An American Babushka in Moscow:  The five people you will meet when you first get to Moscow

moscow photo
Photo by akk_rus cc

Back in the day, ten years ago when I first set foot in Moscow, when the Moscow Metro was the home of the Minotaur from which I felt myself lucky to escape each day; when the Russian language was tumultuous; when I could not ask for what I wanted and needed, when the sophisticated splendor of the city sent me into rapture;  when every corner turned was a new emotion; in those days I met the people who viewed me solely in terms of their own needs.

There was first of all, my “boss”, who no different than any other “boss” saw me solely and purely in terms of use value and profit generating capabilities.  Well, what else is new?   Life in Russia was not really much different than life in America back then, and I am Marxist enough not to be surprised when my employers try to exploit me.  But while exploitation as a worker was something quite familiar to me, exploitation as a foreigner – as an alien – was not, and so I was to learn what it is to be an “foreigner” in a foreign land.  To begin with, she put me into an absolute hovel to live, and for this hovel I was expected to pay half of my monthly salary, which wasn’t that much to begin with.  Every month she would send her secretary to sit with my landlord as I doled out my dollars for rent.  I thought this strange.  It was only much later, when I was ready to leave both the company and the apartment, that a Russian friend told me that he had found out that the rent was five thousand roubles less than what I was paying, and that was going directly into the pocket of my employer.  At that time five thousand roubles was about 600 hundred American dollars.

The day after I arrived in Moscow I was turned over to the care of an “American”named Sue.  In America I would never have even spoken to Sue, we would never have travelled in the same circles; our lives would never have intertwined.  Sue and her husband, Rex were missionaries from some exotic Baptist Church located in the South.  There was not one moment, beyond the first day, that Sue and her husband did not try to covert me to their faith.  When I told them I was a Hegelian and a Marxist and so not one bit interested in their faith, that had no impact on them.  They would invite me for dinner, for coffee, to “meetings” at their home, and unremittingly they pursued my conversion.  They just didn’t stop.

Then, there was the other Christian couple I worked with: Methodists.  They were not quite as intense, and to their credit, they loved Russia; loved it to the point where they bought grave plots here.  They had four children, all of whom they left behind ostensibly to come to Russia and covert the heathens, but in truth because they had fallen in love with this country.  There are a lot of Americans like them.

They were not the only ones, the Mormon white shirted, bright faced young army was here in full force.  They stood on the steps of Metros handing out little cards offering free English lessons.  Let me tell you that a lot of these guys fell prey to the spectacular beauty of the Russian women, left their country and their faiths behind, married and raised their children as English speaking Russians.

Oh, but the most shocking thing back in the day, back in the day, was not the right wing Christian Evangelicals, who never had any luck converting the Russians, nor the Methodists, who didn’t try very hard to do so, or the sweet young sexually repressed men who fell in love and lust with the Russian women, but the Scientologists.  They opened a huge center;  on Taganskaya, where their little salesmen – they all seemed to be little in relation to the bulky Russian men and the tall Russian women – accosted people in the street.  They would move directly into your path and mumble something bizzare.  The fury of it would overcome me and I would give them that most famous of all American replies to any difficult and or annoying person “Go F….Yourself”   In perfect English of course, which would shock them, for only a brief second, into silence.

There were of course, other types:  The cowboys who only had two questions in their Moscow lives – where is the next woman and where is the next beer.  They would come to work drunk, if they came to work at all, and leave when they had had enough Russian women and bad Russian beer.  Then there were those who could never have gotten a job in their own countries, but who could make a ton of money in Russia.  Back in the day, back in the day, an American male, unqualified for any meaningful work, not knowing grammar or anything about the real world, could make a quarter of a million dollars a year as the friend of some Russian oligarch or businessman, who was just oh so happy to have an American or British friend to drink with.

So I smiled….was happy….when I read the Moscow Times today.  On its front page was a picture of a man in a cheap and baggy worn out white shirt, a gray tie that matched his gray slacks and below it the proclamation:  “The men who stormed into the hall were armed with handguns and clad in masks and bullet proof vests, as if prepared for a shootout. Inside, several dozen worshipers, many of whom were children or elderly, were in the midst of a Bible reading.”  I had no pity; not one iota.

These are the people who have the “right” in America to come knocking at my and anyone else’s door they feel so inclined to knock on as early as they want to on a Sunday morning.  They and the Mormons who feel they have some God given right to impose their beliefs on the quiet moments of my life; to assail my Marxist atheist ears with bible quotes even when I beg them to stop, to impose themselves upon others who have their own religions; to stop them in the street and assail them with insane science fictions.  And the Moscow Times is going to defend their rights to do so…..oh no.

There are four religions that have a right to exist in Russia:  Islam, Christianity, meaning Russian Orthodox and Catholic, Buddhism, and Judaism.  That is four too many for me; but hey, fewerthan the proliferation of crazies that came to conquer Russia back in the day when no one stopped them.

You won’t meet them in Russia these days; and I am so happy about that.

Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.



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