Very early in a post-rainy morning when the skies remain gray and the streets idle, two young girls travel home. Returning back to the apartment house after spending a night at the country house (dacha), my host sister and I walk along an enclosed yard with a tool shack planted on a small lawn square. It is a calm, quiet morning with only the shuffle of our feet moving with the flow of the wind. The tranquility remains even after the thoughts stirring within my meditation flows from my mouth and blends into the mist of the foreign air. “Russia kind of reminds me of Nigeria”, I breathe.
Before the summer of 2011, my native country of Nigeria had been the only foreign land I had ever ventured. Russia was new mystery that I knew very little about beyond mere depictions in James Bond movies. Experiencing Russia over the course of several weeks showed me that, like Nigeria, Russia was a world locked behind social media and perverse speculation, leaving its treasures veiled. This was immediately elicited from my first day in Russia-approximately five weeks ago.
I had won the NSLI-Y summer study abroad scholarship and traveled within a group of thirteen. This scholarship enables participants to gain proficiency in the Russian language and learn its culture via lectures and immersion. My first glimpse of Russia was nothing short of magnificent. Hovering over this space during the final few minutes of the long flight I viewed large plots of green land, small slowly moving cars, and the colorful tops of homes. The airport in Moscow bustled with migrates who were surprisingly not blonde hair, blue eyes folks but rather dark haired Uzbeks, and other ethnics not of Viking quality. As our group finished retrieving our luggage, we were greeted by a tall, lanky, shy Russian woman in her early twenties who was designated to escort us to our van that would take us to our host city Nizhny Novgorod. My group began to test their Russian and started small talk with the kind woman as we exited the airport.
Stepping out, we encountered blazing dry air. We reached a van driven by a rugged, brisk man. I was hesitant to enter into the van, conscious of the fact that I was a rarity–a black person. Yet, the man warmly glanced at me and helped me into the van. All our luggage and bodies were fitted into a tight space that would serve as an oven on broil for the ten hour trip from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod. Looking out the window, I was a small child peering agape into this strange world. The roads of Moscow Oblast were hugged by striped painted curbsides like those green and white curbsides of Nigeria. Parking lots to Russian supermarkets, malls and phone shops were filled with the distinguished Ladas, Gazes, and Alekos. Certain areas smelled of baked goods like those of Nigeria–something like sweet, dry dough…
Palina giggled “It’s funny that you say that Russia reminds you of Africa.” Experiencing the seemingly distant Russia has allowed me to establish such relationships and find meaning in a country beyond media bias and personal conjectures. All that I experienced in Russia was once unknown to me-the nationalistic culture, its enduring history, the melodious Slavic language, and its hot summer beauty. After that day, there came a kinship of worlds and a revelation: humankind exists as one. Divisions result from cultural variations, but in the end, we are all one.
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