Some years ago, Allen Say wrote a children’s book called “My Grandfather’s Journey.” In it he describes his grandfather’s two loves, Japan and America. The grandson telling the story also falls in love with America, and moves back and forth between the United States and Japan. But his biggest problem is that while he is in one place, he longs for the other.
This is my experience. I am happy here, but I still long for my friends in the places where I have lived before. I miss my wonderful Japanese friend Okanosan, who helped me with my housekeeping and became an honorary grandmother to my boys when they were very young. She was a classical music lover who almost fell down the stairs laughing when she walked in on my boys watching Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny’s version of Wagner’s “Ring of the Nieberlüngen.”
I miss my Primary (LDS Sunday school for youngsters) class in England, where one eight-year old perfectionist used to sing “the Lord can depend on me” and then added “sometimes.” That boy set the bar high for himself!
I miss my little sister, with whom I had a wonderful visit over the holidays. She has endured many things and hopes to be able to endure all things, and teaches me to be a better person. I am grateful for her influence in my life.
But I love Kazkahstan as well. I love the sense of safety here. It is safe to be a child here in Kazakhstan – they are shielded from the ugliness of the world by their parents and teachers alike. It is safe to show affection for a child – nearly every student of mine greeted me with a hug on the first day back at school. It is safe to greet a child – in fact, most children greet us first, whether or not they know us. I am safe as I walk to and from school. It’s only the distance of 6 or 7 city blocks, but in many places in the world, that is more than enough distance to be risky.
I love the sense of calm here. Yes, a blanket of snow definitely contributes to that feeling, but winter here seems to have the additional effect of slowing people down. People are not in a hurry to accomplish tasks. Yes, there is a lot to do, but the pace seems more relaxed than it did in October or November. People work with fewer complaints, and students understand that we can succeed if we help each other, and we are ready to work again, even while we celebrate the “Old New Year” – the celebration of the New Year following Russian Orthodox Christmas.
This year, that celebration came on January 14th, our principal’s 50th birthday. Quite a momentous occasion, New Year and a culturally significant milestone birthday. Jim and I were part of a not-quite-spontaneous celebration and enjoyed our time in singing, clapping, and listening to the good wishes teachers had for each other and for our principal.
I am grateful for the loves of my life – the United States, France, Sweden, Japan, England, Netherlands, Korea, Italy, Tonga, and now Kazakhstan. Each love has enriched the other, and although I sometimes long for the green of Tonga, or the trains of Tokyo, or the nearly endless fields of daffodils near Feltwell, England, or the awe-inspiring scale of history in Italy and Korea, still, I love where I am, and I am grateful for the lessons I am learning here. Many happy returns from the wintry calm of a noble land and people.