As most of America prepares to hit the polls on Tuesday, I thought I'd record some thoughts I've been ruminating over the past few weeks on being an expatriate here in Russia.
Just a few weeks ago, I took Anna to a nearby park for some play time. While we were there, we met Milana and her nanny Shabilat. Shabilat asked where I was from, assuming that I was also a nanny working for a family in the area. When I told her I was American, but that my husband and I lived and worked here, she immediately exclaimed, "you're so lucky!" Shabilat immigrated to Moscow from Uzbekistan, a feat not warmly looked upon by the general Russian population here, and is currently working to obtain Russian citizenship. The process is not an easy one, and requires that the applicant first renounce his/her current citizenship before even beginning the process of application. Shabilat is not alone: there are likely hundreds of hopeful migrant workers here literally without a home country in the process of applying for Russian citizenship. When denied, these people have absolutely nowhere to go: they are neither Russian, nor Uzbek, nor anything. They face imminent deportation from Russia, but with no place to which to return until they have resubmitted paperwork to request citizenship again from their home countries. This isn't just a scene from "Terminal," it's life for Shabilat. To say I'm lucky puts it mildly. Often I forget the larger picture among visa and registration frustrations, looking at my passport more as a hassle than a skeleton key to the rest of the world.
As US election news has been buzzing here recently, students are quick to ask whom I'll be voting for or generally what the election process looks like in the US. I answer telling them how Facebook is afire with political updates and opinions and that our Vonage phone line rings off the hook from friends of Barack and Mitt. "Wow. I don't think they'll ever let us choose," one friend reminded me. It seems as though these petty annoyances are simply the product of a political system where one vote can make a difference. Persuasion actually pays - and although I don't know anybody who's hoping the campaign season could be extended by another month or so, it's a poignant reminder of the democratic ideal on which our country was founded.
I find myself thinking about my "Americanness" somewhat frequently. It's not because I'm super politically minded or as aware as I should be, it's because I often find myself failing to fit in here and analyzing why. Perhaps, ironically, simply living in Russia makes me feel more American than I might in the States. Perhaps less. It most likely depends on the day. But as America collectively prepares to cast their ballot this Tuesday, I wish I was there to wear my "I Voted" sticker and pick up my free cup of coffee from Starbucks. Of course, that's difficult and a bit humbling to explain to Shabilat.