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The very prim Aeroflot flight attendant greets you wearing a bright orange uniform and white gloves. The logo on their uniforms harks back to Soviet days and features the hammer and sickle with wings.

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Sitting in the Moscow airport Gate 15, I wait to board the last leg of the travel part this very long journey, the flight to Ekaterinburg.

Some observations from my people-watching activities: the only music I hear is from a bar a few gates behind me. Otherwise, the building is unsettlingly quiet, people talking in hushed tones around me. A young lady sits across from me behind oversized sunglasses, portraying the fashion model aesthetic while probably not tall enough to actually be one. There have been several who have passed by dressed in leather-style pants and stiletto heels, looking every bit the fashionista.

Otherwise, a large contingent of Chinese or Korean men sit together near the window, some wearing suits, the rest in work clothes, their bulkier form suggesting they did more manual labor.

Among those waiting by the gate, it seemed the majority were men with the exception of some women with families, and the aforementioned fashion plates. I felt conspicuous on all counts, but curious, too.

The plane outside the window was the smallest I would be flying thus far. It’s no wonder that the ladies at the ticket counter rolled their eyes as I hefted my 22.9 kg (just under 50 lbs) bag onto the scale, followed by my smaller 35 lb case.

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Terminal (Wo)man

Earlier, as I waited for my bags to arrive, long after the rest of the passengers had gotten theirs from the NY-to-Moscow flight, I amused myself by texting my daughter Stassia who had picked up my husband’s phone that was charging in the living room back in Michigan where it was about 2:30 am. Intermittent wifi supported this activity as I wandered the virtually empty baggage claim terminal waiting for sight of my errant suitcases. The very stern lady behind the lost and found counter had indicated very strongly that “the bags are here” and they will come in 30 minutes, pointing to the delivery belts where my bags would emerge.

Finally, after the promised 30 minutes, the bags appeared, alone on the belt looking for their owner who eagerly pulled them from the moving conveyor.

In hindsight, and based on the kind assistance of a Moscovite who had also lost her bags, and who translated for me the rapid-fire Russian conversation that the attendant was having on the telephone, I believe the bags had actually been sent directly to the Ekaterinburg flight without going through customs first. The 30 minute wait was, I believe, what was needed to pull the bags from the plane side cart and bring them back to baggage claim where I could retrieve them.

Now the problem was getting to the “Transfer Customs Control” door which was now locked. Where do I go next? As I pushed my rolling bags around the empty baggage claim area, I felt like Tom Hanks in Terminal Man, going door to door looking for an answer. Back at the Lost and Found desk, I shared my problem, and the uniformed man behind the counter indicated his “adwise”which was to go to the “Green Control Line” towards the exit and ask them to let you through there since the other for transfers was closed. No one was at this entry when I looked in… But finally someone emerged tucking in his shirt and smiled, pointing to the exit door after I tried to explain my predicament. Go through and up to the third floor for transfers… no bag inspection, nothing. Just passed through and I was on my way to the transfer check-in upstairs.

Now, at 12:15, sitting in the very quiet terminal, no announcements came until 12:15 when the PA announcer declared that the flight – code shared with five airlines – was ready to board. Finally, we’re on our way to Ekaterinburg

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Arrived!

I think my batteries were completely drained because I don’t recall ever seeing the attendant place the tray of food in front of me. But I awoke in my seat to a lunch, Russian airline food style. The apple and slice of black bread was good. The rest… eh. But, hey, I wasn’t expecting anything for airline food. So it was good just to try it.

The cutest little baby with a hand appliqué bonnet and knit booties lay in her mother’s arms in the row in front, a bassinet attached to the wall for nap time. Behind me some soldiers chatted and joked about I do not know what.

When the plane landed, I found it easy to get around. Signage was in Russian and English, though the latter didn’t always make sense, or was translated awkwardly. But it was decipherable nonetheless. My bags were the first off the plane, how nice! And I pushed them through the sliding door where immediately on the other side was a very relieved and smiling Natalya, my host and guide who is director of international programs and the organizer of all my activities. She would also end up as drafted as my interpreter as not all of my Russian colleagues would feel comfortable to speak in English. And saying Hello, Thank you, Please, Excuse Me, and Goodbye in Russian will only get me so far.

My first night, after a brief refresh, it was still daylight (setting around 9:40 pm) so we met for dinner and then Natalya took me on a brief walking tour towards the main river in Ekaterinburg where the town’s founding industry – an ironworks – is located. The fresh air felt good and I walked until my energy suddenly dropped. Time to go to bed and try and get in sync with the time.

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The Iset River runs through the center of Ekaterinburg. In the distance is an unfinished “television antennae” that my guide indicated was a remnant of the cold war. But the fall of the Soviet Union left the necessary equipment in a now independent former soviet state, and the tower was left incomplete. In the foreground, hooked onto the gate are locks of all shapes and sizes. Apparently it became fashionable in the last few years for couples to put their names, date, etc on the lock and throw the key into the river in symbolism of their undying love. I couldn’t help but wonder how that tradition might be interpreted in the USA. Probably with a bit more cynicism. Even so, it made for an interesting visual display.

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At school

After a long day of meetings, greetings, talks about curriculum and expectations, I was feeling better about how well I would be able to serve my hosts in their needs. I now have keys to my “office” that I share with the head of the department. Everyone seemed so nice and genuinely excited to have me there. I want so much to do my best and help them in whatever way I can. But I will write more about the school in another post. Needless to say, I feel very good about what is coming.

At dinner, I went out on my own going only two doors down the road to a restaurant named The Legend. The meal was good, but the best part were the pancakes (crepes) with blueberries at the end. And I met a couple of very nice people, my server Vera, and her friend, Sergei, who helped with more translations even finding the news article of my arrival, along with another Fulbright who comes a bit later and who will deal more with Cultural Management. Here’s a link (google has a translate function that is adequate if you just search for Mara Fulmer in Ekaterinburg).

Russian Press Release

Well, in the meantime, I was going to put my goodnight photo here. Bruce Willis doing an ad campaign for a Russian bank. Go figure.

But the Internet is being uncooperative. I’ll add it later. Good night!

In the morning, I must prepare for my first class!

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