I had never visited home just for a week. Also, I had never had two homes before, that is, homes in two different countries. I`m still calling Novosibirsk, the city in Russia where I was born and lived for 20 or so years home, yet my home (at least for the next 2 years) is also here in Kayseri with my husband. Novosibirsk is where my family is, yet out there in the world is where career opportunities and exiting adventures are. Ever since we came back from New Zealand, I was itching to go on our next adventure, looking forward to finding out what our next destination would be, yet as soon as we settled in Kayseri, I started missing my family, tearing up as I was tacking family photos onto the fridge and sleeping with a stuffed sausage dog at night. As we were excitedly exploring our new surroundings and trying new local foods, I was planning a visit home. When I found a job (my current post as an English Instructor in a university English Prep Program) and learned of the dates of our semester break, I bought the tickets home. I was even undaunted by the weather forecast promising -38C (-36F). I got busy buying presents and planning all the food I would eat and bring back that we can’t get here in Kayseri.
On the day of my departure, Friday January 31, I brought my suitcases to work with me and engaged in many last-minute reshuffling and repackaging attempts in order to make my cabin luggage suitcase look smaller and lighter. I said my good-bye to Mike in the morning amid many reassurances on his part that he will be JUST FINE for one week (except for when he made a joke about going to work in dirty clothes and eating crumbs off the floor, and quickly retracted it when he saw my bottom lip starting to wobble)
As I was waiting for my taxi, it got really warm, and I was boiling in my winter boots and winter coat and trying hard to remember what it’s like to be living in -30s (last year we also escaped the harsh Siberian winter by going to New Zealand where it was summer). This is a great demonstration of what I`m talking about: the picture above is of Kayseri and the one below is in Novosibirsk.
Once I got to Istanbul, I had 4 hours until my next flight. When it comes to travelling, I’d rather spend a few extra hours waiting at the airport than worry about missing my flight. Together with Mike, we are one of those people who order a taxi for 8 am for a late afternoon flight. You know, in case the taxi is late, there is a traffic jam, we get stopped by the traffic police or forget our passports at home.
Anyway. Here is me hopping with excitement at the sight of the airplane that would take me HOME
The flight was full of Russians (duh!) most of whom opened their Duty Free bags as soon as the plane took off and vigorously proceeded to consume the contents of the bottles extracted from the bags for the next 5 hours of the flight. Russians always drink on planes and in airports. Go to any Russian airport and at any time of day and night you will see guys drinking beer or whiskey and girls drinking champagne even if it’s 6 am. Even though I`m Russian, I never drink and travel as I feel that jet-lag is just as bad as a hangover and even worse when combined with one (I learned that the hard way.) I was lucky enough not only to get a seat by the emergency exit, but also to be seated next the one of the few non-drinking people. Because he was a Mormon missionary from Utah.
Exiled posted to Siberia. We had a nice long chat (as I answered my friend Jenny’s question, not I am not a Mormon now, only because I was the one doing most of the talking so quite possible it is he who is converted now, although to what I`m not sure. A Russian? Sausage-dog lover? Seafood fiend?)
We arrived to my freezing hometown early on Saturday morning. While I was waiting for my luggage, I watched an adorable sniffer spaniel in action
My dad and my brother picked me up at the airport and took me home to my mum and out two dogs. When we left Novosibirsk, there was only one dog, the one and only Sharon the sausage dog. But when we left for Turkey, she was really sad, having gotten used to hanging out with us during the day, so my parents decided to get her a friend. They came to adopt another dachshund and left with a long-legged gangly whirlwind of a puppy. I call her Monica while my parents call her a multitude of other silly names.
Sharon remembered me straight away, and Monica didn’t care whether she knew me or not – she was jumping up, trying to lick my nose and pulling my sleeper off.
Me trying to unpack the presents and shooing away the dogs as the are trying to steal stuff
The first thing I unpacked was my dad’s birthday present, which took up half of my suitcase – dad’s portrait embroidered on a carpet. We felt it was a very Turkish present and it was fun choosing a photo for the portrait and anticipating dad’s reaction.
Once I unpacked, I was pretty tired, but not too tired to eat. First on my menu was kholodets, a dish adored by most Russians and hated with vehemence by most foreigners who try it. It’s a jellied meat dish made with beef or pork and served with spicy Russian mustard. I know it sounds weird, but I grew up eating this stuff, so it made me very happy (although as I`m typing this Mike is looking over my shoulder going, “Eeeew, kholodets!”)
My parents’ pickled tomatoes and cucumbers, the best pickles in the world
My parents also made a roast goose. They usually wrap it in a parcel of dough which soaks up all the excess fat and keeps the goose juicy and moist.
In the evening I was off to an evening with our friends. It was weird hanging out with them without Mike but it was still a nice evening catching up with everyone.
