2.02.2016

I clutch the locket my mother gave me. It only made its home around my neck a few days ago but its presence feels so familiar. I trace my thumb over its smooth backing repeatedly as if I'm feverishly seeking penance for grievances unknown. I can't help but wonder if their pictures encased in this delicate silver lotus is as close as I will ever come.

One who is but may never be and one who was but never came to be.

Honestly, I never knew. Never knew I wanted to be a mother. God it hurts, actually. To scratch that word down on paper because what am I really? Is there even a noun to describe a person such as me?

The almost mother.

A woman clutching desperately at the silver chain around her neck, trying fruitlessly to grasp the future.

For a moment I think I ought to tuck the locket back below my shirt, a naive attempt to disregard the pain of uncertainty.  I can feel its ever-present warmth, the delicate weight of them near to my heart. I glance at the man sitting next to me and fleetingly wonder what he might be hiding just out of my sight. I turn my face back to the tiny airplane window. Tears seem to always lay just behind my eyelids these days, threatening to expose my perpetual state of weakness. I feel them start to slide down my cheeks, their presence greeting me like the comforting embrace of an old friend. I used to be a stronghold and I thought that meant I was brave. Now I know that bravery is bearing your vulnerability and finding a way forward even when loss is imminent.

I remember when my love held me and explained that they are our compass, our true North. We can't falter now that they've shown the way. I take in the sight of their two tiny pictures once more and give thanks before finally snapping it closed.

4.09.2015

I light an incense and two tea-lights. I place them in their small lotus shaped holders and set my gaze on a small figure of Buddha. I can always find calm and clarity in this place.

I open my mind to memories that I have been tucking away since the day I met you. My thoughts always begin with the day we met, when we realised you were my daughter and I was your momma. I still get the same feeling in my chest as I did that day, I hope that feeling never goes away. I waver between confidently knowing how strong our bond is and worrying that over the years I have not done enough.

The candles flicker in their holders. The thin stream of smoke coming from the incense twists and fades. Its comforting scent settles in every corner of this small home. My gaze remains steady and my mind continues to softly replay everything I am holding on to.

I don't actually know how to be a mother to a five year old little girl. But does anyone really know? Parenting is something organic. It is a natural progression of growth and learning. I keep reminding myself that every child's mother was a first time parent at some point.

The current goes out but the candles provide light. The incense starts to burn more slowly without the breeze from the ceiling fan. The orange glow of its ember becomes steady and unwavering.

The very first picture you drew in art class is starting to disintegrate. I have a habit of running my fingertips over it. It is the only piece of you I have that is tangible. You have grown and changed so much. You've gone from being scared and shy to confident and outgoing. Your smile has found a home etched in the back of my eyelids. You are my last thought as I fall asleep and my first thought as I wake up.

The current comes back and it jolts me back into an awareness of my present surroundings. The sudden start of my fan blows out the tea lights. My incense offering reaches its end. I linger a moment longer and envision the day when we will sit here side by side and thank the universe for bringing us together. Until then, everything I do is with clear intention of bringing that moment to actualisation.

You are my lotus flower. You are my epoch of happiness and fulfilment. 

2.20.2015

Thoughts while grieving

He came to me in my dreams last night.
He was different in my dreams than he was in those last few days of his life.
His skin was no longer covered in burns.
His wounds were not weeping.
His body was no longer racked with infection.
His eyes were filled with peace.
He had been reborn.
He had been restored.
He came to me in my dreams.
But as quickly as he came
He left.
And I guess that is how it has to be.

*********************************************************************************

I don't know what it is like to suddenly have an empty spot next to you as you fall asleep every night.
A spot that had been your husband's for years. I can't even begin to understand the feeling. I imagine it as a deep abyss. An indescribable hole. An absence so heavy that you feel like a sinking stone. It must be a darkness that needs every bit of light we can spare.

*********************************************************************************

It's been 3 days since he left them for the ground. The family keeps calling and saying his wife is crying. They keep asking us to come be with her. She is grieving we say. And the truth is, I am too. Grieving and cleansing and trying to process the first 48 hours of my week. You know what, I feel like I need to be with her too. The first time we met in the slum after he was buried, we just held each other. Her arms around my waist, mine around her shoulders our heads pressed together. There is a connection that can not be broken when you share the experience of helping someone die. Trains whistled and passed by. Men told her not to cry, we said cry all you want. The women of the community slowly gathered around. We talked about taking care of each other. We talked about grief and making sure she was eating and drinking. We talked about how it was everyone's responsibility to carry her through this until she can stand again on her own two feet. Her son clung to her leg. I asked where her daughter was. She said she was at school. My eyes welled with tears and I looked at her and told her I was proud. I told her to keep her daughter in school, that it is the best thing she can do for the future of her family. And for the first time since Sunday, a smile creeped across her face. And at least in that fleeting moment, we felt okay.


