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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…

Their dogs must be barking



The news comes, and I am not here. I am not bleary eyed in Moscow, my legs sluggish beneath me. No, I am back home. I am looking at faces in the street, eyes hanging longer than normal looking for some nibble of recognition. The taxis are still barreling down Broadway. The steam still rises from giant orange candy cane vents on 14th street. There is a low wind, and I pull by collar tight against it. There is a smell in the air, of wet leaves and cherry pipe tobacco. 

In the bathroom, my ragged face looks back. I make coffee. My feet are cold on the tile floor. 

I know that exact spot on 23rd street. There is a whole building where blind people live there. They have group activities on the first floor, and little rooms where they can meet with people and do things like dictate letters for them to send, or have their mail read to them. There is a bowling alley for the blind in the basement. I remember the thunderous sound of balls and pins and laughter from the last time I was down there, over 20 years ago. It was suggested to me to make a little documentary about the place, and I felt overwhelmed. I visited a few times a week, looking for an in, a way to tell something noble and kind without devices. Everything felt cheap, easy. I never did anything but visit, and talk to people but maybe that is all I was capable of at the time. 

Their dogs must be barking, I think. They must be asking questions, hands whipping in the air. There must be a terrible chemical smell coming up from the street. 

In Moscow, I can just read the news. I can just sit at the kitchen table until the baby wakes up and then play with her, sitting on my belly as we make faces at each other while I try to blot out everything else.



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