Our friends enjoying Kayseri pastirma, a local specialty of air-dried cured beef. The next day I paid a visit to my grandma and finally gave her the earrings my sister and I bought for her in Istanbul. She force-fed me a huge lunch (as all grandmas are prone to doing) including one of my favorites: forshmak, a Jewish herring pate which we made together.
Grandma’s bedroom with a (Soviet) traditional carpet on the wall. I think the carpet is as old as I am or older.
Disaster struck when I was walking the dogs. I got carried away by making a video, forgot that I was walking on ice and snow, and twisted my ankle. This, and more is in this video, my mini-documentary:
Although I was worried about my foot, and even hobbled to the ER the following morning to get an X-ray
(verdict: just a sprain) it was also a blessing in disguise as I got to stay at home and hang out with my parents and watch all of the Lord of the Rings with my little brother (who at 14 is taller than me and speaks with a voice of a grown man) while cuddled up with the dogs. It was pure bliss.
What followed was a whirlwind of shopping, errands and meetings with friends and old students turned friends, but the time spent with my parents and brother and the dogs were the most precious, precisely because it was so limited. When we all lived together (we lived with our parents for 3 months before we went to New Zealand and for 5 months before we came to Turkey) we would usually spend the evening doing our own things, only getting together at the weekends or at the summer-house, but now I wanted to spend every minute with them.
Lunch with my little brother
The very centre of Novosibirsk, Lenin Square with Lenin’s statue in the middle The countdown to the Winter Olympics (2 days and 9 hours left)The Opera and Ballet Theater A typical sight in Russia in the winter – a car half buried in snow
Center of the table: stuffed pike dish, salted mushrooms with sour cream
The essential home food: fish cutlets and mashed potatoes My cousin and I tried to recreate a 23-year old photograph. Sharon had to play the role of the toy monkey and we had to improvise and use a potted plant in place of a Christmas tree.
Me sampling the caviar and the dogs begging for a taste as well
Food… It’s such a dependable pleasure and plays such a bog role in our lives. Here in Kayseri, the food is good but as I lamented many times before, the choices are mostly limited to Turkish food unless you count McDonald’s, Popeye’s, Arby’s, Burger King, Dominoes and a handful of ‘international’ restaurants that always fall short of expectations. So after a while, most expats become obsessed with foods they can’t get here. You only have to name a dish or an ingredient to send a person into a Pavlovian paroxysm of drooling as they recall a crunch of bacon, the perfection of a Philadelphia sushi roll or the guilty pleasure of a trip to a Taco Bell (you are reading this, Jackie…). As weird as it was to be planning all the meals I would have in Russia in advance, I couldn’t stop. One of the things I craved the most was sushi. So I went to town on it
While my dad kept me company by eating pelmeni, one of the most traditional Russian dishes, dumplings with meat. It’s the ultimate bachelor food when brought frozen, and the ultimate home food when made together with your family. We tried to make some here but they were no match for my parents’ years of experience and home-made mince with beef and pork. Pelmeni are usually served with sour cream.
And going out to bars… Not that we did it all that often when we lived in Russia, but what a joy it was to be able to drink in public, to have to shout over the loud music to be heard, perched on a high and uncomfortable bar stool, catching up on 6 months-worth of gossip with a good friend…
On my last evening in Novosibirsk I took my parents out to one of my favorite restaurants, a military-themed Russian cuisine place called Blindazh (bunker). It was here that 7 years ago I had dinner with my dad and my sister before leaving for London, and we also had a big family dinner before Michael’s family went back to the US after our wedding, so it seemed fitting to come here for yet another farewell dinner. I felt very grown up as I ordered a bottle of champagne for mom and I and later sneaked off to pay the bill by myself. First time ever I treated my parents to a meal at an expensive restaurant.
Here is another Russian (and Ukrainian) dish that isn’t greatly loved by foreigners. Salo, salted or smoked pork fatback or belly. It’s frozen before serving to make cutting it easier and is served with black rye bread and sometimes spicy mustard. Also, a frequent accompaniment for vodka. Packing was hellish, and not only because I was super sad. I had several requests for food, mostly bacon, but also salted fish, condensed milk and smoked cheese. Mike also asked me to bring some books back, so all in all I had to sit on the suitcase to get it to zip up. I was over the limit, but the kind check-in lady let me off with a warning after I started unzipping my suitcase and saying in a shaky yet brave voice that I would have to throw away my grandma’s pirozhky (small pies).
She did make quite a lot but I don’t think they quite accounted for the 2 extra kilograms in my suitcase.
Once I got onto the plane, I felt torn in two. Part of me was looking forward to seeing my husband and planning our Sunday together, while another part of me was flicking through the photos in my phone and trying not to cry as I could feel myself missing my family already.
Mike pointed out that one has to count one’s blessings. Indeed, I`ve been blessed with wonderful parents and siblings, and lucky to get a chance to see them (and the dogs!)