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From Russia With Love This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   From Russia with Love by S. E., New City, NY

Privacy, not a difficult word to find in a dictionary. Flipping through my Handy Guide to Everyday Words in the Russian Language, I thought that there was a mistake, some small oversight, as to why I couldn't find that simple seven-letter word, PRIVACY. Confused, I asked my teacher, Mr. Diamond, about it. He informed me that in the Russian language there is no word, phrase, or expression that translates into what we know of as privacy. This minute difference in language translated into a major difference in lifestyle when I found myself living with the Belskayas in their four-room Moscow apartment for three weeks.

My first night in my new home was quite an experience. I was exhausted after my long flight and all I looked forward to was a flat surface to discover the magic of sleep. Eager to begin my exploration, I found myself sitting in Mr. and Mrs. Belskaya's living room/bedroom. Irena, age 15, Mikail, age 21, and Mr. and Mrs. Belskaya ( a.k.a. "Mom" and "Dad") eagerly surrounded me while firing questions about school, my religion, and anything else they were curious about. I enthusiastically, though somewhat regretful of the lack of snooze time, proceeded to tell them about my family and life in America. During our bonding session, I gave each Belskaya "American" gifts I had brought. (Imagine being excited about Hanes pantyhose and Jiffy Pop popcorn!)

After staying up with the Belskayas



for about three hours, I was shown to my room at the "early" hour of 3 a.m. and turned off the light. Great start, I thought, right? Wrong! I was drifting into a peaceful sleep when the light in the room was turned on. "Ugh!" was my only reaction. I was too tired to do or think anything else. I recognized the voice of my counterpart, Irena. She began speaking in her broken English, "Do not mind me, I will just sit here and watch you to go to sleep." What ?!

Well, I later found out that watching a person dissolve into a comatose state is just a strange Russian ritual. Actually, what I discovered is that this is just part of the Russian's philosophy that everything is open and there really is nothing resembling privacy as we know it.

Whether such privacy will be discovered within the confines of a new, revolutionized society is yet to be known. Will there be a new society, a society which has the ability to value a previously unknown commodity? Through the democratic and capitalistic themes being presented by the Yeltsin administration, there is hope among everyone. Russians and Americans alike yearn for that next level of reform, reform that will bring about new relations, new ideals, and most important, new dreams.

Throughout my stay with the Belskayas, I encountered various scenarios similar to my first night. However, I came to understand and grow accustomed (somewhat) to my brief Russian life. Aside from its occasional inconvenience, I came to understand a life, a life different from the typical suburban one I had known. Sure, traveling is one of my favorite pastimes, yet this is the first time I have been able to experience another culture as an inhabitant, rather than as a tourist.

A tourist would have been given the ability to experience privacy in his/her Western-style hotel. A tourist would have been able to see the Belskayas walking along the cobblestone paths in Red Square, but not accompany them to an all-Russian, pro-Yeltsin rally occurring in the same Square. A tourist might have viewed the school yard of School #1282 through the iron-rail fence surrounding it, but not sit in on all of a third-year student's classes. A tourist might have bought military goods from the teenage con-artists on the street, but not go with a Red Army officer to shop in the official Russian Government Store. A tourist might have been able to take a guided, but restricted, tour of the local church and synagogue, yet not attend regular services with an official congregant. A tourist might have had the privacy s/he is accustomed to, yet not have the experience that has motivated me to want to plan a career around the country that I so briefly adopted as my own.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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