Land that Dances under the Sun
Posidelki (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Posted on July 1, 2002
By Valentina Kotogonova
And here is my first flight covering 11 time zones. The people are amazing and the country is blessed! The contrast is so big that your agitated soul cannot absorb this 10-day kaleidoscopic overload of impressions. Much of what I am going to talk about will be very subjective, but I don't want to lose my emotional high, and I want to introduce you, dear women-readers, to American women from the heartland, to women activists from NGOs, to women politicians, and simply to everyone whom I met during my visit.
A stewardess about 45 years old wearing a big pin on her jacket stating "Proud to be an American" cheerfully announced, "Welcome to the sunny port of Albuquerque!" (Please notice, not airport, but sun port.)
The first thing that amazed an inexperienced traveler like me is the light, which seems to come from everywhere and highlights people and items with bright colors. The green trees and grass, blue sky and whiteness of clouds, people's smiles, their openness and friendliness amazed me more than American abundance and life at a steady pace. Now I understand that the second is a result of first.
I enjoyed most of all the feeling of being treated as an equal. You cannot describe it, you can only feel it. I observed the common people in particular: cleaning people, waiters, housepainters, drivers-I would always get a big smile from them. The number of mistakes, delays, and missteps made by our group dropped nearly to zero and was replaced by a quiet confidence, punctuality, and comfort in our lives. There is a principle in physics called vibration frequency. I came to the conclusion that in America this principle is utilized more often in everyday life than in our country. Quality and quantity of service, politeness and cleaning streets and houses are not the issue. From the car's window I saw mountains, forests, roads-nobody cleans them! Cars, sidewalks, and even my shoes didn't get dirty during the 10 days of my trip, even though we survived a dust storm!
My observations of the women amazed me even more than that of nature. Women make jokes! Think about it. Women joke and laugh all the time, at work, in the company of men. They behave as equals, never setting up barriers through elaborate makeup on a gaunt face. Instead those women, who look beautiful and rich, evoke a sympathetic smile, meaning that this person has some sort of complex, has no self-confidence, and tries to compensate for it with her outward appearance. It's called "lookism"-judging people by their appearance. Judgment of any kind is not tolerated in America. That's why a few conflicts among our participants looked so bad, an affected affront to our hosts who worked so hard to make our stay a great one.
I didn't find anything close to what our sociologist at the Moscow orientation told us the day before we flew to the U.S. She told us in general how everyone in the U.S. is an individualist, that Americans measure everything monetarily, that they prefer isolation (my house is my castle), and that they have a feeling of superiority over other countries. This turned out to be just the opposite. I had the impression that such statements are oversimplifications and offer an erroneous black-and-white picture.
Generally speaking I understood that all the worry over filling out various applications and documents was for nothing and later dissipated. We were one of the hundreds of groups from developing countries whose problems were well known before their arrival. And the way we were hosted-it is a given that people from a troubled part of the planet need to relax and enjoy themselves. No tension, just a relaxing atmosphere that in itself benefited us more than the information we received in business meetings, because you cannot plan the obvious.
The first heartfelt relief was that although the schedule was strictly adhered to and even though our girls were sometimes late, our hosts didn't bring attention to it. Actually, their positivism and mental attitude towards life is simply great!
When the lock to my hotel room door broke, a repairman came in three to four minutes. He worked very hard to fix those microchips, and finally-he fixed it! And this was at 10 o'clock at night! I think I don't have to tell you where we would find our "Mr. Fix-It" at that hour back home.
The mix of cultures in New Mexico turned out to be not a cacophony, but a fluid, bright and attractive festival of creative folk who strive to complete the picture with their separate masks, yet not disturb the unity of the composition. I want to say a little bit about the architecture-Southwestern sixteenth-century style, which we started calling "mazanka" (clay-wattled hut; in other words, adobe).
