Posted by: Nancy | October 12, 2009

To Russia with love

I have a new friend.

Never mind that I’ve only known her for seven days. And she lives half the world away.

Never mind that we don’t speak the same language. We were able to communicate, and that made all the difference.

Her name is Irina Chernova, and she’s from from Belogrod, Russia. She was here as part of an Open World Exchange program that brought a group of five Russian judges to visit the United States in a kind of immersion program to explore aspects of the American legal system. Two local Rotary clubs teamed up to host the judges and provide the access to the Federal District Courts and local courts.

DSC_0005 Irina

The agenda was impressive: a federal criminal trial, lunch with US Distict Court Judges, a visit with the US Marshall’s office, a tour of the US Penitentiary in Leavenworth, and Fort Leavenworth. There were some cultural activities — the Arabia Museum, the World War I museum — and some local flavor like the Harley Davidson plant and Stroud’s.

But much of the trip was really just about making connections.

It was slow starting out. We used tools — a Russian/English dictionary, an iPhone translater, some miming and acting out. Pretty soon, we knew how to make the other laugh.

One joke came in the morning, about the third day. I’d been pushing hot breakfasts on her every day — omlettes, pancakes, etc., — but she always declined. On this day, she looked at me and carefully said: What I’d really like is a Snickers.

We laughed! I’d put a few little snacks in her room, and it turns out her favorite was the Snickers candy bars. Snickers and coffee became her favorite American breakfast.

We shared my laptop, and we joked about our passwords. She’d sent an email to her daughter, with her arrival details, to verify that she’d meet her. The return came in just five words, and I could tell she was hurt. She was able to translate it for me:

Mama, to wait is boring.

Oh! It was like a dagger. All I could do was hug her a little tighter that night.

The next day, she was happy to show off the gifts she’d bought and the new clothes she found. And to tell laughing stories about her comrades shopping with her. We took photos, had dinner and even my wild cat purred and let Irina hold her. We were able to share gifts, and jokes. And at the end of the day, she turned and said “I love you.”

And it was true. We had a quick bond, an understanding and a trust. We had secrets and we had friendship.

So, to Irina, my faraway sister: I love you too! I’m thinking of you, and I’m wondering: how much could it cost to send Snickers to Belogrod?

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