Bob Dylan – Blowin’ in the wind
I thus embark for Kazan, capital of Tatarstan known for being a major meeting place between the Muslim and Christian religions. The ride is rather long (as usual), but time always goes by faster when we make beautiful encounters. Those two sisters from Moscow know for one a bit of English, and the other a bit of French, we can therefore get to know each other that way. They also serve as translators for the third person on this photo, who is very intrigued by my presence in this train. All of those moments are so special.
I arrive early in the morning in Kazan. After having said goodbye to another solo traveler, a retired American woman that I met in Nijni-Novgorod, I set off for the fourty minutes of walking that separate me from my hostel. A glance behind, nice station.
On the way, once again, a weird guy approaches me. He too uses the excuse of being lost. I am not in the mood, I kindly blow him off. He follows me, insists to carry my bag. I don’t have any other choice but to get a bit mad so that he would leave me alone, I am scared that he will follow me to the hostel. I guess I am a dodgy guys magnet… When I finally get there, I am not crazy about the place, but it’s good enough. My phone for its part, doesn’t appreciate as much…
I am very clumsy in the morning, I always drop everything. But it gives me the giggles. I don’t care that my phone doesn’t get to the end of this trip in one piece, as long as I do. (It still works by the way, somehow) After resting for a while, I head out to meet Alex, whom I got in touch with through a mutual friend. He tells me to meet at the usual meeting point for locals, the clock of the main street, covered in Arabic characters.
It’s so cool to be able to meet someone from here who speaks good English and who can show me around, it gives a much more interesting perspective than that of a simple tourist. He takes me to see the city for an entire day. He is super nice and teaches me lots of things.
The mosque that sits at the center of the Kremlin is beautiful with its blue reflections…
He tells me the anectode of this local Tower of Pisa: the legend says that Ivan the Terrible had it built for his future wife, who wasn’t particularly keen on marrying him. Once completed, she climbed up the tower and threw herself from its top. Nice story, huh?
It’s a special day, there is an important Tatar celebration. In this recomposed village, we attend a show with songs, dances, people reading poems. Here’s a glimpse of it…
It’s a great day, but I am happy to go back to the hostel, because I am a bit sick and completely exhausted. I read online that there is a lake outside of the city that has the reputation of curing any disease and revitalizing the body. I don’t really believe in it, but I tell myself that it doesn’t cost me anything to try, and mostly, I need some nature. With the help of the employees of the hostel, I manage to arrange which bus I’m supposed to take to get there. The next day, after a first bus, I end up having to wait over an hour for the second. When it finally comes, bad suprise: it is completely overpacked, I can barely get inside. And the more it moves forward, the more people try to get in, without anybody getting out of it. It was crazy, I even wondered if the bus was going to hold out…
I finally get there, and after a small walk along a path following a river, I discover the lake. Unfortunately, there are already scubadivers there… Seems like I won’t get my quiet moment by the water after all.
I thus decide to take a walk around, for a while under the rain.
After some time, I stumble upon a very quiet corner of the lake. I use the opportunity to take my clothes off and jump in the frozen water (4 degrees, it’s verrrrrrry cold).
But I am proud of myself, so much that I immortalize the achievement. 🙂
(For the anecdote, I got even more sick after this swim supposed to heal me from my illness). After I finished going around the lake, I use the calm that has returned to appreciate the beautiful colours of the water. I could stay here for hours…
But I have a bus to catch to get back. I wait around at the side of the road under a burning heat for a long time again, to find another overfilled bus.
“What I was dreading finally happened: my body punished me for pushing it too hard by giving it a big cold. Nothing too serious, fortunately, but just what it takes to make me want to stay in bed all day with a pack of tissues. Which I don’t do, obviously. Today, I made the best out of my longer stay in Kazan to give myself a getaway from the city and its agitation, at a lake reputed for its water at a constant temperature of 4 degrees and its clear blue colour, its healing properties. To find myself in nature, in the tranquillity of Russian forests, was a delight for my heart. My mood was put to the test, these last few days, not only through my defective health but also with the vivid dreams from which I’ve been waking up. It has indeed been three or four nights that I systematically dream that I am back in Switzerland prematurely, surrounded by my loved ones who don’t seem to have noticed I was gone. I don’t know how to interpret those dreams; even if I miss my family and my friends, of course, I have no particular desire to go back: I am only at the very beginning of my trip, I know that. Maybe I have an unconscious fear of being forgotten. But it’s normal, their life goes on and our paths are taking very, very different directions, I accept it. Earlier, after a short swim in the frozen waters of the lake, I gave myself time to think about all of that, and I concluded the following: my unconscious is probably trying to hang on to everything it can from my old life, being forced more and more to admit the obvious: it belongs to the past. I experience this crossing of Russia in a very symbolic way, like a transition; every kilometre that brings me closer to the East takes me farther from my old habits, preconceived ideas, beliefs, and is leading me towards the person I want to be. I don’t claim I will reach that goal anytime soon, because I don’t think that a lifetime is enough to become our completely ideal selves, but at least, I am leaning towards it. I am not stagnating, I am in movement, I am changing, evolving. I discover day after day an unexpected mental strength, a rekindled flame, and resources that are pushing me forward, one step at a time. What helps is the generosity of the people I met as well as of those who support me from their homes, but what really carries me, deep down, lies somewhere within myself. There really aren’t any words to explain it, simply the inspiring certainty that whatever happens on my way, I will survive it, I will grow. And that is enough to cheer me up.
The following day, I explore the city for another few hours before joining Alex, who will accompany me to the train station.
Inside the Kul Sharif mosque
At the entrance, some women gather around me to help me put my headscarf on properly. Do I look like a proper Muslim?
The guy from security who controls the camera screens also plays the part of the Imam who recites prayers on the microphone, it made me laugh 🙂
Thank you Alex, you are so great! I’m off for another night in the train.