When I was very very very small my grandma Lilya taught me how to read. I guess that was the beginning of all the good and all the evil. As soon as I was pretty much over stories of mighty Russian knights and cheesy princesses, she started feeding me books on WW2 and patriotic heroes who fell from the sky, crashed their planes into armies of enemies, lost their legs, arms and what not but always did something outstanding. Many times they were driven by the memory of dead wife, dead children or something else very dead, or by faithful cows and blonde kids awaiting them back at home, but mostly they fought and died for their homeland Russia, outta pure patriotism. My poor 5 y.o. mind was struggling to understand the point but I cannot really tell you what I was thinking back then.
The only thing I can tell you that reading books about war, blown-up planes and torn-off imbs is not the healthiest thing for a 5 year old. Once I told this story to Nenad, back in Nis, and he concluded that I must be a bit mentally sick. I probably am.
So, that WW2 material was the destructive education of my young self.
On the other hand, there was the other grandma, that sadly passed away a few years ago and who was the reason I love baking so much. She used to make amazing pies – but I’m not gonna tell you here about pies, although I think about pies and cakes 24 hours/7 days a week.
So, this second grandma had an entire row of Jules Verne lined up on the shelves, and as my cousin Max and I spent long summers with grandma Faina, and sometimes Max pissed me off, I preferred the company of Jules Verne and his imaginary friends to Max’s company.
Jules Verne was the total opposite of Russian WW2 fiction. Nobody used the term ‘steampunk’ back then, it was probably called ‘science fiction’, but anyway, Jules Verne gradually became the love of my life, telling stories of all British and French gentlemen who circled the world in 80 days, travelled 2000 leagues under the sea, through the centre of Earth, flew to the Moon and hell knows where, married exotic beauties from strange foreign tribes, hung out with weirdos like Cap’n Nemo – and that was all like normal ordinary day to them.
Maybe it was back then when a thought settled in my mind: disappear for over a year, get onto someone’s submarine full of sketchy dudes, pirate somebody’s treasure, marry an African or Asian princess, bring her back out of the blue – it is totally ok. Apparently, it’s totally ok outside of my society because in my society people preferred losing legs for the sake of their country.
Now then, my grandma’s (1st one) father was a war hero, and she used to teach me a lot about the WW2 history and how it changed the map of the world, and how we all would’ve been speaking German and killing Jews if USSR hadn’t beaten the hell out of nazis.
Nowadays, I look at modern Russian society – of any age – 70 years later. And wonder what they think their ancestors were fighting for.
It is quite clear what they were fighting against: the nazis, the religious, racial and sexual discrimination. But look at Russia today and your eyes will bump into homophobia, active and passive racism (stereotypical thinking), after all – pure ignorance about the world out there.
When you go to Pakistan, your friends look at you and warn you that it’s a Muslim country.
When you go to Africa, your colleagues shake their head and remind you that it’s full of black people.
If you don’t introduce your boyfriends/girlfriends to your parents, they start thinking that you might be gay, but they are too afraid to ask.
There is one thing I am asking from you, readers of my blog who have not been out there yet: get out of your house and talk with someone. I’m not asking you to go ballooning for a month, marry an African prince and eat bird’s saliva. Get out of your country for a week. Go to one of those small countries in Africa where no one normally goes, where endless tribal wars, genocides, colonial regimes actually taught people to be nice to each other, to appreciate each other’s ‘otherness’. Sit on top of the mountain, surrounded by echoes of nearby villages, take a ride on a tiny bus squeezed between a huge African momma and a giant branch of bananas, to the sound of reggae or some silly song in Swahili that goes on and on for 10 bloody minutes in the same bouncy rhythm.
It will change your world.
Am I afraid of being disappointed one day? Afraid of finally bumping into a real racial stereotype of an African bandit with machete? An Asian robber with a sharp knife? A South American gangster and drug lord? A Muslim polygamist who needs a ginger wife to complete his colour collection? Afraid of dying in a sudden flash flood in the middle of the desert, suffering from yellow fever, as it happened to isabelle Eberhardt, another great inspiration of mine?
Colonial prejudices and oppression of the French Empire in Africa disgusted her as much as Russian general ignorance of the world depresses me. She escaped the beautiful life of Russian Swiss aristocrat and travelled through the Sahara desert, dressed up as a man, married an Algerian soldier and and tragically died at the age of 27.
And I am aware that for every 50 beautiful things, be it a giant eagle, mount Everest, colourful African lady with a basket full of oranges on her head, a handsome Tibetan nomad or something else – there will be one ugly thing or simply a human asshole, because this phenomenon is cross-cultural.
I close my mind for the ugly things and keep my eyes wide open, because to understand the beauty we need some shit to compare.
If you know what I mean.