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No Perfect Country For Humans

Ben Isiemin's story posted on January 31, 2012 at 2:56 am. Ben emigrated from Moscow, Soviet Union (USSR) to Philadelphia, United States in 1992

Benjamin Isiemin

January 31, 2012


                                                       No Perfect Country For Humans



            "My story" did NOT begin in the summer of 1992, when after hearing my mom yell something along the lines of: "it’s here, get your stuff, it’s time to go" everything I knew of started to systematically disappeared. After hearing those directions from my mother, I don't remember but I think I got that scary nervous feeling in the pit of my gut when you know something bad is about to happen. Then as I stepped over my childhood home's threshold for the last time I saw a little bus parked in front of my home ready to take me to the airport on what was going to be my first flight to anywhere. The nervous feeling got compounded with depression as soon as my eyes met those of my first and only friends. "Mysteriously" the news had spread through my little neighborhood on the outskirts of Moscow and in addition to my friend's melancholy and puzzled looks I saw those of curiosity from groups of neighbors in the distance gawking, being spectators to a turning point in my family's life. We were moving to America.

            This is not my story because I wasn't the mastermind behind this exodus. I was a ten year old kid. I looked forward to everyday prior to this one. Riding my bike, playing soccer, building forts, skiing and camp fires in the nearby woods, climbing trees, picking fruits and berries from my dad's garden, snowball fights and friends. Would this new place have ALL this for me? No, It would never be the same.  I realized this when I was saying goodbye to all my friends. Each had a farewell present for me, it was a bitter sweet surprise. But what made me cry was their reluctance to say goodbye... As the bus started to take of I saw their ambition to hold on to me as long as they could, they were following the bus. With my hands and face firmly planted against the back glass I saw their bikes easily keep up with the bus on the small streets. But I knew the disappointment would soon come to the boys as the bus was going to reach the main road. And so their rapidly moving bodies got smaller and smaller. With every rev of the engine I saw them pedal harder and harder. I was crying harder and harder. In my friends faces I literally saw what I knew of my childhood slowly fade away as the bus accelerated.

            So why put a child through all this?  I was promised a "better" life, full of "opportunity" the kind that was not to be in the USSR. This I believe was the selling point made by my Aunt and Uncle who were already living the "American dream" for some time. They were our sponsors and helped us get the visa required for such an adventure. My aunt Helen, my dad's sister had already lured away my grandmother (her mother) (the only grandparent I ever knew). And her brother, my uncle Igor's family also departed the USSR. Thus I understand what drew my father to depart our home, he was following his family. My mother dreaded me going to the army and this was a perfect escape from that obligation. Yes there was also the anti-Semitism that would normally distance a Russian Jew from Russia and instill disdain. However I did not experience this great hate to a large extent by the time I turned ten. I wanted to stay.

            The ride to the airport felt forever and at the same time we were there in a moment. On the way there we passed so much new scenery of Moscow. But in my eyes it was all just a speedy blur. All I saw were the faces of my friends and I cherished the new presents I received. In this time I felt myself change, my mind becoming analytical and cerebral. I was trying to peer into the future I was trying to remove the inevitable uncertainty that was awaiting me. Picturing numerous scenarios of my new life was like solving an impossible equation. Trying one solution after another but none of it made sense. All I could do was hang on to the hope that it was going to be a better life as my parents had argued.

            The airport was hectic and crowded; lines of people, armed guards, opened suitcases being examined, children crying, passports being checked, families saying good bye, while others greeted each other with tears. And so we had no other choice but to join this menagerie of chaos. Checking the bags was an extraordinary process for us due to our dog Al'ka. My sister and I loved that dog. He was the fifth member of the family and our sibling from day one. A golden Cocker Spaniel commissioned by our Uncle as a present for him upon our arrival. I would also have to reconcile giving away my childhood pet just like I had to reconcile losing my childhood home, friends and my native land.  His cage got taken away to be stowed away with other animals and luggage and my heart sank even more. Now that I look back at it the whole experience seems like a very bad dream. Eventually I found myself in the seat of the airplane. Now the reality was exponentially thrusting itself upon me and my depression grew at the same rate.

            Its funny, but I found solace on board the plane with a help of a stewardess who brought me something I have never seen before, a can of soda. Literally my first taste of western life. Momentarily the sweet icy drink took my mind of the worries, thus I could not help but consume about half a dozen one after the other. The roar of the plane engines, clouds at eye level, the sun brighter than ever, I was flying!   This excitement was still overshadowed for obvious reasons.  I was tired and fell asleep.  And as thou traveling through time my dreams took me to a new world, U.S.A.

            My first memory on American soil was finding a penny inside my uncles car at the airport parking lot.  “Take it, you will have good luck” he said.  So I did, hundreds of times since then, any where I would find a penny.  It’s interesting how the mind works and is susceptible to suggestion and superstition.  Not only was this interaction between me and my uncle burned into my memory, but it also forced me to follow this practice for years.  My mind was young and fragile after such an ordeal thus I was susceptible to this empty promise.  It took some time living in this country to realize that pennies don’t give you luck you have to make your own luck.  Otherwise you fall victim to chance, very rarely you become a victor.

            To be honest, at this point I find myself a victim of chance.  But I hate looking at myself as a victim even though life turned out to be mediocrity at best.  I’m still aspiring for big things and will never stop.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union privatization saw many become very comfortable with some of the wealthiest in the world being Russian Jews, I guess the anti-Semitism wasn’t that bad.  But the racial discrimination I experienced on U.S. soil was.  Shifting our geographic location took the focus of of my heritage and shifted it to my race.  When I started to attend public school in the early 90’s I felt as if the cold war had just begun.  I experienced hypocrisy, bigotry and injustice in this country just like I would in Russia if not worse.  Political injustice and greed threw this country into a war based on lies in 2003.  Corporate greed forced me out of a job in 2009 as the mortgage bubble burst.   The amount of money this country spends on military can provide healthcare to every man, woman and child many times over.  The recent “occupy” movements show the inadequacy of capitalism.

            So what conclusion can I make from all this?  Can I say that life in Russia would have been better?  I don’t know.  I do know that changing your geographic location will not automatically make everything perfect.  Because this world is not perfect… No, let me rephrase.   The people who  shape, manipulate and exploit this world are not perfect.  It seems to me everyone is trying to escape one thing or another wherever they may be.   So looking at my experience I’m inclined to say that unless your life is in danger, socioeconomic, political or religious reasons are not good for drastic moves.