‘No, yes, no, yes, yes, no, yes, yes, yes, no, yes, no, yes, yes, no.’
While waiting in line for passport control I mentally check the various destinations of the departures schedule I’ve been and haven’t yet been to. Under the schedule an informational video is showing a woman in 3D with Lara Croft breasts presenting the ideal behaviour during a security check. Putting the keys from her pockets into her purse. Taking the liquids out of her purse and […] I don’t beep. […]
Flying to Russia sometimes feels like travelling with unbehaved children, who don’t think of the consequences or the fact there are rules out there that are actually observed. The children in that particular case are the majority of grown-up Russian travellers. I used to be Russian and am for more than 14 years a German citizen now. That, of course, does not qualify me for being thoroughly German. Nor Russian. Nor anything concrete. It qualifies me for being in-between and annoyed by excessive chaos and order alike.
When you leave ground, after the first couple of seconds the reality of the world surrounding you looks like a carpet covered with toys. After several minutes all you see is a patchwork rug, that eventually shows more and more areas with forests as you approach Eastern Europe. So, I am flying to Moscow for a week to visit my family and friends. I do that about twice a year. Recently I started to notice that I am having a tendency of being emotionally confused before and after the trip. Leaving country and most of the family at 7 years of age of course left unresolved things inside of me. But there is more to that. I am actually interested how culture triggers identity and thus making a quick auto-ethnography while being there. (Yes, I am aware that the words quick and ethnography in one sentence is close to blasphemy. I’m juggling with different approaches to deal with having almost no time in the field.)
Day 1. It is late afternoon, I am above the clouds. Lunch is about to be served. A woman next to me reads an article in the newspaper about the state of the rouble. In case you don’t know, it is not in a good state. The falling price for oil, which is the main export of Russia and the sanctions and…the woman with the newspaper is now chatting vividly with her neighbour. The two older Russian women, not knowing each other before, bonded over the topic of their children and grandchildren who live in Germany. The grandchildren hardly speak any Russian anymore. The topic switches to the refugees. Germany will be swallowed by Muslims. Now they have to look for other countries to live in. They might even go back to Russia. Going back is an interesting topic.
I order a still water and orange juice. When booking a Russian airline – and they are worth flying – keep in mind, alcoholic beverages are not served. Because of frequent disturbances with drunk passengers. Some clichés just nail it.
I have been asked a lot of times whether I want to go back to Russia. Until last March I never had an answer. But let me go back a little bit further. Crimea. As a kid I spent my holidays there, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. I was in Israel when Crimea became Russian. Who is right in the conflict? I’ve heard good arguments and bad lies on both sides. But one certain thing that happened: the Ukraine crisis triggered my self identification with my Russian side. I started to think more about it. I started to get angry at the West because it had a tunnel view and people were believing apparent manipulations by the media. Russia was the equation: Putin eats little children. There was no understanding of the fact, that there are real people living there. With a heart, soul and digestive system. If there is a tendency of Russian people having a restricted perspective on the world, the people of the West were suddenly not so much behind. The truth is, I probably felt personally hurt. A stupid thing, I agree. Despite living most of my life in Germany, I felt like the Russian part of me is being hit. Politics triggered identity.
Last March though, I changed my mind. It was while visiting Russia. Suddenly I felt an emotional distance. For the very first time in my life I had the clear understanding of the fact that I never want to go back to live there. It was almost like I looked into a mirror and saw that the dress I was wearing was not my style anymore. The only thing that was keeping it on me was the nostalgia. Well, now, sitting in the airplane to Moscow and smelling the microwave food, I feel that the nostalgia is not in a dress, but in my heart, soul and digestive system. I might not be Russian anymore, by papers and by style. But part of me always will be. Benedict Anderson talked about Imagined Communities when describing how people feel part of a community they don’t know face-to-face. Maybe I can identify some structures in myself while being there. The cultural baseline, so to speak. So, follow me!