Remember that well tempered baby? ...I had spoken too soon. The baby seemed to protest our attempt at sleeping, several times. Luckily for us, the baby was gone by morning, perhaps whisked away by the KGB?
Aksana's neice, Dasha, drove us nuts all morning, having woken Karen up to play cards. Karen didn't take too kindly to this and rolled back over.
As we got off at a platform for some air, an Uzbek guy, aged twenty years, gave us chestnuts. His name was Misha and he was travelling with his bizarre pack of brothers and friends, none of whom had ever met an American and one of whom proposed to Karen. They were all very friendly and we spent plenty of time chatting. They gave us dried milk curds - which tasted quite like compacted parmesan cheese mixed with an entire shaker full of salt. They also gave us Uzbek money, in exchange for some dollars.
The milk curds are called Tvorag, and I wouldn't suggest them to anyone without an affinity for masochism. Unfortunately for me, I do not enjoy self torture, and thus I did not enjoy these nasty Uzbek treats.
Before we pulled into a station entitled "3-A-0-3-E-P-H-A-backwards R," I grabbed a beer with Karen and tried another bite of Tvorag, it's supposed to be eaten with beer (probably because you'd have to be drunk to eat it). After the bite, a dead ant, partially encased in dried milk curd, stared me in the face - the universe's way of saying, "really dude, just put it down, don't even bother, and finish that damn beer."
A boy from Tajikstan joined us, around seven or eight years old, he is one of the most talented photographers - especially for one who never picked up a DSLR. He quickly learned how to focus the lens - although imperfectly, he did a really damn good job. His name was Roma. And I want to adopt him. I gave him a dollar and he returned with a Tajik bill. We have been entertaining Roma and Dasha, and taking photos of them and showing them how to use our cameras. Dasha is horrendously annoying, as most nine year olds are... She quickly drove Michael up a wall (or into his bed in an effort to escape). A few hours later and I'm wishing that defenstration would leave her unharmed but far, far away from me. Fourth graders around the world apparently ignore "no" (or 'nyet') and "stop" (or 'stoy'). Despite being tired of having hands all over my face, I'm happy that we could bring these two children together. Perhaps they never would have talked if Americans hadn't been such a rarity on the TSR and attracted attention from the Tajiks and Uzbeks. If we hadn't been open to playing with the kids, they probably wouldn't have overcome their shyness and become friends. An accomplishment!
A man nearby suggested we buy Siberian green onions at the next stop, a delicious and healthy treat eaten with salt, dark bread, and kelbasa.
The sweet, salty, spicy, and savory combination was both surprising and a welcome treat. We haven't been able to acquire too many fruits or veggies on the train, so the green was a refreshing sight for my palate.
My feet are dirtier than any given episode of South Park, my sleep schedule more whacked out than the potential love child of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, and my nostrils are filled with a stench so wretched that only 'Essence of Satan's Tuchas' could be an appropriately descriptive title for the future fragrance. This aside, I'm enjoying the TSR more than ever - but my time here is nearing an end. After seventy-six hours on a moving block of steel ripping through the pages of the book "Russia," am sad to leave. We just started to have fun! While the TSR turned out to be a lot less of a party train than we expected, the memories and connections made were worth every second. From Glinda the Magical Cupcake to Roma the Photography Boy-Wonder, the vomiting drunk to the marriage proposal between Karen and an Uzbek, this has been a crazy ride. I will miss the shifting landscapes and random bumps that jolt us in the might, and I'll miss Aksana laughing at my horrendous Russian - oorah!
At hour 90, we're more than ready to get the hell off of this moving stable cart. Our lungs are chock full of dust and blanket fuzzies - look into the sunlight pouring through the window and countless dust particles can be seen conniving and rushing towards your already fragile airways. If Dasha bites or pinches me one more time, I might find a way to lock her in the bathroom. If the Uzbeks hit on Karen one more time, they'll all be squinting at Russia past shiners the size of the country itself. If the drunk Russia men at the end of the cart look at our stuff one more time with an unmistakeable expression that says, "that will be mine when you fall asleep," I'll... yea, I can't take ten Russian men in their prime no matter how hard I try, but I will yell at them very angrily!
Our last night on the train saw approximately three hours of sleep - too afraid of what might happen to our stuff or Karen if we slept too long or deeply. Now off, we're happy to be up and walking. More to come from Irkutsk and Lake Baikal in the coming days!
1) Dasha, balancing an apple on her eye while holding a chestnut in her mouth
2) Misha, the Uzbek
3) An Uzbek
4) Roma, the boy I'd like to adopt
5) Roma taking pictures like a boss
6) A dirty hand passing off change and Siberian green onions on a train platform
7) Aksana, hiding her blemishes with Siberian green onions
PS - You've Got a Friend in Me