Sunday, June 18, 2017

Stuff about Russia and Me

I'm coming to the end of my stay in Russia. This trip is culminating with much time spent with my grandma. We spent so much of this trip waiting for doctors and worrying about possible surgeries that this time we have left together since the results feels like stolen freedom. In Russian we have an expression "torn off the leash" meaning we've been pent up not doing much and now we're going wild with all the sudden freedom we have. So we've been doing all the touristy things that people do.

The first time I visited since leaving was in 2008-2009, during the christmas and new years season. I spent a month with my grandma in the cold cold city and I remember then she went all over town with me and did a bunch of sight seeing and theater going. It took me 7 years to finally make it out again and last summer my grandmother hardly did anything with me. She seemed much more feeble than she did in 2009 and I had experienced my mother's decent into disability by then.

My experience of taking care of my mother and the hardships she faced whenever going outside of the house, and the stress it caused me to take care of her made me fear going out with my grandmother last summer. I was afraid that her personality would be difficult, like my mother's. I was afraid we would clash. I was afraid she'd be extravagant and embarrassing and I avoided going out with her.

This time a friend gave me some very good advice. I was complaining one day that my grandmother sometimes embarrasses me by the things she says or the things she does and it causes me to tension around her because I try to contain her outrageousness by reproaching her. My friend told me I should not worry so much about what other people might think of my grandma when she says or does things I don't like. Even if her behavior is offensive, it's not my fault and not my business to do anything about it.

Sleeping security guard on the train to the village (Summer of 2016)

I started to mind this advise and it really helped me to enjoy my grandma's company a lot. Besides, I  later realized that while she is a bit extravagant even in Russia, in her own city, the things she says are not as outrageous as I think. For me it's just culture shock. Certain conversations publicly unacceptable in my experience in the US, are normal and acceptable in Russia.

Another sleeping guard on the train to the village (summer, 2016)

Of course we all know that in theory when it comes to any country or culture, there are going to be polar opposites in some aspects. It's weird to experience these polar opposites suddenly and come to a realization that what you thought was your culture, is actually not something you can understand or accept anymore. What I mean is, because I'm Russian and because I've spent a certain amount of time growing up here and living with my Russian mother in the US as well, I have a belief that I am culturally like people in Russia.

I didn't anticipate that being here for two months would cause me so much internal turmoil. Turns out I only speak and look Russian, but many things are lost on me as far as ways people interact and things they say and value. Often times I've been truly upset by things and it's been a journey of acceptance and coming to terms with two very different worlds where things are different and yet the same.  It's funny to leave at the end of two months because I feel that it is now that I've finally come to terms with all the cultural differences and clashes and have overcome my culture shock. I leave with a bitter sweet taste of affection for this place that used to be my home.

Sleeping passanger on the train to the village (Summer 2016)

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