Friday, March 7, 2008

Enigmatic Russia

One of the things that is confusing to me about living in Russia is how people are not informed about the developments that happen in everyday life. Things have a way of appearing and disappearing out of thin air.

Maybe these are just experiences of life in a busy city? I'm used to a small city where everyone knows what's going on. Or, at least, they discuss events so earnestly that everyone finds out. But here...

1) I have left my building and am headed for the metro. Across the street, thick smoke pours out of a building. People walk right by, staring at their feet as always. There are no fire-fighters or police or anything. The building burns down.

2) I go to my favorite convenience store to pick up some lunch. 24 hours ago it was a fully-functioning mini-grocery store. Today, it is...closed? For good? A peek through the windows shows empty shelves. What happened?

3) I'm waiting for the tram (or the trolley/bus/you name it). It is nowhere in sight. Was there an accident? A delay? Other forms of transportation come and go, and not a word about what happened to the ones that aren't showing up. Should I keep waiting?

4) The grocery store. The one in my neighborhood is, shall we say, not my favorite. But it's close by, so I go there. Normally, there is very little fresh produce. Recently, I added "tomatoes" to my list with a question mark, not expecting there to be any. But when I got to the store, there was a fresh supply of red, ripe tomatoes, along with cucumbers, different fruits, and carrots (which are also usually lacking). I was in shock about this huge selection, which contrasted with the usual situation. What happened? Where did all this food suddenly come from? And, another question, where did the brand-new flat-screen tvs come from? Why does the store constantly run out of basic staples, yet have brand-new technology? I am so confused.

5) Around the neighborhood, little improvements sometimes appear from time to time: a newly painted bench, new playground equipment, or the new mailboxes, as was the case in my old building. And yet, the non-functioning elevators are forgotten. I just wonder sometimes, who makes the decisions about what should be fixed first? And is there preference given to what is more visible (benches) over the hidden yet important factors that affect the quality of life (having a working shower)?

6) I'm not sure I have ever seen a "hard hat area" sign in Russia. At construction (or demolition) sites, it does not seem to be the practice to post signs about hazardous conditions or instructions about what to do. Today I was walking down the street and there was an open collapsed manhole in the middle of the street. There was a long stick standing in it, presumably to warn pedestrians and motorists.

One theory of course is that Americans are simply starved for information. We demand it. We're used to media frenzies surrounding every minor event. And we're also afraid of lawsuits, which explains our thoroughness in labelling every potentially dangerous or controversial situation. But, I rather like being informed. It seems like a good idea to me. Media reports can of course be false, but there needs to be a standard method of getting information out, rather than waiting for rumors to spread among the people!

In other news, I'm getting ready to go to Congo (the DRC) in May. I'll be staying in Kinshasa, the capital city. Here's something I found out recently:

" The name comes from the Kongo word kinsasa, meaning 'why are things happening this way.'" (Sorry, I forgot the source) Apparently the Congolese are puzzled about life as well!


  1. What a great post! I found this SO TRUE of Russia - but hadn't put it quite like that to myself... I was thinking of it as paradox. But - yes, enigmatic, too. I hope you won't mind if I take this topic up!

    Are you visiting the Congo or moving there?

  2. Feel free to write about it. I didn't quite dissect the topic fully myself. It's hard to express in words!

    I am attending my brother's wedding in Congo. I wrote about it several posts back.

  3. Great entry! Well written, and fun to read :-)

  4. Thanks, Melissa! The Americans seem to agree with me, but I wonder what the Russians think?


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