The Magic of Childhood

As you already know, my name is Yelena. I was born in Kazakhstan and lived in a small village called Ivanovka. Let me introduce it to you: Iwanowka is a typical village with a typical name. It’s surrounded by a white birch tree forest, and the name of the district is – wait for it – “white birch district”. In Kazakh, it’s known as Akkayynsky district, ak, meaning ‘white’, and kayyn, meaning ‘birch’. 

Three shops, a stream, a goose house, a school, and a club; these are the sights of this remote area. But you should also add nature to this list because Akkayynsky district is rural, wild and alive. 

Summer in Ivanovka

When you walk through the fields in summer, aromas of incredible beauty rise to your nose, and if aromas had colours, this would be the palette of them all. Freshly mown grass, strawberries, and black, damp earth are just some of the smells that are so interwoven, they form a harmony – a symphony of scents so delightful that when you breathe in, it seems that your lungs are not enough. They are too small to take it all in, and sometimes, it seems as if they are about to burst with ecstasy. 

I loved the summer in Ivanovka. It was always warm and beautiful. There were bright colours everywhere, and this liveliness – this wild and unbridled beauty – is what I miss now, of course. 

Although it rains in summer too. Sometimes it rains all day for a week and the ditches are full of water. You can not go outside without wellies. But when you do go out, you immediately walk into the middle of the deepest puddle, as you have decided, being as bold and courageous as you are, to measure the depth of it. In less than a second, you run back home to change your socks as the puddle is deeper than you thought. 

Just before the sun completely leaves for the night, it comes out from behind the clouds and lights up all those puddles for you. It jumps with you along them, and it warms your back so pleasantly, and gives you even more freckles on your already freckled face.

Winter time

Winter, of course, is also beautiful in Ivanovka. Fierce, and sometimes very hard, but beautiful. It begins as early as October, so it happens that snow falls on the roof and remains there until April, and sometimes until May. 

The days are short and very cold. The biting frost will not let you go outside without special equipment: a hat, a fur coat, mittens, Valenki felt boots, a scarf (preferably two), and you can also put gloves under the mittens, and do not forget a couple of pairs of trousers too. Well, now you are ready and can go to the toilet. Yes, yes, the toilet is outside, so do not linger too long, you do not want to freeze your butt off, do you? 

That’s providing the snow’s not too high, of course, otherwise the way to the toilet will be impassable and you’ll have to go and fight with chickens for a place in the barn.

Yeah, it wasn’t very luxurious, but you don’t really complain at that age. It’s just normal. During the night, there is sometimes such a snowstorm that in the morning, you can’t open the front door. If you do manage to squeeze out, the hill before the house has received so much snow that you could slide down it and into your home again. And that gives you an idea… 

With a sledge under your butt, hurried and wrapped in two scarves, you run around the village to conquer all the hills. After about half an hour, all the children from the neighbouring houses are already in the yard, and you take turns flying down the receding path. After a while, you run back home and you are bright red: both hot and cold. And at home, it smells like freshly baked cookies, or maybe fresh chebureki (Russian empanadas), and you bite into your fresh cheburek, wash it down with sweet black tea and understand that the day was a success. 

And if it’s just before Christmas time, it’s the bomb. There’s a tree in the hall and everything around it is so magical. There are garland lights that reflect in the frosted windows so it feels even more lit up. If we’re lucky, mom will cook borscht and we’ll feel warm despite the cold outside.

On the one hand, yes, it’s poor, and yes, it’s cold in the house. The furniture is shabby and the doors of the cupboards look crooked, but as a child, you do not care. You sit under your Christmas tree, look at the baubles and wait for the magic of Christmas. And nothing else matters in the world.

Read more travel stories here.

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