Is There Hope?

My six weeks in Kazan have brought a plethora of new experiences, many of them wonderful but many far from that. Only after living here for an extended period of time have the minute aspects of racism, homophobia, sexism and cheating come to light and many of these instances have all but driven me to think that there is no hope for a such a country. But I’m not here to complain about the moment our teacher told us the old Russian saying: “A chicken is not a bird, and a woman is not a person” (of course that’s so outlandish, that I think she was just doing it to push our buttons), nor will I go into great detail about our friend who has a seemingly Jewish name, and was told by a Russian to change it, or everyone (including that accusing Russian) would think he was Jewish and hate him! No, in a place like Russia it’s very important to pick your battles, complain lightly as the experiences come, look on the bright side if you will, because there’s no other way to live in peace. So I’m here today to write about situations which have turned themselves around somehow, situations which have brought these bright sides forward to show that the good people of this country may be able to bring this country into the future.

Well, one hot day (over 90 degrees F), my friend Talia and I were walking to buy some peaches when we saw from afar an older man topple over. I mean, I literally saw his legs very suddenly give way beneath him, and in his fall, he hit his head on a concrete wall. Four near-by Russians went up to him, and looked in control of the situation, so Talia and I preceded by to walk to the market for our peaches. But on our way back, the man was still lying unconscious on the concrete, blood from his head staining the wall and his hands and not a single soul in sight to help him. At least he was breathing! As neither Talia nor I had our telephones, we stopped an older Russian woman who seemed nice, and asked her to call the ambulance. She told us all was taken care of, but in our shock at Russian’s utter lack of care for one another, we ran back to our institute to tell Natasha, our professor. Upon hearing our story, she grabbed her telephone, and hustled back to the place were the man lay. At least thirty minutes had passed since he had fallen, and still no one was to be seen around. What if it was a heart attack, a stroke or even just simple dehydration? Yet the only thing that goes through a modern Russian’s head (and perhaps we good reason) is “A collapsed older man on the streets? The only reason is vodka!” Yet Natasha thought his dress indicated that he was not homeless, and his grocery bag only contained a block of cheese and some salad.  She called the ambulance, and rather surprisingly, just ten minutes later the EMS team showed up. Yet not one other Russian passer-by stopped. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY? -was all I could think during the next hours. How can they let each other just die? I understand that the USSR brought the socialist perspective too far, and modern Russians have a tendency to reject their past by thinking only of personal gain. But when a life is involved? Really? And yet infrastructure exits: quick, free ambulances, and free, though perhaps faulty healthcare. The problem here exists in the society, not in the system.

Another example is the day I got cheated out of 600 rubles (about $20) by a taxi driver. Simon and I wanted to go swim at a local lake called “Blue Lake” which is not accessible by public transportation (it’s actually a small sulfur spring, with a temperature at 4 degrees Celsius, you can only swim for a few seconds! It’s very refreshing!). We ordered a taxi through a travel agency, who told us it would cost 400 rubles each way. Well we had a good afternoon there along with many Russians, running in and out of the spring….but when we arrived back in Kazan, the taxi driver proceeded to charge us 1400 rubles (about $45), knowing that I was a foreigner. I just couldn’t argue it effectively enough, to make him understand that it was supposed to be only 800 rubles. He got the best of me, and I paid what he asked. I was furious, knowing he had pocketed much of that money. Well, it turns out our travel agent was a sweet woman, who had a suspicion that things might happen to two young foreigners, so she called me quite a few times to make sure we were okay. When I told her what had happened, she too was outraged, and called the taxi company immediately. The next morning we had 400 rubles waiting for us at the agent’s office. Just like that. The system exists.

Lastly, the first African (as in born in Benin!) politician was elected in a small town in Russia. How heart warming! Read the whole story from Huffington Post here.

So these are the people bringing Russia into the future in small ways. I have hope for them and for their success over time.

One Response to “Is There Hope?”
  1. PDG says:

    Interesting reading. Appreciate the Huffington Post link. thanks.

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