The first few hours in Russia are always unbearable, brutal.
I’m accosted by the smells of male sweat masked by deodorant, smoked meats, and the sweet-acidity of the metro that hits you as soon as you enter the station and descend 60 meters underground by escalator. Those first few hours, no one understands a word that comes out of my mouth, because I’m just so unused to speaking Russian that I string my words together too fast and to the point where it becomes incomprehensible. I’m still thinking in English and my words, my behavior, those doe-eyed looks I shoot strangers all betray the fact that I’m foreign and I don’t belong.
Those first few hours, it feels as if I’m trapped in a white padded room, screaming; but no one can hear my voice outside. In my mind, I’m told over and over again that I am not of this place, that I am an outsider, that I should be given English menus and treated like an 8-year old. Because behind my heavily-accented Russian, they can’t hear my words, that I’m one of you, that I was born here. I belong here, because this is a part of my culture that I can’t get rid of no matter how much I try. And if I don’t belong here, then where is it that I do belong?
After those first few hours, the screaming settles down. My words start becoming comprehensible. I inhale the smells of smoked cheese, espresso with lemon, and rye bread and, at last, I become immersed in my surroundings.