Heather lives with her husband and 2 children in Kazakhstan, where she is currently trying to navigate potty training her toddler in a village full of outhouses.

When Nathan, my fledgling cultural anthropologist of a husband, says, “I see our future here in Kazakhstan,” I wince, and yet my heart speeds up a bit.

You see, I’ve become a bit disillusioned about myself. I thought I was a romantic. I was one through all those cushy countries like Germany, Italy, Wales, Finland, Dubai, and the Baltics where I became dependent on the aesthetics of buildings, the glory of art, and the seduction of food.  But you shouldn’t visit Venice and then linger in Russia in the same year. It’s bound to undo you.

I prepped for Russia the way a romantic would: I read literature, I surrounded myself with poetry, I quoted Akhmatova to friends, and swooned over Pushkin’s verse novels. In fact, when the pump to our well broke and we had to go to our neighbors to draw water from their well, I was reading Dostoevsky. I felt I had literally entered his era when we left our yard. There was a loud mutt tied to a fence and two precocious children playing in the ruble of the outer buildings; quite grubby, quite lovely. Elena, the mother, is very thin, very plain (which is unusual, many Russian/Kazakh women are flashy dressers.) She always wears a kerchief over her hair and skirts that reach her ankles with large baggy t-shirts in solid, muted colors. Their garden was sparse; mostly dust with green sprigs here and there. She has no pump so we pulled the water up manually – Nathan sliced his hand in the process. I just stood by and watched and felt my sensibilities tingle as I assessed her meager life . . . and yet she was serving us.

I know monotonous days can be found in all bits and parts of the world. I wasn’t quite prepared for the day-to-day endeavor; Nathan and I were following a dream co-parenting model in the States where we equally and alternately shared daytime care of our babes.  Housekeeping in KZ finds me serving as insta-fulltime mommy, with emphasis. I sense the ennui in many parts of my day beginning with that longed for shower I never get and in regularly wiping coal dust off our dishes, fruit, and toothbrushes. I try to avoid most of the harder labor, like wood-cutting and coal hauling, by doing the laundry and have consequently been hand-wringing clothes, one-at-a-time, for much too long.

It’s probably obvious that I don’t speak the language (Tolstoy in English translation is a girl’s best friend), which means that my world has shrunk to pretty much what I’ve outlined above. There is a certain vernacular to parenting; very reiterative, very over-instructive, very void of eloquence, which becomes very annoying. I reached a point where I couldn’t suffer listening to the barebones of my parental language anymore, so I did what any other romantic would do: I adopted a British accent. I now speak with lilting, Emma Thompson-esque, lyrical diction. Who’s going to hear me and roll their eyes? My sisters are thousands of miles away, and Nathan, well, he can say things like, “Heath, this is the most annoying thing you’ve EVER done.” But I’m infusing my life with romance. And the romantic in me needs to survive.