Reflection. Sometimes it is so incredibly hard to reflect. I just got off a 42 hour train ride from Sochi to Saint Petersburg, and I’m having a difficult time summing up the glorious, stressful, wonderful, and tiresome past ten days of my life. How can I possibly explain Sochi in one little blog?
Well for starters, Sochi is home to the 2014 Winter Olympics and is situated between snow-capped mountains and the Black Sea. Currently Sochi is a mess of a city. While it is still quite beautiful, construction plagues almost every corner of Sochi. Resorts and restaurants are even springing up on the tops of mountains. If fact, the 2014 Olympic Games are set to be the most expensive in history. Olympic merchandise was sold everywhere in the city, and every gift shop had “Sochi 2014” mugs, hats, key chains, etc. However, I couldn’t quite get myself to buy any of the souvenirs. The natives of Sochi seemed to suffer from all the dust and commotion caused by the ongoing construction that has been taking place over the past 7 years. New high rises, highways, and restaurants appeared to only congest the once beautiful resort city.
This is not to say that there still aren’t gorgeous parts of the city. My classmates and I were able to go on several hikes high up into the mountains to Sochi’s back. Here we set eyes on glamorous rivers, waterfalls, and valleys. We even took a two hour bus ride out to Adler, where many of the skiing and snowboarding competitions will take place next year high up in the mountains. We took an impressive 40 minute gondola ride up to the snow-capped peaks. Surprisingly I still felt comfortable in only a t-shirt. Nothing reminds me of how tiny I am in this world until I gaze across huge snowy mountain ranges. I had to plop myself down in the snow, close my eyes, and let the sun warm my face in order to take a minute to reflect on all the blessings I’ve received in my life. I never in a million years thought I’d be lying in the snow on top of a mountain in southern Russia or skipping stones on top of the Black Sea. It’s moments like that when the words of John Muir echo in my head.
“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.”
While I’ve been focusing on my Russian major over the past four months, I still can’t help but apply my Environmental Studies and Geography majors to my time here. I’m constantly evaluating how people live and interact with the earth. Russians tend to conserve more than Americans. My host babushka will lick off her plate and save every scrap of paper and material for some other use around the house. However, recycling is not a concept in Russia. Plastic bottles are thrown in the trash without a second thought. That is not to say that there aren’t environmental groups in Russia lobbying for recycling and environmental protection; however, it is a tough business getting people to listen to them when poverty plagues a large portion of the country. Essentially, how can Russia focus on the environment when it has poverty issues to focus on first? There is a huge income gap between the poor and rich in this country that troubles me every day.
So this is what I’ve been pondering lately. Russia’s government has been spending an incredible amount of money on the Olympics in Sochi, when a large majority of its people are struggling to just get by. During my train ride to Sochi I gazed upon thousands of broken down shacks that served as homes for people living in the Russian countryside. Does the government even care? Or will the poor keep getting poorer and the outlook on the environment get progressively gloomier? I hope it is not the latter, yet my hopes are not set very high.
My presents thoughts are now focused on how I can possibly help this country.