“Life in Russia” meets “A Place in the World” – Expat File #10

Our guest post today is by Steve Hague, an expat who married a Russian and shares with us his views on life in Russia today. He and his wife live in the large and interesting city of Kazan on the banks of the Volga River.2007-01-02 10.39.50

Pursuing the Purple Magic Liquor

In my last post I finished with “pursuing a dream is very important”. In the States I always felt as if I was in a slumber. Like Rip Van Winkle I pursued the purple magic liquor of success never quite reaching it. Chasing the dream and living the dream are two very different things. Being brought up in America we are taught success is everything, and fail to recognize the important things in life. As if (I’d been) living in a cave, I feel like I’ve emerged into a very real world called “Russia”. I’m not Washington Irving but I’d like to share with you my story. A story about waking up and living my “Life in Russia”.

Life is Hard in Russia

So what is life really like in Russia? I’d like to say it’s like living in a fairytale but everyone would know it isn’t true. The reality is life is hard in Russia. Yet when one looks close………really close something different appears. Repairing shoes isn’t easy, selling a few onions doesn’t feed the family, the lonely elderly gentleman selling a single bunch of flowers doesn’t bring in much. Yet the fisherman can give directions from his smart phone and the open market is full of vegetables. Each of them from the youngest to the oldest found something they could do, no one stops them from being productive. They all know their place in this world and are not ashamed to walk in it.

 The Third Capital of Russia

What can I tell you about Kazan. Well, the Kazan Kremlin, the heart of more than a 1000 year-old city, is a World Heritage Site. We also have the second oldest university in Russia, Kazan Federal University was founded in 1804. In 2009 was officially branded as “the 3rd Capital”and also as the “sport capital” of Russia”. Living here is very much like living in any big city in America. We have our Mega Malls, fast food restaurants, theaters, and the list goes on. One of the major differences are the sidewalks, did I surprise you? Yes we have them but here you have to constantly be paying attention to were you are walking. Otherwise you might find yourself doing a face plant or much worse. Interestingly enough I’ve felt safer here then when I lived in America. When I first came we walked down dark alleys, and places one would never walk in a big city in America. No one has ever bothered us.

Bridging the divide between faiths

Kazan is a very fascinating place, it’s one of the few places were Christianity and Islam live in peace with one another. Tatarstan is an unusual example of a Russian region where the majority of the population is Muslim, but where inter-ethnic and interfaith strife is rare. Back in 2009 Hillary Clinton visited Kazan in an effort to discuss how to bridge the divide between faiths. In my own experiences I been able to gain a greater understanding and respect for those who practice Islam and the Russian Orthodox religions. The top left picture is the Temple of all Religions which really isn’t a temple but a mission, a “temple of culture and truth”.

This is only the Beginning

So to sum up my life here I’d say it’s been quite interesting. I’ve been able to travel to Israel, Cyprus, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladimir, Suzdal, Bolgar and many other places. I’ve meet wonderful people along the way that have enriched my journey and have changed my life. This is only the beginning and hope to spend much more time exploring this incredible country.


The Train Tracks of Separation

It honestly never occurred to me that I would ever be living outside the States a couple of years ago. But like all things when you have a wandering spirit things like this happen. My story doesn’t land me anywhere in the western hemisphere as some here at “A Place in this world”, shared. I’d love to say that my family moved to some remote part of the world but that’s not what happened. See I grew up in a middle class family in the United States. One could say “Oh how boring could you get”, but that would not be the case. See by the time I was two 1368224853201years old we had moved countless of times back and forth from Colorado to Maryland. Why? My father was a geologist with the government and Colorado at the time was a hotbed for locating the hottest ore in the world. This was the mid-fifties and uranium was a very sought after ore. It was the “Cold War” that drove the search for this all precious substance and my father was in the middle of it.  This was the beginning of my life, this is my story.

The Jungles of America

We all know that there are no Jungles on the east coast of America, telling a young boy who was constantly exploring the woods this would tell you different. We were very often been told to be careful of the snakes. We were told if a snake wrapped himself around you to break a stick and it would think it broke your back. It would be in these woods I would learn many examples about life. I remember seeing the movie “Stand by me” minus the dead body the things that 915890436happened in this movie I could have written about my life then. It was also a time of segregation, our school being one of many that white children and black children would share their young lives together. I’m thankful that my parents weren’t prejudice and I was allowed to have colored friends, but was told they couldn’t come home with me. The only place we could spend time together was in the woods next to the railroad tracks. I look back now and realize that those train tracks might have separated us then but the future would be very different. The jungles of America are very real, just in a different way.


Then in the sixties an event occurred that would impact my future. My father went to Yugoslavia, why he went there was never clear. When he returned he brought with him records to learn Russian. I was fascinated! I would spend hours listening to them only to come away learning only a single word, “здороваться” which means “Hello” in Russian. The language is still as perplexing today as it was then. campusIt was also a time of change in our family, we moved again. This time to Walnut Creek, California. It would be here that I would learn about the more cultured things in life. My parents always made sure our lives were filled experiences like visiting the theater, seeing the sights of San Francisco, visiting the Berkeley campus and much, much more.

“What’s done in Vegas stays in Vegas”

imagesIt’s been said, “what’s done in Vegas stays in Vegas”, but what if Vegas was thirty miles away and provided your only source of entertainment. Does it still apply? My final years of school were spent in a small town of Boulder City, Nevada which lies 30 miles south of Las Vegas. This small town would be where I’d finish my schooling and the start of my adult life. Life from here on forward would be spent living in over seven different states. Each states adding new chapters to my life and ending others.

Acts of exclusivity

Of all the places to have fulfilled my tenure of living in the states Vancouver, Washington was the best place to have done it. Life in the Northwest exposed me to a culture that appealed more to my nature without even realizing it was happening. See in the Portland-Vancouver area there’s a large enclave of Russians. Up until this time I had never been introduced to them or their culture. Many of those I met  became life-long friends.

A simple Dream

Marc ChagallIt’s here I must share about a dream I had. Dreams have always been an important part of my life. I’ve come to understand that some of them have significant meaning. Understanding them may be challenging and enlightenment only comes later. The dream I want to share with you is a simple dream. It wasn’t so much the dream as it was the emotions it elicited. In the dream I was holding the hand of a woman whose face was blurry at best. What was difficult was as our hands separated my heart ached terribly. I woke up being very disturbed. So why share this?  Several months later while looking online for my future wife I came across her photo to which I almost missed. She happened to be from Russia. This lead to a year and a half courtship of which I traveled back and forth from a couple of times. I came to find out later that around the time I had my dream she received a painting from her friends. The picture was done by Marc Chagall who is a master artist who is capable of capturing dreams.

A Place in this World

One must not sleep when they have a dream. Pursuing a dream is the most important thing we do in our lifetime. The fulfillment of my dream came when I moved to Russia. We all have a “A place in the World”, this is mine. I’d like to say that time and space are the reason for stopping here, but it wouldn’t be true. Truth is that my next post will explore my new world here. One that I hope you will enjoy reading.

Looking beyond ourselves to truly know who we are

There is a lesson in all of this. One can move and still not be separated, one can make a stand and cause separation, segregation was supposed to bring together only to create a deeper wedge, one can try to separate oneself only find themselves more entangled, we must learn to look beyond ourselves to truly know who we are. It’s the greatest challenge in our lives. Something to reflect on.