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Saying my goodbyes on the most beautiful river in the world, Samara, Russia

Russia! Time flies. For too long I looked at you without seeing you. Understanding my surroundings was hard work, and when I finally managed to get it, I had to leave. The huge black spot on my map, Russia, is now filled with anecdotes and ideas, people and life plans. I can contextualise prejudices and thus relativise them. I learned a lot.

For one last time, I feel the bustling of the Russian train tracks. We drive towards the mountains, slowly approaching Georgia. My head travels in the opposite direction, back into Russia. So much happened in this country. I finally began to understand. Some moments helped me to keep going. They are often small, quiet moments and perhaps that's why they stay so fresh in my mind.


The smell on entering the metro reminds me of the smell of my primary school sports hall. It's almost painfully familiar here in the unfamiliar Samara. After I travelled 11,277 kilometres over land, and am as far from home as never before, this sudden familiarity feels foreign. It doesn't belong here. I always move between the extremes, strangeness and familiarity, beauty and decay, knowledge and cluelessness. It's strange that I feel so safe in a place as crowded as the metro. I know what I'm doing, where I go, and whom I have to look out for. It's rare in my current living situation.


Have you ever tried to explain to an 11-year-old what spaghetti bolognese is or potato pancakes with apple sauce? I'm at a dead end, lost for words.


In Russia, Monday through Sunday, from eight to ten o'clock at night, builders work on building sites. I live in an area filled with new houses, and the one next to ours is still being modified. Every morning I am woken up by the noise of the drill in the concrete wall next to my head. Sometimes, I'm lucky, and they work in the attic. Most mornings, however, they operate in the basement or ground floor, the material is delivered to the back door and stacked on the fence to our property. It makes me crazy. For the longest time, I wished for a German rule stickling stiff to end my pain. Law in Germany dictates the times people can do noisy work. That's why builders do these works fom eight o'clock onwards, between twelve and three is a lunch break, and between six and eight the construction workers usually go home. I'm not familiar with the habits here, but I admire the equanimity and tolerance of my Russian cohabitants. For them, this has been going on much longer. Still, they are not thinking about complaining to their neighbours. As until recently, the house we are living in was being built as well, and everybody understood that the goal wasn't to pester the neighbours but to move into the new house asap. Construction sites surround our house. Behind our garden, the paths around the house are being paved. Today, the gravel was pressed to an even level. Next door, the fa├žade was insulated with styrofoam, while someone drilled in the walls and the iron gate swung in the wind. Last week, I played ball with the youngest, when the air suddenly filled with dirt. Styrofoam globes flew snowlike through the air. Snow in July. We fled to our rooms.


The rain dribbles from the leaves of the plum tree and the grey sky promises that the storm will stay a while. The house of a snail breaks under my plastic shoe with a crushing burst. I stop. Then go on my way. There is no sense in considering every step. There are too many. Even when I look at the ground, I don't see them all. They are camouflaged. In the morning, when the earth is dry, the concrete will have been covered by glittering tracks, which, like a horizontal spiders web, lead in astonishingly straight lines across the pavement.

The sound of the bustling train brings me back to my reality. I look a bit astonished at the change in myself. It's readable in my blogs. My initial misunderstanding swells out of every line. In a few hours, I will be back at a new beginning. I will enter a new country, where I don't speak the language. I will hang between the mountains, small and lost again. I wonder if I will misunderstand the people of Georgia as I did the people of Russia? Reading my old texts brings a smile to my lips. In record speed, I get myself back into that headspace, back to my old self. I realise once more that this fight will last a lifetime. Ignorance is omnipotent and there is no cure fits all.

Further reading
Russia in the archive

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