Moscow, and Russia as a whole, has always been a contemptuous place for me. So much so, that I avoided going back to Russia for as long as I could, but when I was in Serbia over the summer, it was too close for me to not visit.
Growing up, my parents took me to Russia for the summer every other year. I missed my friends back home, but in exchange, I was able to spend time with my extended family, whose presence I lacked the rest of the time. Sometimes, I thought the tradeoff unfair. I’d much rather be in the US with my friends, I thought. However, now I’m thankful for those times, particularly in the formative nature of those years on my ability to be bilingual. In my most recent trip, my Russian was complemented by my relatives, and I had relatively no issues getting by on my own, other than maybe shyness on my end.
While I’m now grateful that my parents pushed me to learn Russian and have a relationship with my relatives, at the time, I ended up resenting Russia and everything it represented. I didn’t find spending time with my family that wasn’t there for me 95% of the time valuable, and I wasn’t with my friends, and further, Russia didn’t seem like a great place to be compared to the US.
Unfortunately, the reality is that a lot of corruption and crime does exist in Russia. Addiction is rampant, from a young age, and it’s common to see 12 year olds drinking in the public playgrounds. Several of my parents’ friends have died due to mob gang violence. Indeed, many times I’d come to Russia, especially Moscow, a city that is supposed to be so grand and great, and feel like no progress was being made. I remember the last time I was in Russia, over 5 years ago, turning my nose up in disgust at the city, saying that the only way the city has changed was by accumulating more layers of dust.
Well this time, I definitely felt the progress. Maybe it’s the same phenomenon of when you don’t see someone for a while, you notice the ways they’ve changed more prominently – but you’d miss those changes if you saw them daily. In city terms, not much can change in 2 years, but in 5, much more can happen, and the progress was felt.
There was a huge restoration of historical buildings and most importantly, streets, so that the overall infrastructure was vastly improved. This was felt probably most in the Moscow suburb my relatives live in that typically would always have a crane or two, putting up new buildings, but no paved streets.
Additionally, a new park was opened in the middle of town, Park Zaryadye, right next to Moscow’s famous Red Square. This park probably is the best example of progress within the city, but also the self-defeating nature of its people. Within days of its opening, vandals had already broken some of the exhibits’ glass windows and torn up the vegetation, destroying the city’s attempt at pulling the people forward. So, I’m not sure if the people have changed as much as the physical had physically, but I can say at least personally, during this trip I was able to come to better terms with my culture, and understanding the importance of having a relationship with my extended family.
In five years’ time, both of my cousins on my dad’s side got married, and my grandmother continued to grow older. It was great to visit that entire side of the family and meet my cousins’ new husbands and see a growing family. Growing up as an only child and all our extended family in Russia, I was always envious of my friends with large families, and for the first time, I felt a bit of that magic. All in hindsight, while I wasn’t able to grow up with my cousins and aunts and grandparents next door, I’m thankful that I was fortunate enough to have parents that knew the importance of spending time in our home country and formulating these relationships.