I was reading some blogs and have been getting a sense of what it is like to be in Russia. Not just be there, but live there. Because visiting is much different. So here is a little walk down memory lane. Come with me won't you?
I think of a time when I was on a my way to Novosibirsk. I was in Moscow, scheduled to walk through the ginormous line at immigration and then out to the arrival area where my contact from my agency would give me a 'package' and then take me to the domestic terminal. But after flying 9 hours to Moscow with my mother and 4 year old daughter, I was a bit jet-laggedy. As we exited the plane, we were met by a sour women who walked up to us, and grabbed our ticket and in a short quick gesture that I took to mean "follow me" she was walking away with our tickets. We followed her, and she took us through through secret doorways, endless passages, up stairs and down them ending at an immigration check point with what appeared to be only foreigners. I wasn't sure if this was right, but we seemed to be the only English speaking foreigners so we just sort of waited around. There was no one at the little gate, then magically, sour women appeared behind the gate, and began to check and stamp our documents and give us the head nod which meant, "go that way." We went that way. My mom at this point had literally stripped down to her tank top. She was so hot and sweaty and already hating Russia. We had been in the country for an hour. And it was mid November, not tank top weather.
"That way" was a corridor that led us to a sort of bus stop. When a bus approached, we got on. Me, all the while knowing I have to pick up a 'package' for my agency. Trying to figure out how to handle this I racked my brain for who to call, hell, how to call the Moscow office and find my contact and let them know I am not in the international arrival gate, but in the domestic terminal. We arrived at the domestic terminal and found our way to the gate and settled in for the wait. We had about a 4 hour layover at that point and Anna had a really good sleep on the plane so she was ready to explore. I found a phone and did my best to call the Moscow office. No luck. Then I tried to email my location, but couldn't get a signal. Moscow didn't provide free WIFI at the gate, what? So, I decided to eat. I waited in line and managed to point to what we wanted and we all ate a nice lunch of yogurt, bacon flavored potato chips, and bananas. I had decided that I would walk around asking, "Do you speak English?" until I found someone in my area that could help me. But then, I heard my name. It wasn't very clear, but I was sure amongst the gibberish and constant feedback noise, I heard my name. I ran around to try and find the "white courtesy phone" to no avail. I ran downstairs to the empty security gates and tried to figure out whether to break security, or to go back , get my passport, and then come back. While standing there, I noticed a frantic woman looking through the other part of the gate. I called out "Helloooooo. I am Julianne Green." Where at that point the young woman almost dropped to her knees. She looked as if she were about to burst into tears. When she and I met, across the security gate, she said she was so glad to see me and held her chest breathing deeply and now in tears. Turns out the packet I was taking to Novosibirsk with me, were the last of the required documents for court. No documents, no adoption. She knew if I didn't get those documents, she would more than likely be in a whole mess of trouble. Even though it was actually ME who didn't go through the ginormous immigration line that opens up to the main arrivals hall. We spoke briefly and she went on her way. But not before grabbing her chest again.
I would meet that young woman again on my return trip.
I share this story, because that is my impression of Moscow. On one hand, completely helpful but sour. On the other hand completely lovely and desperate. Since we only have two hands, I can't then mention the unhelpful and sour. I choose now, to forget when our luggage was lost and I spent that entire trip in the same black pants and black sweater. I choose to forget those who weren't helpful because that is how I am. Even at the time I was being treated like shit, I was laughing inside. When I got yelled at on that shuttle bus between airports for not having a hat on Anna's head, I just smiled and nodded and said in my clearest loud English, "Please don't pretend to care about my child. Had you really cared, you would have adopted her weeks after her birth.." She didn't understand, but I felt much better. When I got my ten days waived in the midst of everyone else having to stay in the Novosibirsk for the entire time, I chalked it up to the lovely and helpful. When my mother, sister, daughter, and newly adopted baby boarded the plane to NYC, we were told by the Russian stewardess to move half of our party to the seat in front of ours, we didn't understand. But after realizing that row of four would remain empty, therefore giving us 8 seats to stretch out in and relax, I chalked it up to the lovely. Especially since there were several other adoptive families on the flight.
The lovely frantic young lady who found me at the airport ended up working with me upon our arrival back in Moscow. She and her mother, aka "the two Anna's" made our time there smooth as silk and either hid the sour from us, or made sure there was no sour.
But as I reading on the blogs, most who live in Russia have to face the sour everyday. They have no set of Anna's who will buffer the winds of disdain. I have to wonder how after all these years, Russians wouldn't be open to foreigners in the country. I used to think it was intense nationalism. But somehow I know it's not. My own experience doesn't give me the answers, but the attitudes and actions of many I have read about, or heard about, makes me think there is a bit of shame buried within the souls of many Russians. I could be wrong, just a theory.