Goodbye Russia

Sunday, December 14, 2008

While I sit here in London on my pillow top, down comforter hotel bed after taking a shower in water that doesn’t make me dirtier and brushing my teeth with water that hasn’t needed boiling and filtering, I can think only about how much I am going to miss Russia. I’m still not entirely sure why I am going to miss it, but there is something about that country that I cannot help but love. In Russia you can never know what to expect. You can do the same thing a hundred times and on that one hundred and first try it doesn’t work anymore, oh well. It’s Russia. You live a dual life in Russia. Everything is difficult but at the same time so easy. No matter what is happening if something goes wrong it can be easily fixed by simply saying, “it’s Russia”. While that may not actually solve the problem, it some how makes it better. I know that once I get back to the states I can’t do that and when something goes wrong there it just becomes more stressful because you spend so much time searching for a way to fix the problem. As terrible as that sounds it explains both why Russia is the way it is, and at the same time how Russians have survived for so long. When a building is crumbling and there is no one taking responsibility to fix it you just say “it’s Russia” and ignore the problem. When the only place you can afford to live in is that crumbling apartment you just say “it’s Russia” and move on with your life instead of adding to the suffering of your living condition.

I think part of the appeal of Russia is also in the history. That country has been through so much in the past hundred years alone that there is never a dull moment in their history books. Every generation of people living in Russia has had and entirely different life experience and when all those groups of people combine you can never know what to expect. There are the “blockadniks” or those who survived the siege of Leningrad, those who grew up under the fearful rule of Stalin, those who survived the de-communization of the country and the complete collapse of everything they had ever known. There are the young adults now who were raised by parents that grew up in a communist country. From what I have seen, they fully embrace capitalism and take it to new heights that their parents could never have dreamed of. Then there are the children. Those people that have never lived under a communist regime and will only get some of the lasting effects of it. I really don’t know what these children will grow up to become, but I would love to come back in another 10 years to see what has become of this country. So much progress and so many changes have been made in the last ten years alone that I can only imagine what it will be like in the future.

I have really enjoyed my time here. I wish I could have gotten to know the Russian people a little better, but sometimes it's best to learn people from afar before you get to know them personally… maybe I will save that for another trip back. I know that Russians can be the meanest, rudest, and most uncaring people when you see them on the streets, however if you are ever invited into one’s home they become the most friendly, caring, and kindest people in the world. This is, again, that strange duality of the Russian people that I think will take more than four months for me to fully understand.

I will miss the metro rides, so crowded that you can either laugh or cry but because it’s Russia you usually just laugh. I will miss the mullets and the stiletto heels and the mini skirts in December. I will miss the surprise you get every day at Nahodka when you weren’t sure if you were buying cheese or butter that day because they would never have both on the same day… but you would probably get one. I will miss the tedious process of boiling/filtering/reboiling that really makes you appreciate every cup of tea you drink. I will miss the sheer joy of having exact change and not getting yelled at at the store. I will miss Nevsky Prospect that can always be crowded and dirty and yet somehow absolutely beautiful at the same time.

While it seems like I have just left the United States, I know I will be returning to a country that is not the same as when I left it. I will be returning with one less grandparent. I will be returning to a country with a new president. I will be returning to a country facing one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression. Even with the uncertain state of our country, I could not be more grateful for what I have there. Family, friends, a safe future for my loved ones, the knowledge that my grandmother doesn’t have to beg on the streets to get money, the knowledge that if anyone I knew was ever hurt in war they would be taken care of and would not have to wheel themselves around the metro using their one remaining limb to collect change, the knowledge that I can write and say what I want about whoever I want and not have to fear death. Our country is not perfect but it should not be taken for granted by anyone.

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