And the cuisine-where chili, salsa, tortilla and tequila reign-and so many other things that fill life in this beautiful place with unforgettable tastes and aromas. In this dry climate people manage to grow a lot of flowers, mainly roses. Flowers follow you everywhere, at every turn. We encountered restful spots of gently designed sculptures, natural wood, murmuring water, and exotic plants.
We had a wonderful trip to Bandelier National Monument, where a native village from the time before the white man arrived was lovingly reconstructed. Deer, squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits were not afraid of us at all. Also, we observed a costume competition. The songs and dances of the Apache tribe looked so natural in the red canyon background.
At the same time New Mexico is a center for high tech. Los Alamos and Alamogordo are very familiar to those who know the history of rocket and nuclear development. And the outskirts of Roswell-this is a "mecca" for UFO enthusiasts. You can find artists from all over the world, all sorts of hippies, and New Agers in any corner of the state. Somebody even told me that this is one of the five energetic centers ("chakra") on Earth.
The women's organizations in Santa Fe (like in our country) differentiate themselves by history, status, budget and structure. It seems to me that they are joined together by the shared detailed knowledge of women's problems in this region. We heard about water shortages and domestic violence (especially in poor Native or Hispanic families) at the State Capitol, the League of Women Voters, in women's crisis centers, a university resource center, and the press center for NGOs.
When we posed the question to New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron: "What prompted you to work in politics?", she answered: "I have always loved people!" So far none of the political leaders in our country would be brave enough to say this phrase.
I was amazed at the number of women in business, police work, and elected positions. They talked about feminism as a political action; they rejected privileges and quotas, strove to harmonize life and make the Earth feel not ashamed of the people, who are lucky to live on it.
We received such a warm and attentive welcome at one of the three crisis centers in Santa Fe (population: 60,000). An invitation with our names was hanging on the door, we were seated at a table covered with a lot of sweets and fruits! They gave each of us information about themselves, pins, and T-shirts. Also they presented us with a canning jar of Ukrainian borsch.
Some of what they told us was very unusual, for example: a psychological study of rapists in jail, lectures in elementary school classes on "What is the difference between good and bad touch?" All sexual minorities can come with their problems to the center. We were impressed by their honesty, their serious attitude towards our questions, their obvious interest in the work they do, and the fact that they are doing it on a voluntary basis.
The same, maybe even warmer, welcome we experienced every night from wealthy families. Famous millionaires seemed at ease with us. They talked to us plainly, and made us feel comfortable, as if we were not in a fancy room with golden tableware and pictures by Renoir and Monet, but as if we were in our simple Russian apartment. Ugly gossips may say that it is American propaganda, but I think everybody was glad to meet us, and they were curious to see Russian women leaders.
Also, we met our emigrants, collectors, owners of art galleries, religious leaders, journalists, and editors of newspapers and radio programs, there were too many of them to name them all.
So many people, even simple passersby, would tell us their story or would give us a little souvenir that shows how their house or city differs from others. Some casual conversations in the fast food restaurants adored by Americans turned into memorable conversations. In Washington, DC, I asked a policeman for directions to a shoe store. After getting this information I found the store very quickly. Two hours later I passed on the same street and the same policeman asked me with a nice smile, "Did you find anything you wanted at the store?"
Talking about Washington, I want to mention a wonderful guide, Vera DeBuchananne, from the Library of Congress, who showed us library treasures and shared with us the history of a most memorable building.
I got the impression that Washington is a city full of American history. This city keeps track of all the American ups and downs, which were also part of world history in the wild past century. The many museums and monuments of the capital city are evidence of this. Also, we observed the very low airplane landings over well-known historic buildings and American symbols, which remind people of the recent tragedy. American people are collecting books and magazines with pictures of the September 11 nightmare. You can see many billboards on the road with pictures of New York firemen, and very often on TV you can see an apocalyptic video clip that starts with the words "This day started as an ordinary day, but ended as a day that changed the whole world."
Maybe those 10 days that I spent overseas changed me somehow as well. I hope this change is for the best.
[Reprinted with Permission]