*********************************************************************************

 I had woken them from a deep sleep that last night they got to lay next to one another. He, his wife and two kids were all under one small mosquito net on concrete slabs. She pulled the mosquito net off and peeled the dirtied saree off his burnt skin to show me the extent of his injuries. More than half of his body was covered in severe burns. He had spent 2 days at a government hospital before being discharged and sent back to the slum due to lack of family funds to cover the cost of his treatment. Not knowing what else to do, she kept vigil at his side day in and out. Feeding him by hand, turning him, applying creams, fanning off flies, emptying the urinary catheter he still had inserted. She lay next to him as he's body became overwhelmed with infection, as he became confused, dehydrated, feverish night after feverish night she did everything she felt she could.

I have never seen a love like that.

*********************************************************************************

It must be so scary, the process of dying. 

We had gone home for dinner and just sat down when the hospital called asking us to come back to be with the wife. Her husband was not doing well. We immediately headed back and when I walked in the room, his wife was sleeping on the small bed next to him. He was working hard to breath, when he opened his eyes he looked terrified. I walked back out and told my friend that death was coming. His suffering was tangible. There was no denying it. So we woke the wife, called the medical team and worked towards making him comfortable. I felt useless and stunned so I called my friend, a Nurse Practitioner, who quickly came to be with us and help me advocate for him. His wife and I took turns holding his hands and stroking his head. We explained to her that she should talk to him and let him know she is there. I told him it's okay to let go. His head was so hot with fever, his eyes were so scared. He was slipping in and out of consciousness but when he would come to, he would always lock his gaze on who ever was with him. And maybe it's my human need to comfort myself, but I believe he knew we were there. We gave him what he deserved, the opportunity to be treated for pain and to die with dignity and privacy, surrounded with people who genuinely cared. No, we couldn't erase the suffering of the last week of his life but dammit, we tried.

*********************************************************************************

He was the one who would come after all the meals had been passed. He showed up with an empty 2 litre water bottle, the top cut off. He always took the remaining dal after all the kids had eaten. I assumed in the beginning that he kept it for himself. But the thing about assumptions is that they often prove you wrong. I walked down to the area where he lived one Sunday and as I approached I saw him call his daughter over. He handed her the bottle of dal and she hunkered down and drank every last drop. That is the kind of father he was. That's when I knew he was different. And these are the memories I will hold. 

7.14.2014

Love/Light

Sometimes I feel like I open my eyes and realize that there truly is so much good in this world to fill our hearts and minds with. Just when I need it most, I am overwhelmingly taken over with this image of love and light working around me, reaching into those dark spaces that we all have. 

It's the Sunday smiles. The thank yous. Orderly lines. Full bellies, clean plates. It's second servings. The laughter of kids. Those childhood games. The jokes and hugs and fellowship. The goodbyes and see you laters and the tangible feeling of love. The constant opportunity to let that light reach farther, to make it a point to try and understand the otherwise incomprehensible. 

The light is the fact that there are whole countries in Africa, like Malawi, where there are one or maybe two plastic surgeons. Total. Whole countries with only a handful of people trying to relieve the burden of unrepaired clefts, and post-burn contractures and everything else that plastic surgeons in developing countries are responsible for that have nothing to do with elective cosmetic enhancement. It's the fact that right now one of those two plastic surgeons is living in Guwahati for four months to improve his skills and deepen his knowledge of cleft care so that he can stretch that light from India to his home. It's his peaceful demeanour. His quiet, humble sense of humor. His dedication. His desire. His compassionate passion to contribute to his country. It's his sacrifice. It's the fact that we are blessed to have a cleft care centre here that lends itself to spreading skills knowledge and awareness across the globe. 

The light is in visits to the orphanage throughout the week. The big pink building on top of the hill that calls me in, calls me home. The excited greetings and never ending hugs. The games and reading and singing and playing. It's the opportunity to create then nurture healthy and wholesome relationships with beautiful children who deserve every drop of love and light available. It's the caretakers. The kirtan being sung next door. The free community health clinic. It's having a pile of children climbing all over you and the happiness that fills every void in that room. 

