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to be an expat

How can I even begin to explain the experiences of an expat?  The great assumption is that East and West are terribly different. One is vilified, the other painted as a land of patriots and heroes. One is crude and filthy the other has streets paved with gold. Look up and you will see miracles of architecture. Beyond the windows there are supposed to be good people, open smiles and warm hearts. How can I tell you that none of this is true? How can I untie my shoes, and somehow put them on your feet three thousand miles away? You would never believe what secrets they have to tell.

Every time I go back to the states I become more embarrassed to be an American. I overhear conversations in the street, the whines of privileged and moneyed voices. Coddled, dumbed-down and mislead they are drunk on a calculated fairly tale. And then back in Moscow, the same ignorance - the same questions from curious taxi drivers about how good it must be in America, where everything is possible and life mu…

the fishbowl (white nights)


They say the smoke is building up in the suburbs. More fires - not accidents, not forests or dead grass but people burning trash. If the smoke will stay in the city, no one knows. If it will choke the air so you can hardly see a few feet in front of you, no one knows. There is only a blind hope for wind and rain.

This is the seventh summer in the fishbowl of Moscow. We swim in long circles, bellies scraping against familiar rocks, sometimes resting in dark corners, making our way back and forth across the exact same streets, the same stones, the same traffic lights clicking red then green.

It feels like I spend the winter complaining about darkness and the summer complaining about too much light. At dinner I yank the curtain in the kitchen to keep the low evening sun out of our eyes. At four in the morning I wrap a t-shirt around my head to find sleep.

After a short walk with N on a Saturday night, we pass one of our neighbors in the street. He is a curious man, always dressed like he is going on safari. His giant hat, long sleeves and even the small scarf around his neck are easy to recognize as he approaches. I say hello to him, and he breezes past us, like he does not even know us.

Work goes on. Pages fill with words. Meetings are held in air-conditioned cafes. E is growing by the minute. I used to think of life in Moscow as a form of treading water, a marathon effort to stay with our chins above the water as we prepared for the next wave to sweep over us. At one point, I imagined a ladder we climbed, and how it was unnerving to look down.

In the flat sun of August, it feels like nothing is going to happen. We are at a standstill. The city will empty. The streets will empty. It feels like we will be the only ones that did not go to the ocean, or a leafy dacha with apple trees and hammocks to nap in.



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