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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…

where (part 2)



It is raining, the sky a green, gray marshmallow. E has been on vacation for a week. I finish work early, and tell her to get dressed. The cameras are tucked into my bag. Extra film and a light meter all find their places. E slings her camera across her shoulder, bringing it with her. 

Outside, the street is shiny. We pull our collars close to our necks. I point towards the main road with a glance and she nods. There is a bus stop, and I take pictures of the people behind the milky windows of the trolley bus for that moment when the doors slosh open and then thwack shut. We start downhill, towards the river. Sometimes I stop, waiting for the right old woman to creep past us. Sometimes E stops, fascinated with a railing on a bridge, or a view that swings wide as we pass some dead trees. There are no words, just nods and looks, but I cannot help but smile at her.

We are under the bridge, dark and heavy as it reaches across the green water. 

There is the aftermath of a car accident, a very common sight here where people treat the road and other drivers like fantasies until they smack into a railing or a bumper, or a person. A man is running across the six lane street, and I get one frame of him with the crumpled white Range Rover in the background. Maybe that is something, I tell myself.

We have walked almost 2 miles, and tuck into a Georgian place for lunch. We order khinkali, giant dumplings stuffed with beef and pork and chili and black pepper. They are full of a sort of broth they create, so eating them is a balancing act, a dance between slurps and guesses and then forcing the remainder into your mouth. E eats them with the unrushed grace of an old man, not a drop on the plate. 

Later, she will show me the pictures she takes. One is of me in my long, dark coat under the bridge. That is how she sees me, I realize. My cheeks flush. 

We will bring the film to the lab the next day, and pick it up a few days later. 

She hovers behind me as I scan them. She nods, saying "yes, I know. I was there" with no more than her chin on my shoulder. 







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