So Your Going to Live in Russia, I Shall Pray For You
Family and friends were concerned as the time for our departure for Russia neared. September 11th had made everyone uneasy about everything and the fact that we were going to get on a plane and fly to Moscow did nothing to ease people's minds. I simply reminded them that we had to do what we had to do and that we could not let insane people rule our existence. Our children gave us their blessing. Other people said they would pray for us.
We arrived in Moscow at the end of November and were taken to our flat after many, many hours of travel. We were exhausted and I chose to ignore the appearance of things. I would dust and wash and clean after I had slept. Those first days are still a blur. We managed to recover in time to report in to the Language School we were employed by. Orientation passed quickly and within two days we were off teaching English in various parts of Moscow. The first few weeks were overwhelming.
Now, five months later, my husband and myself are quite comfortable living in Moscow. It is an amazing city and one that is exciting to explore. We shop and browse and try new restaurants. We have made some new Russian friends and have enjoyed a fine Russian meal at their table and in exchange they visited our table for some "Canadian" cuisine. Actually it was my husband's famous Acadian spaghetti sauce. And we have established a couple of important relationships with our colleagues. Our social life is full and our professional life is busy so there is not much more to expect out of life. Russia has become home because this is where we live and work and where the experiences that are occurring now in our lives are taking place.
People back in Canada still have some misgivings about us honestly enjoying Russia. Friends and family view John and I as people who make the best of where we are whatever the circumstances and to some extent this is true. In the case of living in Moscow it is far from the truth. The city and the Russian people combine to make the experience enjoyable.
Russians have a wonderful sense of humor and a great sense of fate. In my classes as well as socially I spend many moments laughing with Russian people. Theirs is a deep and unconditional laugh and one, which reaches hilarious proportions when I explain some of my daily adventures to them. To find such joy in a country that has been through so much has been a surprise. As westerners we are somewhat conditioned to think of Russia as a big dark unknown place where foreigners must be wary at every turn.
Coming here has razed such thoughts from my mind. Of course I am aware that I live in a very big city and that people, including teachers, get accosted and even mugged but I believe this is true in all major centers in the world. I can only do as I have always done and that is to be aware, not take unnecessary risks and stay as safe as fate allows.
Family and friends have asked about the world situation concerning terrorism and if I feel safe living in a country that has gone through a major transition from communism to democracy. I can only say that in the light of the horror of September the 11th I realize that in fact there are no safe places in the world. Those of us born and raised in North America after the Second World War enjoyed an unparalleled time of freedom from war and extreme strife. As a Canadian I can say life in my country during the past fifty years has been filled with opportunities in a stable political climate free from the fears of bombs and destruction. Now all countries are on guard as currently the new war is fought in territories filled with shadows and dark corners occupied by those who have little regard for the lives of those whom they deem the enemy. Now we all face the possibility of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The way I look at this situation is that I cannot let extreme, fundamentalist people control my decisions. Coming to Russia was something that was both exciting and challenging but I did not regard it as a dangerous undertaking. As of this writing I can say I was absolutely correct. I do not intend to live my life in a bubble but I also do not intend to feel frightened to seek adventure and meet new and interesting people.
I regard joy to be a great and most welcome feeling. It is a force that shapes connections between people. I have found much joy in my experiences in Moscow and I plan to continue to do so.
My sister wondered how we managed to shop and take care of all the little particulars that one needs to be concerned about in everyday life. I wrote to her and explained that once we understood the underground system of the Moscow metro we had no problem getting about the city. As for shopping, well we figured out the currency quickly and we are good at pointing to things in stores. My husband does most of the shopping and he has several Russian phrases and words written down to assist him in the process. The people in the stores are, for the most part, very helpful and most people understand some French or Spanish and even a little English. John speaks both French and Spanish and this has helped us at certain times. Our flat is comfortable and we have all the conveniences except for a washer and dryer. I have learned to enjoy washing cloths by hand, or by feet as I put a load into the bathtub and do a "washer woman dance" in the soapy water for about twenty minutes. Makes me wish I had access to my mom's old wringer washer that sat on the back porch of our farmhouse in Canada in the fifties! I hang the clothes to dry on the balcony outside of the kitchen and once they have freeze-dried I bring them in and hang them about the flat until they are ready to iron. I think this process gives form to my domestic life, as the responsibility is continuous and repetitive and one from which there is no escape!
We watch Russian television and the advertisements offer us a glimpse into products that are foreign to us. After a time these products become familiar and when we need to purchase cleaning supplies or juice we know some brands. The vendors and the shop keepers are very helpful and have steered us in the right direction for all the things we need.
Our weekdays are consumed with lesson planning and teaching. At the weekends we usually go out or entertain in our flat and sometimes we just spend a couple of quiet days reading and baking. Life here is quite similar to life in Canada or anywhere else we have lived. Once the weather is warm and spring has truly sprung we will spend more time exploring the city and hopefully see more of the country.
We have had the good fortune to take a trip out to our friend's country house, which is located approximately two hours outside of Moscow. I was surprised to realize that the terrain looks very similar to the countryside outside of Edmonton Alberta in Canada. We took an old country road and passed through some small Russian villages. The houses there are long, narrow, wooden, one-story structures with many small windows that are decorated with fancy window casings. Every house had a spot for a garden and I look forward to seeing these places when the grass is green and the trees are filled with leaves. Now it is quite stark, just like the end of a Canadian winter.
Once we were at the country house we started up the woodstove in the kitchen of the cookhouse, toasted in spring with a shot of cognac and began to clean up from the ravages of winter. The day was bright and cool but the air was fresh and invigorating. As the chores neared their end the coals for the barbecue were lit in a hole dug out of the ground and soon the Sis kabobs were sizzling away. I had made my internationally famous potato salad, so named because it has been a praised salad all across Canada as well as in Nicaragua and the USA, and together with pickles and garlic and pieces of fresh Georgian bread and red wine we held a feast.
Later, after the men had gone for a visit with a retired Russian army colonel, I sat outside and felt the sun on my face. I thought about the numerous spring barbecues we had shared with friend in all parts of Canada and how normal of a thing it was to do. A big black Raven was circling above me in a brilliant blue sky. I thought of the ravens in Yellowknife NWT or Cassiar British Columbia and of the black crows in Bathurst New Brunswick. They too liked to circle around and around and were always uninvited guests at any outdoor event involving food. So many Canadian adventures accompanied by a wealth of experiences, wherein are stored uncountable memories. I looked down at the brown tufts of winter worn grass and smiled at the green baby shoots pushing up through the tangle of brown. I felt uplifted, renewed, and very blessed to be sitting alone in a country garden in Russia save for a black bird and my thoughts.
I wished those who had said prayers for me could have shared that moment.