Monday, March 5, 2012
Today was the first day back after our whirlwind trip to Russia, and I never expected to miss Vytegra as much as I do. The time we spent with the kids there was something that will stay with me for a long time, and I will always have fond memories of the people that we met there. The last night we spent in Vytegra especially stands out, and was one of the most bittersweet moments of the trip--bitter because we were leaving, and simultaneously happy because both our group and the Vytegra youth club had over come the initial anxieties that came along with our very first interactions, and collectively, I believe we shared the best evening of the entire trip. I will forever remember the epic snow fight that we had the entire walk back to the hotel, when both sides lost all inhibitions towards each other as every one of us was either tackled to the ground or attacked under a barrage of well-aimed snowballs. When the time finally came to say our goodbyes to the kids, we all became emotional to some degree: here, we said goodbye to the people that accepted us, with incredible generosity, into their lives for five incredible days, and we said our farewells, wishing somehow that we could stay in the sleepy, snowy town of Vytegra if only for one more day. Years from now, I will only vaguely remember the master paintings we saw in the Hermitage, and most of the souvenirs I bought or received will be broken, lost or given away, but the things that will stay with me are the memories and experiences that I shared not only with the RUSLAN group, all of whom became my good friends in the ten days we spent together, but also with the people that we met as we took our first venture into the heart of Russia, and I sincerely hope that it will not be our last.