When we arrived in Issyk, my host mother was holding a sign with my name in the very front of the crowd, so I was the first to be paired! She squealed and gave me a huge hug and grin. She is really a host grandmother (in fact, she is already a GREAT-grandmother and is only 60-something! People have kids young here), as she’s an old Russian babushka who lives alone in a lovely apartment. Her grandson visits every once in awhile, which will be very cute as he is tiny. 🙂 She is a botanist by profession, and has floral and plant-themed decorations everywhere.. Her garden outside is practically the size of the apartment itself, with rows and rows of gorgeous flowers and herbs, and on our free day Sunday she took me to her dacha (summer house), which was basically the garden times a million. She has rows and rows of gorgeous flowers, including imported varities from Japan and elsewhere: strange bell-shaped long white lilies, tiny little orange bursts with scarlet centers, joyful golden daisies (she picked a bouquet of these for my room), honeysuckle, a giant red rose, and a seemingly infinite array of other lavendar, fuschia, carnation pink and other colored varieties. There was even a strange green hard-petaled ‘flower’ that covered the rocks in little bunions and looked like a sea anemone on land. She also has her own abundant harvest of fresh fruit and vegetables: rows and rows of strawberries, raspberry and blackberry bushes, loaded grape vines, fresh organic tomatoes and cucumbers, apple, pear and apricot trees…I’ve never seen anything like it.
Host grandma in the dacha garden!
Delicious grapes on the vine
She served me a delicious first meal of plov (traditional rice with meat and carrots…similar to fried rice, but amazingly not oily at all), as well as pizza (!!!) with eggplant, which she said her grandson loves, followed by a dessert of freshly-picked fruit and of course the necessary cup of tea. My room is lovely, large and clean, and the apartment has a hot shower and a washing machine (we may even get slow dial-up internet at some point, but for now I’ll try to use the cafй once a week.). It is in fact quite similar to the places I’ve lived in in Estonia or Moscow. On Sunday, my host babushka also took me to the Russian Orthodox church to meet her family (daughter-in-law and grandson), and also to the huge Issyk bazaar, where she knew half the people shopping and helped me and a friend bargain with vendors. I feel so lucky to have been placed with someone who is not only incredibly pleasant and hospitable, but whom I also feel very comfortable around, have no safety/security concerns about, and who leads a very quiet and peaceful life without a large ruckus of people to deal with.