Our two weeks inYekaterinburg was for me like being back in a dream. It’s not the first time I’ve been back, it’s actually the third, but it’s been a long time. Last time I was here was in 2003–16 years ago.
Thanks to my good friend Nikolai who graciously acted as my family’s personal guide and chauffer, I was able to see more of the town than I had really ever seen before, as well as several places outside of the city.
As I have gotten older, friendships and relationships mean more to me than they used to. I reinforced many old friendships on this trip.
When I lived here in the 90’s, I knew that if I stopped by a friend’s place unannounced, I would receive a sincere and heartfelt welcome and would be treated to something from the kitchen even when the pantry and the fridge were very bare.
The people are still just as genuinely welcoming as they were a few decades ago.
Last Sunday evening, with no concrete plans, I decided to try to find a friend I hadn’t seen or talked to all these years. Nikolai drove me to the area, and by some miracle, without an address, and in a sea of identical buildings, we found hers.
A man in the parking lot happened to know her apartment number, so I rang it from the locked entry door to the building.
“Natasha, this is Jess Anderson from America, do you remember me?”
“Of course, of course! Let me get cleaned up a little, but come on up!”
And we sat in the kitchen and drank tea and talked about the old times.
For someone who finds entertaining guests sometimes awkward, I am impressed by and grateful for the way Russians genuinely enjoy giving up their plans and giving so much to make their guests feel welcome.
Here are some more pictures and experiences from around the city.
After two weeks in Yekaterinburg, all three of my kids were ready to live (yes live, not leave) there.
It was very hard to say goodbye to old friends.
And now, a few thoughts on life in the Ural Mountain region.
A friend of mine who lived in Yekaterinburg during the same period I did asked me how much things had changed in the city since we were here more than two decades ago.
The answer, like Russia itself, is a little complicated. But the short answer is, not all that much.
I’m not sure why that’s surprising, I would say the same for the city I grew up in–I don’t think it’s changed that much either.
In some ways, the city has changed and in some ways life here has changed, but in a bigger sense, very little has changed with either.
We arrived here just 5 years after the collapse of communism. I want to say that this was a real transition time for Russia, but that implies that real, meaningful changes were taking place and I’m not sure that’s true.
The truth is that the political and socioeconomic scaffolding that provided stability for every day life in the Soviet Union, even if that life was a dreary and suppressed one, was taken away.
The social influence of the West came pouring in. Control of the rich natural resources of Russia and of factory production were divvied out to a relative few (the oligarchs), organized crime ran rampant, and most people’s real standard of living dropped.
As I heard over and over again during that time period, “Under communism, we had money, but there was nothing to buy, the stores were all empty. Now we have capitalism and the stores are full of anything you could want, but we don’t have money.”
Some things have changed since the nineties. Life is a little more stable. Visible crime has been greatly reduced. The abundance of large shopping centers, new high rise apartment buildings, and traffic jams at all hours of the day (when previously I only knew one person with a car) all attest to some improvement in economic circumstances.
But the economic improvements don’t trickle down as much to the majority of people who live modestly from paycheck to paycheck on $300 to $1000 a month (even accountants, doctors, lawyers, and school teachers).
Political changes since the 90’s have curtailed personal and social freedoms and for many hope for improvement in economic conditions may even be a little more bleak than before.
Life is hard everywhere, but I look at Russia and wish it was just a little easier there for the people I know there.