Thursday, 25 August 2016

Back inside the comfort of the Russian Federation

So after spending a year in Georgia, Inga and I are back in our place in Anapa. The temptation when spending so much time abroad is to compare home with where you are. In this case, it is tempting to compare Georgia with Russia and Georgians with Russians. A little insider travel trip. No one likes when you do that. Where you were is where you were. Now you’re someplace else, and it is what it is. In your head, you are finding similarities or things you like or dislike about the change. It is human nature after all. But, leave those thoughts where they originate. In your head. 

We are once again doing the residency process. It makes it a great deal easier to travel and come and go as required. This was our third time going through the process, so we were well practiced and knew what to expect. All the necessary paperwork was submitted, and I was sent to a nearby city to have my medical exams performed. Six appointments in five different locations. My driver and facilitator spoke very little English but understood if he kept the Russian to a child level we could communicate. It was a great test of my newly acquired and petite practiced language skills. I think he enjoyed the experience as much as I did. He shuttled me around to different clinics in a very VIP manner, attempting to point out historical and interesting sites along the way.

The city is called; The City Of Heroes. I believe it was one of the Forbidden Cities at a time in recent Russian history. Forbidden in the sense that foreigners at one time needed special paperwork to visit. It was a lovely city with lots of public green spaces welcoming families and couples. Fancy and simple architecture mixed in new and old buildings alike. We moved through the city from one clinic to another, and my driver/guide stopped near the harbor for a coffee. Together we looked out over the parked warships, the sun was high overhead, and I could see my guide thinking. He took a sip of coffee and in a series of simple phrases communicated a question. It took eight sentences and a few clarifications by me for him to ask. “Crimea was Russian first. It became something else. Something else that many residents didn’t like. They had a revolution, like the Arab Spring revolution. No one asked who backed the Arab revolution. The people voted. They voted democratically to return to Mother Russia (Mother Russia is expressed in one word Rodina, but has several specific meanings). Why now are American warships in the Black Sea? Is democracy only democracy if America agrees? Why when Russia put nuclear missiles on its territory in Cuba we almost went to war? America now circles Russia with these same weapons, on US Military bases in other countries,  and says it has to as President Putin is aggressive? Aggressive because he backed a democratically elected government in a territory that is 75% Russian? Why do Americans hate us so much?”

This was not an easy series of questions to answer. The general issue being why does America hate Russia so much. The previous questions adding context and situational proof so one could not only answer “they don’t it is just political.” I find myself explaining American politics a great deal more than I like, or am qualified to do. I am not American, but being neighbors and perceived to be similar I get placed into this role. To be short Russians separate people from politics, something Americans don’t do, and Canadians do to a lesser degree than Russians. So when he said Americans, he means the country and governing government, not the people. It is an essential cultural understanding of language. 

I looked at the aging destroyer parked in the harbor, now a museum to The Great War as it is called here. How to answer the question, hampered by my child-like vocabulary? My guide’s expression was communicating he understood my difficulty and the position his question put me in. I pointed to the ship and asked when did The Great War begin? He answered. An answer shared by Canada, Russia, and England. I said; “not if you ask an American.” For America, it started in December. If you Google search in English, this is history. This is the reality. The reality is shaped by those that control and distribute information. Every person fears the unknown. Things that are different create stress. People don’t like stress. Things we don’t know are different and stressful. It is easier to stay inside a box we know than look outside the box into the unknown. I don’t know how to get all these medical tests done. That is stressful. I have to tell you I don’t know. I have to show weakness. I have to trust you to help me. America is the most powerful country in the world. They can’t show weakness and remain seen as such. This hampers their ability to trust. Americans don’t hate Russians, and America doesn’t understand Russia, so they can not trust. My guide shook his head, nodding his understanding of my answer and raised the last sip of his coffee to the hulking warship. “Mira, Di Bok.” I joined him repeating in English “For God; Peace.” 

We retreated to the air-conditioned Audi and headed back up the hill to the next appointment. The next clinic took a blood sample, and I was handed a cup. The nurse pointed to a door when she gave me plastic drinking cup. I went to the door and opened it. It was a toilet. I was unclear of what she wanted and turned to look back at her. She gestured, in a very manly way, what I was supposed to do and said; “50 degrees.” I understood she wanted a urine sample and that I should fill the cup halfway. The door outside found my guide waiting for me. He pointed to an office across the hall and was smiling. I gave him a questioning look, and his smile broadened. “Trust me Canada it is all good. Go there. Do that what doctor say.”  I walked into the room, and an older man was talking with an even older nurse. He smiled and said hello and gestured for me to drop my trousers. The nurse discretely turned and looked out the window. I dropped my pants and regained his gaze. He nodded and gestured for me to continue. I pulled down my underwear dreading what was coming next. The doctor just looked and nodded and motioned for me to get dressed. I pulled up my cloths, wondering what that test was for. My answer came when I rejoined my guide. He was still smiling and with two thumbs up he said “You officially a boy.” 

My tests all came back good. I don’t have Aids, Hep, or any other social diseases. My blood tests didn’t have traces of drugs. I don’t have TB, and my blood pressure was within the ok margin. Oh!, and I am officially a man with proper man junk. So the dossier complete I read and signed all the forms and sent the pile of to Moscow. I will probably have to leave Russia two more times. A quick hop to Georgia at the end of October to get another three-month visa, and then again before my RVP (as it is called here) is decided on. If the decision is positive then I will be free to come and go to Russia for three years, so long as I am not out of the country for longer than 180 days. 

Perhaps it is the overly polite Canadian culture, but I can honestly say everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting in Russia has gone out of their way and comfort zone to make me feel welcome. Even when I was new and made social mistakes, cultural oops’s, these have been ignored. I would like to believe the same would be true if my Russian or Georgian friends tried to immigrate to Canada. But, I have too many immigrant friends that have told me differently. Perhaps infrequent immigration means Russians still have patience left for foreigners and Canadians don’t? I don’t know the answer. But I do know the feeling. So when you hear or see someone new struggling to order a coffee at Starbucks, or get directions for God’s sake help them if you can. The person is stressed, and feels like he or she is standing there with their junk hanging out! 

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