It's in taking deep breaths and long yoga sessions in the morning or evening or both. It is in literally finding your balance. It's taking care of yourself so you can care for others. It's the desire to lower yourself down. It's reaching out and having someone reach back. It's being broken by humility. It's visualizing that light inside of you, glowing and burning and growing until it just emanates from your being. It's remembering that even when it felt like it wasn't, that light has always and will always be there. Someone will always be there to share their light with you. 


(photo by Gary Lee, September 2012)




6.27.2014

Looking Back: Cambodia March 2014

Cambodia was a complete and utter whirlwind of a work trip. The details of it kind of just merge together and that makes me a little bit sad! I went to Phnom Penh to teach one day of Basic Life Support (CPR) and one two-day course of Paediatric Advanced Life Support so my trip in total was only three days plus 1 1/2 days on either end for travel. Like I said, a whirlwind. 

The day I arrived, I was super tired because I had traveled all night. I was up late in the Kolkatta airport and then did what sleeping I could in a chair in Bangkok. When I got to Phnom Penh I was in a sort of dream like state. It was warm and muggy, a whole new language surrounded me and having just brushed up on Cambodian history, my main thoughts were on the not so long ago genocide that took place in this beautiful country during the life span of the driver who picked me up at the airport. I wished I could have talked to him and many of the people I came across in fact. 

I met up with my colleagues, many of whom I had met in Vietnam a few months earlier. We immediately headed out to the Russian Market and for some dinner. We drove by the King's Palace and some other beautiful Buddhist temples but as it was already evening, we didn't have time to go peek around. 

 King's Palace at sunset

 Cambodian rickshaws are so cute and spacious!

The teaching was an extra big challenge. We were a team of instructors from the U.S. (India?), Vietnam and China. The students were all med students or doctors, very smart and enthusiastic but we had a challenge with translation because we didn't have any local instructors and none of us knew Khmer. Somehow we made it work and part way through the day, I was informed that in the afternoon we would do a second session with the Cambodian Anti-terrorism Squad.... wait... what?! I was SO intimidated! We packed up our gear and headed off through thick city traffic and eventually made our way to a heavily guarded military zone. As if I wasn't already sweating enough, cue overactive perspiration! We pulled up and were met with a room full of very serious looking young men. I got up and nervously introduced myself and had them go around the room to introduce themselves. I always like to make some jokes to ease the initial tension in a classroom so I did, and it went over pretty well! The second I got them smiling, I finally started breathing again. These guys were so disciplined and absorbed everything we could teach them with the limited time we had. They asked awesome questions and by the end, I forgot that they were highly trained and specialised members of the Royal Cambodian Army. Sometimes I get so intimidated in a new country that I find myself holding back, especially somewhere like Cambodia where I didn't have much time to learn about the culture and language beforehand. I fear being a traveler or guest who offends the citizens and I was on extra-high guard being around the military of my host-country. Once I relaxed and opened up with them, I really felt like they also became comfortable with me. It was such an honour to teach them some life saving skills, and I would love to go back for a second round with more time. I really can't describe it in any other way besides honoured, humbled, grateful. It was absolutely the highlight of my time there. After the class was done, we stood around on the grounds and they explained to me a bit about their training, where they live and their duty. They lined the hallways, waving as we drove off and I was hoping I would see them again someday! 



The next two days were spent teaching the advanced course. My self esteem was admittedly a little low upon the completion of the course. We had a large class, difficulty in translation, long power cuts and late days. As the course director, I tried my best to keep everything on track and ensure that the students met all of the course objectives. I was a text book Type A personality growing up but the last 3 years have forced me to, I don't know, not be so much of a Type A. My overly organised, perfectionist, way-planning ahead, not that flexible, intolerance of tardiness self has been watered down. It's probably best this way, I am guessing my risk of dying young from a heart attack has decreased! One trait that hasn't changed is that I am still highly self critical, so it is hard to walk away from a set of challenges and feel like I faced them well. Did the students get a lot out of the classes? Yes! Did I feel my best at the end of the day? Nope! After a lot of reflection, I learned quite a bit from the challenges during teaching in Cambodia and there is good in that. It has helped me anticipate needs in other countries and also taught me what questions to ask ahead of time to ensure that we are going in with the best plan possible. Everyone I worked with remained flexible and energetic despite the heat and long days, I am very thankful for that!


 Buddhism in Cambodia sure is different from Buddhism in India. It is intriguing to me to see the visual difference between the Theravada path and the Mahayana path. 

