Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Russian Affair, Part 8

Julia was a college student when this photo was taken and when she first met me and my colleagues from the Observer-Reporter on our visit to Novokuznetsk in 1998. She was a volunteer interpreter for our group, eager to brush up on her American English. So few of her teachers knew anything about the way Americans talked, she said, and she should know, because she had spent a year in Vermont as a high-school exchange student.

I felt a special bond with Julia - and still do - because of an odd coincidence: She and my daughter were born on the same day, actually just a few hours apart. Because in all of my trips to Russia I was never able to learn Russian well enough to conduct interviews on my own, I spent a lot of time with her and was a guest at her parents' table often.

Julia has always had a love for travel and has done much of it. Her Russian passport lists her nationality as Ukrainian, like her mother. Her father holds a Jewish passport, as hard as it is for us to comprehend that sort of discrimination and profiling.

After graduating, Julia took a job teaching at a business college in Novokuznetsk. Although she was grateful to have any work at all, she complained bitterly in e-mails to me over the years about the low and infrequent salary and the lack of motivation in her students. I think she very disappointed, too, that so many of her friends and classmates had moved on, away from the city to Moscow and abroad, leaving her - of all people - behind.

Eventually, Julia met Ralph, a German, and fell in love. (She is as fluent in German as she is in English.) They had a lengthy long-distance relationship and were married a couple of years ago. But Julia had to return to her job in Novokuznetsk to wait for approval to live in Germany legally, which finally occurred last summer. The separation of this only child from her parents hurt.

Here's a little of the last e-mail I received from Julia:
"We celebrated New Year with Ralph's friends in Berlin which was very nice too.
Shortly after midnight everyone went outside to make small fireworks, it lasted for about half and hour and then it was very quiet - in Russia you can't sleep for another week because Xmas comes after New Year and then comes Old New Year.
"Of course I miss my parents and friends but I can always pick up the phone and make a call. We can also watch Internet TV in Russian and Ralph has hundreds of CDs and DVDs with Russian music and films. And I can always speak Russian to him. Some of my classmates moved to Germany, so there are people around me who I can talk to. I can't say I feel myself at home but it's better than I expected."

No comments: