Expat Alien: Book Excerpt

Moscow, Russia

Moscow, Russia

Chapter 8

Apartment 2 of 6

I was not looking forward to another move, but we found a new apartment that was much airier than the old one and Nicholas could have his own study to make his mess in. It was on the 14th floor and had a distant view of Red Square.  It was farther from the Metro but was also near to a large park. The bathroom was all in one room so more “western”.  The only problem was that it had ants that hung out around the faucets and there was no way to get rid of them.

On this occasion, several people helped us move. When the truck was loaded – three of us sat in the back of the truck and the driver tied the tarp down in the back and Nicholas rode up with the driver to navigate.  It was like the ride from hell.  Here we were in the dark, riding across Moscow with all this stuff (not tied down in any way).  Nicholas’ cousin Valery kept peeking out through a crack in the tarp giving us a running dialog of where we were, all in Russian of course.  Plus due to the enormous Russian potholes, I was airborne several times.

People in Moscow would rent out their apartments for one year, sometimes two, and move in with relatives someplace else.  They would save all the money they earned in rent and then use that money to renovate the apartment when they moved back in.  We lived in six different apartments in 9 years.  The landladies kept kicking us out when they were ready to move back in.

The air seemed to be cleaner in our new apartment and I couldn’t see one smoke stack.  At night we could look out the window and see St Basil’s and one of the Kremlin towers all lit up.

The second day we were there I filled up the kitchen sink to do the dishes.  When I was done I just pulled the plug and all the water went rushing down the drain and came pouring out all over my feet.  They had put new pipes into the sink but when it reached the old pipes going into the wall they didn’t fit together so they just rested the new pipe into the old one.  When water came pouring out all at once, it got backed up and overflowed. They didn’t finish the job correctly (no surprise there).  We called the landlady and she said she would call a plumber and come over the next day.  Well, I came home next evening and she had been here all right, and now there was a big rag neatly wrapped around the pipe!

One morning Nicholas was working at home and I left to go to work.  I got into the lift and hit the button for the bottom floor.  The lift moved in a jerky way.  It felt like it went up.  Then it stopped dead still.  I was on the 14th floor.  Panic.  I hit the intercom button not expecting anything to happen.  I hit it a couple of times.  A woman answered.  She wanted to know what my address was.  I told her.  I was screaming in a panic.  Somehow I managed to get her to understand me.  Pretty soon I heard somebody come to the landing.  I yelled at them and they could hear me.  I told them to go get my husband and gave the apartment number.  After a while, I heard Nicholas’ voice.  He said, I’ll be right back, I have to go get the video camera for this!  Lovely.  Finally a woman showed up, crawled in on top of the car and managed to get the door open.  I was just below the landing and was able to crawl out.  All caught on video.

Moscow Days



When I lived in Moscow in the 1990’s, I relied on the Metro and buses for transportation.  Everybody carried their own cloth bags for shopping and I always took my backpack when doing the grocery shopping.  One wet snowy day I slogged to the store with my backpack and cloth bags looking for some choice items to feed my dinner guests.

I went on the Metro and I found pretty much everything I was looking for and the store wasn’t too crowded so everything was looking pretty good.  I was thinking how great it was that so much stuff fit into the backpack and I only had to carry a couple of light things in my hands.  As I approached the entrance to the Metro, I felt the pack shifting as if something was not quite right.  I made it into the station, pushed my way through a huge crowd at the turnstiles and decided I should take the pack off and check it before getting onto the escalator.  As I was taking off the backpack, it opened up wide and everything fell out onto the muddy wet floor of the station.  Did I mention it was winter?  I dropped everything and chased a can as it rolled away from me.

I managed to gather everything into a pile and hurriedly crammed my sugar, flour, juice and tomato sauce back into the backpack.  The cheese and sour cream had been in a separate plastic bag so I just shoved that into my cloth bag and proceeded to the escalator.  Through all of this people were stepping over me and around me and somebody had actually stepped on my sour cream so it was all over the inside of the plastic bag.  Nobody had missed a step to even think about offering me any help.  All of my bags were filthy from lying in the muck on the floor and my hands were also filthy from gathering everything up off the floor.  I was cursing the Metro, the Russian people, the Russian Federation, my husband, and anybody else I could think of and I plotted all the way home that I would just pack my bags and get the next flight out of town.  Plus by this time I was sweating from having too many clothes on in the crowded Metro.

When I reached my apartment building and entered the elevator that rarely worked properly, a woman followed me in.  She had been out walking her dog.

Woman:  Which floor do you need?

Me:  14

Woman:  I am on the 8th floor.  The lift has been in such poor working order.

Me:  I couldn’t agree more.  I was stuck in it recently and waited over an hour to get out.

Woman:  It is not reliable.

Woman:  You should really wear a hat.  You might catch the flu in this cold weather.

Me:  It really isn’t that cold out.

Woman getting off the lift:  Good bye.  All the best!

Me:  Thank you. Good Bye

Continuing up the elevator all I could think of was what a country filled with contradictions it was!

I managed to salvage everything but the sour cream by transferring things into non-muddy containers.  I cleaned my apartment from top to bottom and washed all the floors and I felt much better when I was done.  By the time my guests arrived for dinner, I welcomed them with open arms without any thoughts of fleeing the country.

Life as an expat can be challenging anywhere but the people you meet along the way make it worth it.