“Try not to make plans this weekend,” my host father gently pleaded. “We’re going to the dacha, and we want you to come along.”
Given its centrality to life in this country, the dacha is a concept, a place, a way of life of which I’ve been aware as long as I’ve been studying Russian language and something which I’ve, throughout this same period of time, had no desire to experience. But I felt this way only because, as I now realize, my prior conception of the dacha was all wrong.
I had always imagined the dacha as something akin to a cabin, without electricity or any indication of modernity, nestled deep inside the woods, as far from the city as could possibly be. Having spent thirteen of years of my life as first a Cub Scout and then a Boy Scout, I’ve stayed one too many nights in the middle of nowhere and, consequently, now find myself rather skeptical of this “return-to-nature” sort of idea.
But in line with my self-imposed rule to try anything once, I decided to heed my host father’s wishes, no matter how apathetic about the planned excursion I felt.
Immediately upon arriving to the dacha, however, my apathy transformed into pure delight. I suspect not all dachas resemble that of my host family, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I would not be spending my weekend in a cabin but in what seemed to me, as an American, to be an average suburban house, both inside and out. In any case, was a welcome sight and a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Moscow proper.
After settling into my room, things only got better and better. In short time I was summoned down to the шашлычная беседка where, as its name might suggest, the hearty aroma of shashlik began to waft in all directions the flame of the мангал. Thus began a long night of conversation and laughs, aided by assorted grilled meats; cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions fresh from the extensive garden and greenhouse; abundant vodka and cognac; and the lively hum of Russian pop music played from a cellphone.
The following morning, I was invited into the garden to pick an array of berries—strawberries, raspberries, currants—and eat them right then and there. Having had our fill, my host sister, her cousin and I went for a walk around the neighborhood, through a wide and bright field, across a slightly decrepit swinging suspension bridge, to an old church filled with beautiful frescos and other iconography. Upon returning to the dacha, I was fed a delicious meal of rice pilaf, made with carrots also from the garden and leftover meat from the previous night, once again along with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.
My time at the dacha simply reiterates for me a truth I’ve found time and time again during my stay here in Russia: the unknown and the unexpected should not necessarily be feared. More often than not, such things and the experiences accompanying them are more enjoyable, beautiful, life-changing than one could have ever expected.
By: Sebastian Reyes
Term: Summer 2017