia

After being stuck on the ship for a whole day (we were on lock down after someone snuck a Russian girl on the boat thus committing international passport fraud!) I finally got to go on an organized trip at 6:00 PM. The trip was called "dinner with Sasha" and to be honest, it sounded totally lame. Sasha is a Russian Bard. A Bard is basically a traditional story teller and song writer. I was in a completely bad mood on the way there because I knew that all my friends were out at Mozunka (a night club) and I wanted to be out and about with them.. but here I was on this trip, so I had to make the best of it.

A long bus ride took us into the mountains to our final destination: the home of a middle-aged Russian man named Sasha. He took us for a walk around the place and shows us these wild plants that he was going to cook for us for dinner. The whole time I was a little debbie-downer, thinking how gross this is going to be and 'I am not eating THAT.' Next, we arrive at his “entertaining teepee.” Yes, he built a TeePee to entertain tourists in! We sit around a fire to chat and on the table are all these "salads" that are just twigs and weeds mixed up in a container and it looked pretty disgusting.

But I had to be polite and everyone else was eating it so I did and it was AMAZING!! Lesson learned: I will never turn down foreign or bizzar food again. You can’t judge a book by its cover. I would never ever think to eat this crazy plants but it was one of the best meals I ever had.

Just as we’re getting situated with dinner, he pulls out like 3 bottles of Old Russian Vodka for our small group of college students. He dumped a little vodka from each of the bottles into the fire and added this homemade balsamic stuff to it and proceeded to lead us in 10 toasts!! Yes, that is 10 shots of balsamic vodka, on a “school organized field-trip!” It was so much fun, even the chaperones were getting tipsy! Throughout dinner, he played a guitar and the piano and sang Russian songs and told us stories. During one of his toasts he started talking about the Russian man and said: “when his wife leaves, he drinks vodka, when his lover comes, he drinks vodka, when they win a battle, he drinks vodka..... and when nothing happens, he drinks vodka!" and then of course, we all drank vodka

I was sitting next to one of the interpreters, Yulia, so I kept talking to Sasha through her, and me and him became very friendly. He kept talking directly to me and making eye contact with me and then at the last toast he filled my glass up extra full and did a special toast with me and when I left we took a bunch of pictures and he picked me up and we hugged and said we would email each other and it was just so awesome. So at the end of the night I went back to the boat for the night to rest up for my last day in Russia. Of course, I am thinking this is the first and last time I will ever see Sasha in my life.

At the end of the next day though, I made my way back to the ship just in time to catch the last little ferry boat back to our ship, and who is there to greet me!? SASHA!!! He drove 1/2 hour to the dock JUST to say goodbye to ME!! Can you believe it? It was so awesome. He can't speak a word of English so he went and found a random person to translate. He had brought me a liquor that he made himself from local plants for me to take home to my family in Pennsylvania, but we're not allowed to bring alcohol on the ship so we drank the whole bottle right there on the dock there! lol He told me that he is going to learn English so that he can talk to me and that he will come to Pennsylvania to visit me and cook for my family!

(FYI, that is not the SAS ship behind us in this picture!)

I just feel so blessed to meet all these people and make such good friends. This was the most amazing three days of my life. Right now I'm staring out the window at the most AMAZING sunset I have ever seen, over the Russian mountains...

I was sitting on the boat this morning I was looking out to Russia and thinking about how amazing my life is and how lucky I am that I can look out a window and SEE RUSSIA!! Who gets a chance to do that?? I have had so many amazing experiences so far and its only day 13!! Can you believe that! Semester at Sea is awesome.


Going back and reading this post five years later (and editing it for this blog) I'm thinking a lot about the impact that Semester at Sea had on me. After my first international port my eyes were already opening up to how huge the world is and how isolated we are in the states from the cultures of the world. The biggest lesson of this particular trip was that people are the same everywhere. A smile really is international and can break the barriers of language. I am so glad that someone committed international passport fraud, or I never would have gone on this trip.