It’s astonishing how much free space is in a small suitcase when you don’t pack things like measuring cups, jars of coconut oil, jars of gummy vitamins (totally worth it), and furry parka lining. That being said, I’m sure I’ve spoken too soon and will soon be strewing my extraneous possessions across Eurasia.

We also had our first (!!) Russian post office adventure, which culminated in paying an ungodly amount of money to ship the 60 Russian books I’ve accumulated and refuse to give up back to the US. This took about an hour and led, among other things, to my having to write the exact same information on the exact same type of form four times, because the Russian Post has apparently never heard of a Xerox machine. That was sarcasm, but judging by the quality of the print on the form, it’s possible they really haven’t ever heard of a Xerox machine, and instead do everything by linoleum print. 

In other observations of the Russian post, they sell some really strange stuff. Like shaving cream, foot cream, shampoo. At the post office. Next to the lottery tickets, crossword puzzles, and stamps.  All behind glass doors, of course.

 Our plans have been turned on their heads lately, so it’s too soon to say exactly what the next step will be in this adventure. But since this does appear to be the official beginning of the end, it seems as good a time as any for a bit of reflection. 

10. Soljanka, oreshki, mayonnaise-and-fish-surprise salads, tvorog cookies, wheat kasha, millet kasha, mysteriously flat meats, samsa/xachapuri, cabbage salad, cabbage soup, grey cabbage soup,  salted cabbage soup, blueberry chocolate, pre-boiled sweetened condensed milk
9. Droopy fairy-tale trees
8. Awesome students
7. Thinking that paying $10 for a restaurant dinner is a rip-off–and being right (ditto $1.50/pound cucumbers)
6. Speaking Russian, seeing Russian, breathing Russian
5. Walking beer (not me)
4. Job security
3. The trains, samovars, and podstakanchiki
2. Going to a crowded bar on a Friday night, ordering a pot of green tea, and not getting any weird looks
1. Shashlyking and teatime

10. Toilets with ceramic seats
9. Toilets with any kind of seats (if it detaches completely from the toilet after use, and/or if you have to select it and carry it into the bathroom with you, it doesn’t count)
8. Toilets with toilet paper
    8a. Toilets for free!
    8b. Water fountains
7. Cornbread, cole slaw, buffalo wings, cheddar, real beer, southern sausage, marinara from a jar, nachos, Indian food, Thai food, Chinese food, eggrolls (yes, they get their own category), freedom from the smell of hot dogs and boiling buckwheat, pizza that is big and New Yorky and purchased slicewise
6. Spitting in public not being acceptable
5. E-mail instead of cell phones and social networks
    5a. Going to the library instead of downloading PDFs (although I should also add “ability to download any book as a PDF” to the first list)
4. Not having to explain why it’s bad to cheat/steal
3. An apartment (!?) that is apartment-sized and contains apartment-appropriate furniture that maybe even won’t have come from the trash (except, realistically, it will have)
2. The sensory overload that (I imagine) comes with actually understanding everything that’s being said around you
1. Not having to wonder, at the end of a day off (or an off-day), if William Fulbright would be disappointed.

Tomorrow is Russian Independence Day. Independence from what, you ask? The last time Russia was subject to foreign rule was the Mongol Invasion, which ended in 1480 (source: history. Look it up). As it happens, Russian Independence Day was established in 1992 to commemorate the “Day of the Acceptance of the Declaration of National Sovereignty of the Russian Federation.” In fact, until 2002 the part in quotes was the official name of the holiday–not that anyone could possibly remember all that before Wikipedia and 3G phones.

The name “Russian Independence Day” is actually a back-formation resulting from the above presence of the word “Sovereignty” which, in the revolutionary document of any other nation, would celebrate the casting off of the yoke of an oppressive foreign ruler. But no. Russian Independence Day is a celebration of the time when, crippled by stagnation, widespread hunger, growing distrust of the government, and member republics’ resistance to central control, the greatest empire of the century crumbled so thoroughly that the average person’s life after its dissolution made the problems of the late USSR look like a teddy bears’ picnic.

In other words, tomorrow Russia will stop everything to celebrate independence from itself. 


We should celebrate. We can start by pitching the misnomer and choosing to call the holiday by its current and proper title: “The Day of Russia.” And let’s view June 12th not as a celebration of the event it commemorates, but rather as a celebration of new beginnings, of chaos, of the unknown, and of unlikely triumphs, of the shared suffering, strength, and survival that makes Russians Russian.