To Russia, With Love
By Tasha Hacker '99
Tasha Hacker was, since shortly after her graduation, a Peace Corps
volunteer teaching English to students ages 9 to 16 in Nakhodka, Russia,
a small port city on the Sea of Japan. An English (writing) major at
St. Lawrence, she was a member of Kappa Delta Sigma sorority, the Outing
Club and the English honorary, the Irving Bacheller Society; studied
on St. Lawrence's London program; and was an intern in University communications.
Here she reflects on her Peace Corps service as she prepared to return
to America; she left Nakhodka on the Trans-Siberian Railway in late
June, bound for several weeks of travel by train throughout Russia and
Today I bought an axe. This is, perhaps, a strange purchase, even in
Russia. In any case, it isn't the usual sort of thing I take home on
market day. I must have been a sight: an American woman wielding a sturdy
instrument for man's work, meanwhile carrying all the ingredients for
kitchen labor, woman's work. Smoked fish, whole, as long as my forearm,
a warm loaf of bread, a slab of butter wrapped in paper, a jar of currant
jam, and a bundle of sticks guaranteed by the babushka who sold them
to me to give energy when boiled in tea and consumed. I guess the axe
is a strange accessory.
I'm fooled into thinking I blend in well now, that this is why even
with an axe slung over my shoulder, no one stares much. But, I know
the natives of Nakhodka have simply grown accustomed to my strange presence.
They're used to my habit of doing and saying bizarre things every day
and so my strangeness has grown less extraordinary. Two years ago, everyone
stared, pointed, nudged, whispered, and I wasn't even carrying an axe.
It's true, I often wore sneakers, I never wore make-up, and I felt my
backpack made a better receptacle for groceries than the awkward shopping
sacks I saw pulling at the shawl-covered shoulders of women leaving
the market every Saturday. Girls pointed at my feet and giggled; others
eyed my L.L. Bean pack and whispered sentences that I heard but didn't
understand, except for the intermittent "Amerikanka."
I think of what Richard Lipez said: "Whatever we were before,
and none of us are quite sure, that's all gone." And I look at
my axe made with wood that is "tough and weathered, like the Russian
people themselves!" Perhaps I have lost some of my impatience,
perhaps I have gained some tolerance, some understanding. What was there
before isn't all gone, I know. It has simply mingled with what I brought
with me to Russia two years ago.
The author, left, with friends from the United States, Mexico and Russia
on a mountaintop near the site of her Peace Corps service, Nakhodka
in the Russian Far East.