My awesome team. I couldn't have managed without their input and experience! 

Before I knew it, it was time to leave Phnom Penh. We had one last yummy Cambodian dinner and the next morning I was off to India. I arrived to Kolkatta with a massively high fever (40 Celsius at one point) AND found out that nearly all of my money had been fraudulently debited from my Indian bank account. I was a pile of feverish emotions by the time I reached Guwahati. Luckily, the fever went away after a few days and a few months later all of my money was credited back to my account. Yes, it took a few months.... but at least it I got it back. Someone in Mexico really had a hay day with my Rupees. They ate at fancy restaurants, stayed in good hotels, drank Starbucks and probably had no care that half way around the world they were teaching me a big lesson in patience, perseverance and acceptance that I could survive without the money they spent. A true lesson in showing that what we think is ours materially in this world, is not. It's all an illusion! 

Cambodia, I will come back for you one day!

6.24.2014

Only good days

If there is a cure when trouble comes, what need is there for being sad?
And if no cure is to be found, what use is there in sorrow?"
-Shantideva 

After lots of research, emails, phone calls and meetings it is determined that because of my age and that I am single, I am still considered too young to move forward with adoption in India. What I have learned is that if you are married, they will make exceptions to the age restrictions but not when you are single. I will be 29 in the fall, and I need to be 30. I am hoping that when I turn 29 that I may be allowed to go further in the process because anyone familiar with adoption knows that it takes a very long time and I would honestly likely be 30 by the time it I am matched with a child. When I received the news about my age, I was pretty upset but I pulled myself together quickly. The answer was not "no never" it was "not yet." Its been my desire for over 2 years, that won't change in the matter of another few months or another year. I am actually pretty proud that in a country where corruption and difficulty in upholding law is a pervasive way of life, that they really strictly honour their commitment to both their in-country adoption laws and the Hague Convention.

The truth is, I will wait forever. How can I not?

I was pretty honest with the adoption authority here that I had my heart tied to a specific little girl, I know 100% I can not request to be matched with her but I can identify specifically the special needs I am able to care for. I would also request an older child and because I speak the local language as well as Hindi, I would also be best with a child from this area. Without going into unneeded details, it seems likely that through the process she and I would be matched legally, a procedure that is put in place to protect orphaned children from essentially being 'purchased' via special requests and extra payments. I have no desire to break or bend any rules (unless it is written in their guidelines that exceptions can be made for example, age exceptions) so I am in the open mindset that 1) She could very well be adopted to another family while I am sitting here ripening into the acceptable age of 30 and 2) I could be matched with a different child.  I genuinely believe that what is meant to happen... will. So though I still struggle with anxiety and worry for her development as she gets older in an orphanage, I also just find peace in knowing that right now she is well cared for and that at least from my family, friends and her caretakers, everyone is pulling for us.

I volunteer at the orphanage's free community health clinic every week and am welcome any other day of the week. In this waiting period we just use the time to bond and laugh and play and love. It really isn't too bad. She seems more and more confident as the weeks pass. She talks up a storm and has been initiating play with me which is huge progress. She confidently tells me "Bye Bye!" in English and "I'll see you later" in Assamese accompanied by a big old 'morom' (kiss) when I leave instead of crying and that makes it a whole lot easier. Her crying and tears from the balcony have turned into huge smiles and waves instead.

This past weekend was the best. I came early to reorganise the medicine cabinet in the health clinic. I was by a window when I noticed a clan of monkeys in the trees right outside! I went about my business and heard from behind me "_____ your mommy is here!" I turned around and received a huge hug. The kids were both ecstatic and scared of the monkeys. We ran from window to window, spotting every monkey momma, monkey baby and monkey papa. We talked about what they were doing, what they were eating, where they were going, how many were there. It was so much fun to just be able to absorb all of these moments with them, with her in my arms until my arms were jello. Needless to say, it took me a real long time to organise the medicine cabinet with so many monkeys to spot!

Though I am sure nothing will come of it, I am about to head off to a meeting with the Indian Child Welfare Council about my desire to adopt. They already know me there because I once had to hand over an abandoned child I found in the slum. They excitedly told me today that the little girl is doing wonderfully and being adopted to France!! They said she has grown and developed and that I wouldn't recognise her! I don't know, I just feel like somehow through fate I have connected with a lot of different people that know my heart and intentions and will support me in this long and crazy process. I know in the meeting today that they will not be able to do anything regarding the restrictions on my age, but it is good to reconnect with them. They actually called me and asked me to come so I will happily oblige.

