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Out for a Stroll

When asking Russian students what they like to do in their free time, you get some general responses, watch movies, listen to music, hang out with friends, but also, walking.  Walking? There are Russian verbs ходить or идти which connote a certain direction or goal in traveling by foot, but there is also a Russian verb, гулять, which means simply to take a walk – without a certain direction or goal, but just to promenade, to go for a stroll, generally with the company of friends or family. In fact, kids here don't come over and ask if their friends can come out and play, they ask if their friends can come out for a walk. It took me a while to get used to гулятьing. Hiking in Colorado, even though I go for the company and experience, often my companions and I have some sort of goal: get to the top of such and such a mountain, see a particular waterfall or other beautiful sight, get to the end of a certain trail. When my friend, Masha, called and invited me to go for a walk, I asked, “where to?” “No, Rachel,” she said, “just to go for a walk!” The “where to” is not important – the important thing is simply to walk together, to enjoy time together, to be outside on the streets of the city, to take in the sights, but more simply, to talk and enjoy one another. Russians can walk for hours at a time, with stamina for the physical endeavor but also the deep conversation and connection throughout the walk. I have to admit for all of my running and love of sports, I lack endurance in walking. I find myself anticipating some sort of reward for the walk – Coffee? Chocolate? Sitting? - rather than recognizing that the walk in and of itself is the reward. Exploring with friends, talking deeply, and in a sense, awakening new friendships and strengthening old ones seems reward in and of itself. Walking lies at the heart of true Russian friendships. There were years where talking inside may have restricted one's freedom to communicate what he/she may have been truly thinking. Deeper, freer, truer conversations took place outside. The real issues emerge and dreams and hearts are shown for what they are.  Now that temperatures are warming up (slowly but surely,) the walking season begins again.  See you out there!

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