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Dispatches From Siberia #11: One Bad Apple

Dispatches From Siberia #11: One Bad Apple

On the flight back from Irkutsk, the hard looking Russian man in a black mock turtleneck folded his arms to register his displeasure at the Latin letters of my ebook. But as soon as he thought I couldn't see him (of course, I could see his reflection in my screen), his eyes traced every line of Anne Valente's Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down.

Dispatches From Siberia #10: Opposing Views

Dispatches From Siberia #10: Opposing Views

This is not a political blog, and so I won't discuss how I feel about how the week unfolded in my nation of origin.but politics shape the ways in which people from different cultures interact, and those interactions are part of my experience here.

I unplugged from social media before the election and avoided news sites once the votes started to come in. Years ago, I wrote a newspaper column about an experiment I conducted concerning the ubiquity of major sporting events in America. I refused to watch the NCAA basketball championship that year, and I unplugged my modem and told my close friends not to tell me any results. I wanted to know how long an American could go without learning the result of a major competition. The answer was about 12 hours, at which time a colleague with no regard for sports walked up and launched into a critique of the losing team’s clock management.

However ubiquitous sports are in America, American politics get a bigger reaction across the globe. When I tried the same trick this week, it was about five hours after the results were announced that a student walked up to me with pity on her face. I was on my way to a Russian lesson, and she was on her way to the bus.

“I don't understand,” she said. "Here, we have no real choice but you—you can have any leader, and you choose the liar who hates.”

“That's the thing about democracy,” I told her. “It reflects the character of people, and character is fluid. Right now, it looks like this is our character. 

She shook her head. "I don't believe it."

I shrugged, as I suppose a lot of people all over the planet did all the way through the election cycle. "A lot of people are kind, but only sometimes—they haven't learned how to be kind to people who look and act and think differently.”

“I'm glad you're not one of those, she said. Then she went to her bus and I went to study verb cases.

A couple hours ago, I landed at the airport in Krasnoyarsk, an overnight stopover on my way to Irkutsk and Lake Baikal. I turned down a couple of cab drivers on the way to the bus stand, and the accent gave me away. A man dressed in camouflage and a litany of logos for countries and armies that no longer exist walked up to me, beaming. He congratulated me on America’s great day of liberation. He told me that together, his president and America’s new chief executive would grab the world by the throats. I smiled politely and told him to have a nice trip, while internally, I figured it would be a great success if they could restrict themselves to simply grabbing necks from here on out.

So there you have it: the cosmopolitan view and the rural view.The intellectual view and the emotional view. The curious and and the forceful. Two people, one country, utterly opposite impressions of how the world can and should look.

Sound familiar?

And of course, this week more than ever, the Fulbright disclaimer is apt:
The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program and the U.S. Department of State.