Letter Home from Yekaterinburg, Russia (Sept 1997) – Part 3

I recently found in my closet several handwritten letters that I sent to my mother during my time teaching in Russia. I sent many more, but these were all I could find. I will be posting these on my blog. I have retyped the letters but changed nothing. It’s hard for a writer-editor not to tweak her old stuff. But I wanted to keep the letters as authentic as they were the day I wrote them. God bless.

If you missed my first letter home from Moscow (August 1997), you can read it here.

If you missed part 1 of my Yekaterinburg letter (Sept 1997), you can read it here.

Yekaterinburg, Russia, 9/27/97
Weather: Unseasonably Hot!

Dear All:

Even though Russian life is a struggle right now, this is not to say that the economy is stifled here. Quite the contrary. Yekaterinburg is one of the most booming and economically up-and-coming cities in Russia (by some statistical accounts it is the country’s third-largest, with a population of 1.5 million).

Construction is proceeding at a frantic pace. New apartment buildings, new shops and businesses are opening everywhere. Even former collective farmers do a tremendous business selling products on street corners, with goods which range anywhere from giant melons, carrots, potatoes, sunflower seeds and berries to fresh fish, crystal bowls, and shoe polish … and of course, the ever-present ice cream which is traditional, year-round street-corner fare all over Russia and Eastern Europe, but now including imported ice cream from Germany and the Netherlands – outrageously priced at $1.15 … the local ice cream sells for 15 cents.

The street-corner vendors are mobbed at every hour of the day, but they get especially crazy at lunch time and rush hour – they even sell lunch, consisting of hot pizzas or pierogis for 10-20 cents. A typical, endearing rush-hour sight is the Russian businessman, dressed up in a 3-piece suit and tie, walking down the sidewalk, talking shop with his colleagues or clients, thumbing through brochures or reports in one hand while holding a raspberry ice cream cone in the other hand and struggling to hold a briefcase with the same hand while carrying a bundle of raw fish tucked under the other arm; the colleagues/clients are similarly laden with street-corner goods.

They are talking so animatedly about the materials they are discussing that of course they give no thought to stepping off the curb in front of an oncoming car, which is somehow attempting to drive 70 mph through a crowded city street at rush hour. The car of course does not hit them – I have yet to figure out what magnetic force or pinball mechanics are at work here to keep pedestrians from being mowed down, but somehow it just does not happen.

The car swerves or stops. If it is a Mercedes, it moves around and continues on its way. If it is a Russian car and its driver is having a lucky day, the car stalls, the driver shifts gears, and after a few lurches manages to squeal off.

And if it is a Russian car whose driver is having not necessarily an unlucky day, but a typical day, the car breaks down completely; or is rear-ended by a bus, whose connecting wire snaps off the overhead cable, forcing the bus driver to climb onto the roof of the bus to reconnect the wire; or lunges into a 3-foot-deep pothole which sends not the hubcap but the entire wheel bumping down the street unaccompanied by the rest of the car, which the driver abandons to the pothole as he climbs aboard the bus to get a ride to the car mechanic.

The chatting businessmen, oblivious to all of this, cross the street and continue on their way. At most, one of the fish might fall onto the sidewalk, to be swiftly snatched up and carted off by a resident street cat. And of course I am the only one observing this whole scene in partial shock and partial amusement. No one else is fazed. Just a typical daily scene in Yekaterinburg.

To be continued next Sunday …