You already know the awkward feeling….you are somewhere in the RSW “Russian Speaking World” albeit Ukraine or Russia or Belarus and your roomate, or new friends you have just met..ask you the most haunting question , a question that often repeats several times during a night out with new friends or at least the question itself appears in different forms during the course of a month.
I will try and chronical the transformation of my answers through the years and different places in the RSW that I have lived. Perhaps, you may see your own parallel experience to my responses to Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarussian citizens.
1997 Minsk Belarus: “why are you here?”
my answer: “I want to learn Russian and become a trade diplomat ”
Now this answer was 90% truthful, there was also a girl I was interested in, I lived with her family that summer and I discovered a whole new history of European history from the perspective of Belarus and the former Soviet Union. To the sad realization that Wolrd War II was actually won in most part by the Soviets–they in fact liberated more territory and lost the most lives. And only when Americans and Westerners travel to any of the European parts of the former Soviet Union do they realise that every city, almost every street and every park has a monument to the great sacrifice the city and its defenders made fighting against the German Nazi Army. World War II is –a living history for Russian Speaking World..wounds have not healed.
2001- 2008 Volgograd Russia : ” Honestly, Why are you really here?”
I was farther East and in a very historic city of Volgograd, “Stalingrad” where the great battle was fought along the mighty Volga River. I lived in a dormitory of Volgograd State University. This dormitory life is an experience everyone should have at least for one semester. You will really understand the “pulse” of the younger generation that is inheriting reform and transformation of their great country. All ethnic groups are represented int he dormitory and in a funny way–it is like a little Soviet Union in its own way. Each ethnic group be it –Tartar, Armenian students, Chechen, Kazahk, Azeri and so on…they all had their little social circles and cliques–that somehow had their voices in student council and other university associations. Respectfully, as a black african I was like the “token” or “neutral” foreigner that everyone –even the ethnic Russians would allow into their little worlds and they explained their personal lives and view of the future and analysis of the historical past. I would say I learned more about Russian history from my years talking candidly with students in the dormitory than I did in all the university lectures.
My answer: “I’m here to write my diploma research, study and find an alternative to live here in Russia, just in case I do not become a diplomat”
2012-present Ukraine: Why are you here, we have war?”
I am finally comfortable answering this answer, and if the question giver does not believe me , I dont bother wasting any energy trying to convince him otherwise. I advise you not to commit any stress or anxiety to the fear that people will not consider you to be “genuine” in your golas or intentions to their country. Their mind was decided on the issue BEFORE they asked you the question…they simply wanted to confirm their initial thoughts. But the more you struggle to convinve anyone why you are in their country –the less they will believe you. Sounds weird…but less-is-more. Silence works best, after you are asked the question a second time , i just look at him/her with a cynical face and silence. But in all politeness, I can understand the reasons for the questions…..The person has a desire to leave his/her own country and can’t understand why a foreigner from a country with far less challenges in it–wants to be a resident or citizen of their country which HAS serious challenges at every level of life.
I will continue on this topic for a future post, Perhaps, after the May Holidays.
My answer: I love Ukraine, I feel my soul to be more creative here. I have many friends here and I want to help change your country for the better”
on this answer, I usually get a hug.. or a big laugh at my naive idealism… but i think Idealism is not a weakness, it is a strength.
“why are you here, really?”
почему ты здесь?
зачем пришли сюда, здесь ничего нет ?