Settling In - part I
In other news, I have received a lot of feedback regarding Dave, and it turns out we cannot take him home, because, being a hunting dog, he will hunt down our chinchilla and... you can figure out the rest. Sorry, Dave!
On to my story...
Over the past nine years, a lot of people have asked me: “So how does it feel, coming to a new country?” In case you’re wondering the same thing, I have put together a short story describing our experiences during our last few months in Russia and our first few months here. Correction, I planned it to be short, but it got out of control, so it will be broken down and posted as a number of separate installments. I tried to keep it funny and entertaining (which, given the amount of unbelievable things that we always manage to get ourselves into, was not hard) as well as, at least to some extent, informative. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!
All I can tell you that it was an interesting time – the joy of discovering a new country, at, at the same time, the confusion because our future was a complete blur. I’m glad that I was able to relive these times while writing this. Hope that you enjoy it.
There is a question that a newcomer to this country gets a lot from fellow immigrants. I cannot do it justice, but the rough translation is something like: “So, have you settled in yet?” By “settling in”, the inquirer means whether the person being inquired has done several things, in a particular order: did he get a car, a job, a credit card, a house. At least, that’s what the immigrant community expects of you in my town.
The Russian immigration is very diverse, complete with a caste system and members of different castes not speaking to each other. You have your professionals that came into the country on a working visa; you have your students; you have a small population of illegal immigrants who came here in the late 80’s – early 90’s; you have the mail-order brides; and you have the refugees, who came here due to ethnical or religious discrimination. The way I understand it from talking to people on the ‘Net, we the refugees are the lowest of the low. The reasoning behind this is that all other groups have earned their right to live in America, whereas we just came here by merit of our ethnicity. Whatever.
Where I live, the Russian community consists almost exclusively of refugees that came in through HIAS. We are basically a large group of people where almost everybody comes from the same three cities in the former Soviet Union, and everybody is in some way related to each other. The latter is due to the fact that, in order to apply for refugee status, you had to receive an invitation from a close relative already living in America, so what happened here was, one family member got into the country and gradually brought in everybody that was in any way, shape or form related to him.
We are an interesting group. I do not much interact with the local Russian community, and they don’t interact much with me, because the Russian community in our city is, actually, Jewish, and they don’t like it that we are all baptized and attend church. But these are our roots, and in a way, I guess, they’re dear to me. When you first come into the country, these are the first people you meet, and these are the first people that teach you how to get by in this country and how to “settle in”. This is how it happened with us nine years ago.
In summer of ’96, our papers finally went through; we passed the interview at the American Embassy, passed our medical exam, and began getting ready to leave. My parents had left early that year, and were now successfully “settling in”. They called every week to monitor our progress and plan a list of things for us to do when we would arrive.
Out of all my friends in our town, only one girl had a phone that could take international calls. Once every week, I left ChinchillaBoy with his Dad, took LilProgrammer with me, and we walked over to her place to talk to Grandma and Grandpa. I brought a pen and paper along, as Grandma and Grandpa usually gave a lot of advice.
“They don’t have curtains in America. I mean, they do, but they’re very expensive. Our friends have just bought a set for their apartment for $100”.
Wow. At that time, Mr. Goldie worked two full-time programming jobs and was making $100 a month at each. No, I didn’t want to work all month for a set of curtains, so the next day, I went out and bought some. They are still sitting in our closet, as we never had any use for them. If you are interested in nine-year-old Russian curtains, drop me a line.
“Bring all of your kitchenware. If you don’t bring a spoon or a fork, you will have to go to a store and buy one, and pay three dollars, maybe even five, for just one spoon.”
So we brought ‘em all, and we are still using them. I figure that one day, they will be a collector’s item. Spoons From The Old Country. We’ll sell them all and retire. The only kitchen item we left behind was a small pot that the three-year-old LilProgrammer had taken a dump into. I guess he was so aggravated by the packing, his baby brother bothering him, and the fact that none of the adults had any time for him, that he snuck into the kitchen, took a massive shit in the pot, put a lid on it, and slid it into the very far corner on one of the shelves. Naturally, of all people, it was discovered by my mother-in-law, who had come over for a few weeks to help us pack. She was actually relieved, as she’d been thinking there was a dead rat in our kitchen causing the smell.
“Bring the fur coat. In winter, it doubles as a blanket.”
The fur coat is in my closet, if anyone’s interested. It’s 35 years old, and lately, it has been falling apart at the seams, so we’re afraid to touch it now. We did use it as a blanket during the first years; then it started to shed profusely.
“Americans don’t have good tea. Make sure you bring lots of tea”.
That was where we drew the line. In fact, at this point I realized that I probably shouldn’t have bought many of the things my parents had been telling me to bring over to America. But it was too late.
After we arrived, my Mom told me that, when they had come to America one year before us, they had brought with them six pounds of soap and a washboard. They had been advised to pack those valuable items by the well-meaning relatives.
(to be continued...)