Letters home

Jennifer Kingsley
January 8, 2018

Me…Russia, 2017.

It’s the last Saturday of the year, and my house is very quiet, which makes it easier for the memories to come back. Here’s a section from my Russia diary for anyone feeling homesick, jarred by change, or unsure just what the hell to do next. It’s okay to be scared sometimes.

Dear Friends at Home,

I woke up in the middle of the night last night. I may be in the most Godforsaken place, but I was laughing. I had woken myself up with the funniest dream about all of you, yet here I am, in Russia’s Far East, lying under layers of clashing floral sheets in a coal heated apartment where we keep the window open to the tundra so we don’t get too hot.

The dream itself is not the point, it’s that I had such a good laugh, and for a minute I felt like I was home instead of this small room so far East and so far North the rest of Russia hardly remembers it exists.

We are at the confluence of hunting, herding, tectonic plates, political superpowers, ocean currents, and a melting tundra. We eat from a lump of whale meat that sits in our fridge, and we talk about how to pry open the doors to these people’s hearts. They have had many things to bar those doors against. The language barrier is as strong as that iron curtain used to be, but even that opened up in time, right?

I was reminded of the first letters I sent out when I started to travel. I called them “The Duffle Bag Chronicles,” and I know some of you were on that list. There were no grants or sponsors or publications then. Just us. Just a friend writing home. Sometimes waking up in the middle of the night laughing until she wept with memories of her friends.

Eric is here with me which is a blessing. He just poked his head in to ask “You want a piece of cheese, cabbage and carrot stacked on a rice cake?” You bet. We have pink toilet paper that smells like chemical flowers. We boil the rusty water before we drink it.

Photo by Eric Guth

Jenny in Russia in 2017.