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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…

running away with the circus (looking for dolphins)


There are three of them, a brazen woman with bright eyes and a big voice, a man going grey with a hop in his step and a younger woman who might be their daughter or their niece that twists her short hair into little tufts. They roam the hotel, sometimes in elaborate costumes, letting us know that there will be a secret dance party near the ballroom in an hour.

The older woman strolls in during dinner in a costume of blinking Christmas lights and exotic face paint. V stares up at her, convinced she is a princess or a fairy or maybe both. The next night, she is all in black, great horns wobbling on her head. She always has a pair of black Converse high tops on, as if they go with every costume or maybe they are the only shoes she owns.

The man is typically dressed as a pirate, in a striped shirt, maybe an eye patch. He is perfectly relaxed, like his limbs are made of silly straws. The younger woman is always smiling, her mouth a wall of metal braces and lip gloss. I imagine they sleep in a collection of magnificent hammocks - looking up at the stars before they close their eyes.

I see them on the beach one morning, all staring off into the horizon, halfway through the construction of a giant sand castle. They tell us that they see dolphins. This is their job, to "animate" - to have fun, and share in the process of dancing in the sand for reluctant guests. Sometimes I cannot tell if they are working, as they roam the hotel, or if they are just on their own private adventures. I wonder if this is as close as a person can get to running away with the circus. The glitter, the roar, the elbows raised in wild dance steps, it all seems like a perfect show to do anyplace, anywhere. They seem happy. Their laughs are real, heads tilted back, throats wide, echoing around each room and corridor.

Like any clown, I think I might not recognise them if I passed them on the street in Moscow, or New York. I can only see them when there are splashes of glitter on their cheeks, when they are appearing as if out of nowhere, lights blinking, eyelashes as long as a peacock's feathers.

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