Sochi, Sochi, Sochi! So warm and tropical it felt more like a Florida vacation than a city in Russia. Strangely, the part of Sochi that has stayed with me the most isn’t the weather or the sea or our adventurous mountain hike, but the tea plantation we visited. Of course, the tea with lemon and various jams was good, and the folk songs and dance were fun (and fun to watch other program mentors attempt Russian instruments and dance literal circles around each other). Yet I keep thinking about the building—big, wooden, beautiful—and the view—overlooking mountains and greenery—and the rituals of tradition.
During our tea ceremony, I fixated not on the music or the dancing or the food and drink placed before us, but on the ceremony itself. I imagined a future in which I had my own home, and into which I would invite my guests for tea (loose leaf, all different sorts to be mixed together), raw sugar, raw honey, every imaginable kind of jam. I like the idea of slowing things down, of letting in room for conversations and camaraderie in the home, the way I see frequently in Russia.
My first week in Vladimir, before I had had the time to go to the bank or figure out my cell phone, or even do much more than unpack, one of my professors met me at my host mom’s apartment to take me around town and show me the school building, the town square, the famous beautiful churches, how to take the bus. When we returned to the apartment building, I was surprised when she came up with me, all nine floors, and had a late lunch with us—borscht, of course, and stuffed peppers, and tea. This was not something I could imagine happening in America, and certainly not within days of meeting each other.
I was still too tired and jetlagged to follow much of their conversation, but I thought a lot about this interaction during our teatime in Sochi. When I return home, I hope to be more like my host mom, always gracious, with food enough to share with anyone who might pass by, and tea always ready on the stove.
After the tea ceremony we returned to our own personal explorations of the city, but even the cafes we visited after had more of the slower, southern feel that the tea house did—which is to say we would wait there ages for our food and drink, slowing down in our vacation, talking in mixtures of Russian and English to each other and to our servers, who would excitedly tell us about their experiences in America or with Americans. We didn’t always drink tea at these restaurants, preferring instead Georgian lemonade among other favorites, but the feeling was the same. We felt slowed down, aware of ourselves and our surroundings, aware of the hospitality of the area in which we now lived and hoping to carry this back with us home.
By: Samantha Parrish
Program: Advanced Russian Language & Area Studies Program, Vladimir, Russia
Term: Fall 2019