I have been trying to keep my days and mind filled (or at times purposefully empty) because I know there is not much I can do right now in regards to all of this. My job is a little up in the air right now, I am hoping I still have a job with OpSmile after this month. It seems like it will happen, but my role will change. That is the hard truth about working as an independent consultant for a NPO. Things change a lot, and we as consultants don't have much power or protection. I love OpSmile and they seem to appreciate me, so I think the cards will fall in my favour. It is crazy to think of the future right now and what it means for me. I am incredibly home sick at times, I just want to absorb some sunshine with my family but tickets home in the summer are expensive. I don't want to wait again to visit until winter but it may have to be that way. Long term, I have no intentions to leave India until two years after the adoption process is over. I am in a weird residency status. I have to follow India's guidelines because I am a habitual resident here but I am a U.S. citizen. In order for my future daughter to become a citizen of the U.S., she has to reside with me as her guardian for two years in India. After two years, I can take her to the U.S. on an 'immediate-relative' visa and re-adopt her on arrival. I actually hope that living together in India for some time before eventually moving will help with adjustment and increase parental-attachment. It will give her time to learn English and feel some stability in a new home before being brought into a new culture. I have to imagine that moving across the world would be pretty shocking and extremely difficult no matter the background of a child, maybe this will ease some of that shock in the long-run. I may be a little gray haired lady by the time I move back to the U.S!

 It has been raining continuously. A huge relief from the smothering heat. 

 This sweet guy dropped in my room from my fifth floor window!

 I believe more and more in the sentience of every living thing. Still trying to figure out how to best honour that in daily life. 

 A whole lot of indoor and outdoor yoga has been taking place with semi-strange 6am classes at a local studio. 

 Monkey business. 

Finally accepting that I will be here a while and making my flat a little more like home. 

6.14.2014

A Look Back: Russia 2014

Finding out that Russia was on my work itinerary for March 2014 kind of made me nervous at first. Given the tenuous political relationship between the U.S. and Russia, the difficult to anticipate laws, language barrier, and the COLD I wasn't sure how I would fair in this huge country. I have worked on missions and at the center with Operation Smile Russia volunteers before and found them to be incredibly nice, so when I found out that I would be meeting many of them again throughout my journey in their home country, I felt relieved! Just getting prepared to go though was one of the hardest parts. I had no clothes for cold weather save one pair of 'boots,' and a few long sleeve shirts my mom gave me while I was in California over the holidays. I had to piece together other cold weather wear from colleagues because there was nothing for me to even purchase in Guwahati. There just happened to be a team from Russia here as I was leaving and when I showed them my hodge-podge collection of 'warm' clothes, their general reaction was that they thought I would probably survive. I mean, they grew up in the Soviet Era so, if they're saying I'll survive I confidently went thinking just that. 

So off I went.... the week after Russia started militarising in the Ukraine over Crimea. And where was the first place I had classes scheduled? A city called Taganrog in the Caucasus region of SW Russia right on the border of the Ukraine. I landed in a bigger city called Rostov-on-Don in sleet and freezing rain and had a real Russian winter welcome! As we drove to Taganrog, we passed a handful of Russian military tanks that were heading to the border. The tensions were high, everything on the news was about Crimea and the Winter Olympics (which had the closing ceremony the day I arrived.) Talking to locals about the political situation was incredibly interesting, I spent each night after class at the home of my Russian colleague. His wife made wonderful food, my favorite was her vegetarian borscht, and we talked about Russian history extending from pre-Soviet Era to the current tensions. We watched together as the public of Crimea voted near unanimously to be annexed. My general impression was that the Russian people absolutely do not want war, but they also don't want the cultural suppression of their friends and relatives in the Ukraine, whom they consider as a branch of Russia itself still.  I am well aware of how the situation was brought across in western media vs. Russian media vs. Ukrainian media, it doesn't all align but was and is there a real crisis amongst the huge Russian population in Crimea? Yes. Is it/was it handled correctly? I do not know... When leaving the area I lost count of how many tanks I saw driving to the border, let alone other military vehicles. It was pretty quiet in the car at the time. As I said, no one I know in Russia wants war.

 Winter becoming Spring in Taganrog

 My favorite cafe! 

 See how sweet?



 WWII depiction in the underground tunnels of Rostov. 

