During my time living and teaching English in Russia, I have noticed the significant role that nature plays in Russian life and culture. Most people in Russia live in multistory apartment buildings located in large, busy cities, such as Moscow. However, I have discovered that many of them own small homes, or dachas outside the city.
My host family falls outside of this norm, as they only own a house, but it is much like any other dacha that you would find in the surrounding neighborhood, or throughout Russia.
To get from central Moscow to my host family’s place is not a short journey. A thirty-minute ride on a busy metro line, plus a forty-five-minute ride on an electric train, and I arrive at the town of Ramenskoye.
But I have not made it to the dachas – I am still surrounded by large apartment buildings. In order to get to the dachas I need to find a marshrutka.
These large vans congregate at a place near the train station, and I find one that happens to be going in the direction I am heading. After I pay the driver for the ride, I need to pay careful attention to the road, and then let them know where I want to get off. After another ten-minute walk or so, I arrive at my host family’s home.
So what do we like to do here at the dacha?
Weather permitting, my host family loves to eat outside at the picnic tables they put together themselves. Frequently they like to grill shashlik, which is what they call basically any type of meat they cook on the grill.
Often Maksim and Darinka (my host siblings) will play in the wading pool or on the homemade playground set as their father Gosha grills. Basking in the sun with the scent of the ogorod (vegetable and herb garden) all around, it is quite enjoyable and relaxing.
No true day at the dacha is complete without going to the banya. Sometimes as a separate building, and sometimes (like with my host family) in the basement, this wooden sauna is the epitome of Russian relaxation.
You sit in a hot, steamy room wearing felt hats and drinking tea, and then you hit each other with small, dried, leafy branches “to increase circulation and eliminate bad feelings,” as my host family says.
Then you go out to the pool to cool off, and then back to the banya. I cannot say that I have learned to fully appreciate this Russian tradition, but my host family is still trying to convert me.
Russians also love any excuse to celebrate, as is evidenced by the half dozen or so holidays that have happened within the six weeks I have been here. Children’s Day, Russia Day, Lovers’ Day, and more!
I had the exciting opportunity to share one more holiday with them – Independence Day. I invited some other Americans in the area over, and we had a fantastic Fourth of July celebration.
We taught the host family how to make “American hamburgers,” listened to “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Party in the USA.,” and set off some small fireworks. It was a wonderful experience to share a small part of my culture with my host family, who has shared so much of their culture with me.