For the last month, I've been waging a personal battle against an infamous foe. I'll admit that this battle has been fruitless, as my foe is not a living being that can be physically vanquished, is much stronger than the force of man, and will most definitely bring down its wrath upon me regardless of my obstinate fight. Despite full knowledge of my most certain eventual defeat, I've been wholeheartedly resisting my enemy…until today. Today I lost the battle.
The foe of which I speak is, of course, winter. My village lies in the sub-Siberian tundra on a plain surrounded by rolling hills which are beautiful, but not quite large enough to block the wind. Since late September, I've been greeted almost every morning by frost, overcast skies, and biting wind, and these signs of the coming winter have greatly increased in intensity over the last month. I've heard from locals that winters in North Kazakhstan oblast are accompanied by a great deal of snow (kop kar in Kazakh), frigid winds (soukh zhel), and temperatures approaching -40 degrees Celsius (which is the same as -40 degrees Fahrenheit). I've been hearing stories about these winters since I first arrived at site in the beginning of summer. That's how horrible the winters are—even in the height of warm weather, locals still revere the winter that's 6 months away.
It's true that I've lived with similar winters my entire life, both in Montana and in Minnesota, but something about the fact that I live in sub-Siberia, only a few hundred kilometers from Russia, makes the impending winter more frightful to me than ever before. So how, you may be wondering, have I been fighting against an impregnable force of nature? Through the use of my mental strength and stubborn attitude, that's how. For the last month, I've been telling myself that winter was a long way off, and I needn't concern myself with it until it hit me in the face. I've kept my winter coat, long underwear, thick wool socks, winter hat, warm scarf, mittens, and snow boots hidden away in a suitcase on top of my wardrobe ever since I moved into my host family's home in mid-May; out of sight, out of mind. When someone asks if I'm cold, I've refused to admit that I am, even when I'm shivering. "I've felt worse," I think, "I can handle this." I've been inadequately dressed every day for the past month, because I simply wouldn't let myself break down and get out my warm clothes. That would be admitting defeat, and succumbing to the inevitability of winter.
But today, on the morning of October 27th, 2011, I lost the battle. I woke up to 2 inches of snow on hard frozen ground. Snow that's here to stay until March at the earliest. Snow that's white and blinding and cuts like a thousand tiny knives when the wind whips it into my face. Snow that's impossible to ignore, that's undeniable proof of winter's arrival. Winter's here, and I can't shut it out any longer. The battle is over.
So this morning after recovering from the shock of seeing the first snow outside my window, I made some coffee, climbed up on my bed and pulled down my suitcase, full of winter clothes. Today I wore thick long underwear to school, I wore a hat, my puffy green winter coat, mittens, and thick wool socks. And despite the snow, the wind, and the cold, I'm comfortable and warm for the first time in a month. The women teachers at school who have been berating me for weeks are overjoyed to see that I'm finally dressing for the weather, and they assure me that I'll be much happier now that I've broken down and donned warm clothes. They're right. I am much happier. Maybe I should have thrown in the towel a long time ago. Maybe I only damaged my health by refusing to acknowledge the changing of the seasons up until now. But I'm fairly certain that next year I'll do the same thing, because no matter how many times I encounter it, change is scary and difficult to accept. So next year, I'll hold out as long as I can against the approaching sub-Siberian winter, hoping against hope that I can keep it a bay for a few extra weeks. Stubbornly, I'll try again to control a force that's far greater than myself or my will power.
Here's the beautiful thing about change: it is frightening for sure, but it has possibilities. Every opportunity for change I've encountered since coming to Kazakhstan has been scary and disconcerting at first, but I've realized that change isn't all that bad once you finally turn and face it. I've discovered that when I force myself to embrace the inevitable changes that surround me, I'm actually comfortable and happy, all wrapped up in something altogether different than what I had experienced before.