In the spirit of Halloween being today, I’ve decided to take a look back at some “horrifying” moments during my time here in Russia. Obviously things have been a blast, so it’s not easy picking out these times. For most of them, they’ll be relatively minor, but there are some instances that were scary by anybody’s criteria.
The first, and scariest moment, was the time I almost got mugged my first year. I was walking home from one of the neighborhood grocery stores, when two guys (who were wearing the same exact clothes; had the situation not been so dire it would’ve been comical) came up to me. They were asking me for money or for something, as their language either wasn’t Russian or heavily accented. I shook my head saying I couldn’t give them, which was the point where one of them grabbed me and held me in place. Miraculously I was able to scrounge 20 rubles, which satisfied them. I should also mention that at one point, I swear they made the cutting throat gesture. I didn’t look back when I departed for my apartment as well as being pretty paranoid over the course of the next few weeks; though, it did give me incentive to pick up my pace when whenever I went for a run in the neighborhood. Knock on wood, but this remains the single scariest moment I’ve had whilst in Moscow/Russia.
Other times involve getting pulled aside by the police and having to show my documents. As strange as this is for people back home, the idea here is to weed out the Central Asian migrants who may/may not be in Russia legally. And being of mixed race, the police have confused me from being somewhere else eight times as of this blog post. (Frustration aside, it’s funny how people from Central Asia always ask me where I’m from, because they genuinely have no clue. So there’s a circle of ambiguity going around between me, them, and the police.) I know that being American offers me a sense of security, as I’ve generally had the police let me. However, I am at the mercy of the officers, so this experience can either finish as soon as it starts, or as has already happened twice, I could be pulled into one of the metro police stations for a longer inspection. Both times this has happened I had my documents taken and my name written down in a book. Now, nothing happened and rest assured I’m traveling with all the proper documents, but the display of power can be unnerving at times. The first time I got pulled aside back in 2014, I was incredibly paranoid each and every time I saw an officer in the metro; this is in spite of the fact that I carry one of the stronger passports in the world. So yeah, these eight, and hopefully only eight, times comprise of some of the scarier, heart-stopping moments during my stay here. I won’t let these incidents mar my time in Russia, but man, it isn’t pleasant.
Something that comes in at a lower position on the “freak out Conan” scale are the times when I don’t have my passport on me. For those not in the know, Russians first of all have two passports (domestic and foreign), the latter of which is what’s used to buy things; think of the power your driver’s license and/or social security card has back home and you’ll get the picture. And, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph, you might need to show your passport when the police call you over. At any rate, not having it physically on me starts to induce panic until I realize that it’s away for a good reason, i.e. my visa is getting renewed, I don’t need it for the short distance I’m walking to, I’ve got a copy in my pocket, etc. I mean, you are severely limited without it, so that’s kind of my nightmare-not having it when it’s absolutely vital.
On two separate occasions, and with the same bank (cough cough Sberbank cough cough), I’ve had my card get caught in ATMs. Furthermore, time was indeed of the essence, so I really was panicking. Things got taken care of, but I would have been in a world of trouble otherwise. Thankfully I got to meet a really cool Iranian guy who piqued my interest in visiting that country, and I also got to experience Russian friendliness the other time, so I guess life worked out and actually improved the situations.
Finally, I’ve had times where I’ve been stuck in the metro wagons. Not for long mind you, but for maybe five-ten minutes extra. Am I overreacting? Maybe, but one of my irrational fears is being trapped in the metro such as you see in a disaster movie. Sure, I’m overreacting, but I guess I’ve been conditioned to hold the belief that showing up late to lessons is a heinous crime. It is fairly reasonable to be paranoid about getting stuck for an extended period of time in the ever-crowded Moscow Metropolitan, right?
So there we have it: the things I’ve been spooked by during my time in Moscow. If there’s any thoughts and/or comments about what I’ve written, feel absolutely free to let me know!