After Taganrog my colleague and I flew to Novosibirsk, Western Siberia. I loved this little Siberian town! Perhaps the best part was the snow and that one of my favourite paediatricians came for the advanced class and we got to share a room and time together. It was the second morning that I woke up and saw the snow outside and was elated! We walked to the hospital we were teaching at just so I could enjoy it. I hadn't been in actual falling snow in years so it was a treat. The craziest part about teaching in Russia was that OpSmile volunteers were flying in from all over the country just to attend. Not only did I get to see Elena the paediatrician but I got see a nurse I know, an anaesthesiologist and one doc who was there during his birthday; we had a special dinner that night for him in Novo. The food everywhere I went was AMAZING. It was wholesome, warm, tasty and given to me in abundance. There were points that I thought I wouldn't make it through a meal because I was being fed so many heavy dishes and sweets. I had recently been sick and had hardly been able to eat prior to Russia. It all turned around here though. I gained weight for the first time in 6 months :) 
 Happy Snowy Kristin 

The largest Opera/Ballet Theatre in Russia. With a statue of Lenin in front. 

The cutest hand made birdhouse on the walk to the hospital

Happy Birthday Maksim!

After Novosibirsk we took the Trans Siberian Rail to Krasnoyarsk in Eastern Siberia. I was SO SO SO excited to take this train. I really enjoy train rides even on the most rickety trains here in India so I had my expectations pretty high for this trip. I wish I could have taken pictures of the station and the exterior of the train but apparently that is punishable by law, including the possibility of jail time... ? I still get that travel-happy fullness in my chest looking back. The train was perfect. We got in our little car. Sat down with tea and talked for sometime. Eventually my colleague went to sleep and I stayed up and read Harry Potter and gazed out the window until it was too dark to see anything. I drank more tea, snacked on Russian treats and eventually dozed off while reading. When I woke up in the morning it was just becoming light again. We were passing through vast Russian wintery tundra and I was smiling from ear to ear watching it all go by. We ate breakfast in the home of a volunteer, again the way I was welcomed so warmly humbled me at every turn. Krasnoyarsk was different from the other two cities, it felt like a whole different place but had its charm.  My favourite tidbit about Krasno is that the Yenisei River running through the city flows North into the Arctic Ocean!

On the Trans-Siberian Railway

 My favorite Russian Orthodox Church I saw

 Take a book/leave a book in the middle of the sidewalk!

Guiding the students while they practice Intra Osseous Insertion

On my way back to India I had around a 9 hour layover in Moscow; I took the opportunity to utilize the rapid metro so I could see a bit of the city. Again, I was so accommodated, my colleague's daughter in law met me in Moscow and took me all around. We first went to the Red Square so I could stare at St. Basil's Cathedral. Stare I did. Up to that point (I hadn't been to Petra) this was the most stunning piece of architecture I had ever seen (far surpassing the Taj Mahal!) To me it was so unique and also very lucky to have survived the communist era which was characterised by an atheist state. During that time religious buildings and properties were being seized and this was one of them. It hasn't functioned as a church since the late 1920s and is still owned by the government, not the Russian Orthodox Church. Ironically enough, the mausoleum of Lenin is just to the right of it in the Red Square. The rest of Moscow was such an interesting mixture of extremely old buildings alongside high end malls and modern architecture. We walked for hours just so I could see the many different sides of the city. We ate lunch, had tea and braved more walking in the beginning of a large snow-storm. Before I knew it, I was back on a plane headed for Delhi. 

 The Red Square (R-L: An old building turned shopping mall, St. Basil's Cathedral, The Kremlin with Lenin's tomb right outside)

 It just doesn't even look real to me!

So many beautiful buildings

 Russian Harry Potter!

Matryoshka! 

Russia completely blew me away and exceeded every expectation I had for it. I want to go back and visit my friend in Tomsk and explore other parts of this diverse country again someday. It really goes to show that we can not have reservations or assumptions about travel and the way you will be treated in the country simply because of political relations. I was so worried that I would be treated differently. I was scared that I would unintentionally do something wrong. I had so many incorrect ideas before I went there and every single one of them was disproven. I was lucky to have been there for work and therefore had access to English speaking Russians who could help me with anything I needed. I was made to feel like family and this changed how I have accommodated guests who come to Guwahati for short term volunteer work/work at the center since my return. I truly learned a different and warm hospitality from everyone I met there. Every day they taught me about the country's vast history, and even helped me picked up on the Cyrillic alphabet and essential phrases! I had fun, stayed warm in the freezing cold and came out feeling like Russia gave way more to me than me to it during my time there.