I seem to have really good luck with Russia’s weather. I came from one of the chilliest summers ever to a scorching 134 F (in the sun, and this is according to one of the babushkas who works in the dorm, so I don’t know how accurate the measurement is). Last Sunday, after the post-farewell-party train ride from hell (never ever ride a train hungover), I arrived in Elista. It’s the capital of the Republic of Kalmykia, but it’s still a fairly small city — it’s got the same population as Ukhta, and I would say that it’s just more stretched out than Ukhta is.
I haven’t been here for long, and I’m only staying until Tuesday, but it’s a nice change of scenery. The mix of Asia and Europe here is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. At least, more pleasing than ugly, squat khrushchevki buildings that clustered the streets of Ukhta. Also, unlike the Komi Republic, I definitely feel that I am in an ethnic republic here — most people are Kalmyk here, and Russians are the minority. The Kalmyk people, in case you didn’t know, are related to Mongolians. Some of my friends back in Ukhta joked, “You’re going to finally be with your people!” Humor aside, I do fit in quite well here. No one stares at me, and it’s only when I begin to speak Russian do people give me funny looks.
What’s most fascinating to me is the Buddhist culture here. Kalmykia is the only Buddhist region in Europe (Sibera and whatever is east of the Urals is considered to be Asia), and they practice Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama has even been here quite a few times, and the people here recognize him as their spiritual leader. While I’m technically a Buddhist, I’m a rather terrible one, so I look forward to checking out the temple some more while I’m here. It’s not the same branch of Buddhism that my family practices, but it’s worth exploring anyway.
There are only a few downsides to being here. The first being that it is ungodly hot, and there’s no escape from the heat. The school is unbearably stuffy, and the poor kids sit there weakly fanning themselves as I make half-hearted attempts to teach them English. They’re good sports about the heat though — I’m not, mainly because I’m a wimp and I hate sitting in my own sweat. The second would be that since most of the college students here are busy, none of them want to hang out with me, which makes me feel rather alone. I have, however, befriended some people from Benin and Congo in the adjacent dormitory, so not all is terrible.