The ichgan ail - eeked ec. TursayJanury 1,193 Pge,
364 To Go...
One day. One lousy day that those
infamous "powers that be" have so
kindly and graciously given us Black
folks to march and sing "We Shall
Overcome." Of course, we're expected
to be damn grateful to those same
"powers" for the privilege.
But according to some people not
of color around here, us negroes have
screwed it all up. Instead of praising
the Eurocentric dream of Black com-
promise, too many speakers talked
about African struggle, determination,
(and God forbid) revolution.
"That's not what Dr. King was all
about," I hear a whole mess of faces
red with anger sputter. "He was a kind,
gentle integrationist that encouraged
MAR GAR ITAS
Adventures of a 'U'
student in Russia
by Katherine Metres
hand-holding and non-violence. None
of this Malcolm X, 'By Any Means
Necessary,' white devil-hating, Na-
tion of Islam racism I'm hearing!"
Hoo boy. Here we go yet again.
Seems that people outside of the Afri-
can struggle have decided that we've
dropped the ball. When Black people
take advantage of that one day we've
been allowed to celebrate and discuss
our heritage, culture, and the struggle
of our ancestors (as well as our own),
it's a complete affront to quite a few
ears around here.
Day correctly. Or better yet, how Black
people are "supposed" to celebrate it.
Thanks to this country's wonderful
media industry, most Americans have
a very distorted view of what Dr. King
was all about. We're trained to believe
that he was this mellow dude that was
loved by everyone, and was felled by
one bad apple in a mostly good bunch.
But when I go to far more reliable
sources (my father, his friends, my
older brother - people that were there)
I get a much different story. They tell
me that Dr. King was considered a
troublemaker, a bad guy, some "col-
ored' that didn't know his place. But
the media fails to tell us this. We never
learn about his ferventprotests against
the Vietnam War, and how Prez Hoover
was having none of that. Weneverhear
how Malcolm X considered himself
and Dr. King integral to furthering
Black progress in White America (to
paraphrase X, he said that after Whites
heard his message, they'd be a lot
quicker to give King a listen).
Instead, we're taught the Reader's
Digest, sanitized version of what Dr.
King was all about. And when Black
people decide to celebrate his day in
our own way, we catch wreck. People
protest those chosen to speak. People
gotohearBlack Nationalists, and leave
offended that it's not all about peace,
love, and understanding.
But who's to say that's not a good
thing? If nothing else, maybe for that
one day, some of you can almost un-
derstand how us Africans feel on the
other 364 days of the year. You might
almost know what it's like to turn on
CNN every day, or pick up a newspa-
per, and read about Rodney King. Or
Malice Green. Or Yusef Hawkins. Or
Nina Gelfant. Or Christopher Wilson.
For that matter, to be barraged with
creeps like Marge Schott, Pat
Robertson, Rush Limbaugh (depress-
ingly enough, the list is endless) day
after day, after day, after day.
Those that are all up in arms over
someone like Khallid Muhammad
should realize that the unbridled rage
thatyou feel is something thatAfricans
endure every single day of our lives,
not just one.
So please excuse us if we're a little
less than understanding when you try
to impose your beliefs and perspec-
tiv on our one dav It's nothing ner-
T he Cold War may be over, but
Muscovites are still battling the
cold. They seem to know a lot
more about this, however, than
the hapless American tourists who, like my
family, have begun to trickle in to visit post-
glasnost Russia. (Most tourists, unlike our-
selves, have more sense than to visit during
the sub-zero days of winter.) I am happy to
report that we returned from Russia with an
increased awareness of the struggles and
strengths of that great country - and with
no toes lost to frostbite, either.
Official Russia did not exactly welcome
us with open arms. In fact, until six days
before our departure date, we were unable
to obtain visas. My parents spent two months
and $700 trying to convince the Russian
consulate in Washington that we were nice
people, really, and just wanted to take a
teeny-weeny peek at their country.
No dice. The required invitation we had
obtained from Russia was rejected, even
though the exact same invitation was deemed
sufficient for another U.S. family. Once we
got a politically correct invitation, we were
told the visas could not be granted because
we did not plan to stay at an Intourist (the
official travel agency) hotel, but rather with
my brother who is there on fellowship.
Those bureaucrats knew where their bread
was buttered - the closer our departure
date drew, the more they could charge us for
Speaking of bread and butter, only a
feeding fanatic like me could gain weight in
a country notorious for its shortages of basic
foodstuffs. But on a diet centered around
bread and butter, gain weight I did. Not that
I'm complaining. I was so impressed by the
fresh-baked Russian bread that I brought
some back in order to share a taste of Russia's
best with my friends. The dark bread -
chorno - was my personal favorite, with
its tangy yet sweet taste and dense texture.
But the delicious white bread - biali -
was also a far cry from Wonder.
I'll never forget the sight of my mom
repeating to herself, "adin (one) chorno,
dva (two) biali," standing in one of those
famed Russian bread lines with furrowed
brow. Suffice it to say, few Russians speak
- k wrilich n.Kcan lac-]] I&Pa
Greek to us.
Fortunately, my older brother speaks
fluent Russian, so he helped us negotiate
with the natives. This proved important
with cab drivers. "Cab driver," however, is
a flexible term. If you look American and
can therefore pay big rubles, any driver
becomes an instant cabbie. Imagine my
surprise when the first car approaching us
pulled over - in spite of having no com-
pany affiliation or permit. What the driver
did have was a broken windshield and inte-
rior pollution, but then these turned out to be
standard "cab" features.
If you have something against carbon
monoxide inhalation, you can always walk.
Of course, then your life may be inperiled
by nighttime drivers, who use only parking
lights or no lights at all. Since the Stalin-era
buildings look distressingly alike, we also
had to know exactly where we were going
and how to get there. Without that informa-
tion, we felt like we were the sorry subjects
of a Jack London novel, wandering in the
wilderness and barely escaping hypother-
nia. Muscovites wisely wear for hats and
coats, having none of these North American
hang-ups about using animal skins to sur-
vive the cold.
In fact, Russian women are said to be
very fashionable. But we never found out
for sure, since none of them ever had the
opportunity to remove their coats in public.
Certainly not on the electric train we rode
out to the suburbs, which in addition to
being poorly heated, dripped water on us.
The more my brother would move to escape
the dirty water, the more it would target his
head. Finally, we gave up and covered him
Though he had been in Russia for four
months, my brother had not adjusted com-
pletely to the Russian standard of living. He
is living with a Ph.D. physicist. But even a
physicist makes only 10,000 rubles - the
equivalent of $22 - a month. This distin-
guished scientist resides in a run-down flat
where she has to light the stove and oven by
hand and is greeted by the perpetual smell of
cat urine every time she enters the stairwell.
But not every facet of Moscow life is so
grim. The Russians have a long and fasci-
nating history of the arts, religion and poli-
tics. On New Year's Eve, we attended the
Bolshoi Ballet. Bolshoi means "big," and
indeed, the theater was so impressive-look-
ing that at first I thought it was the White
House (the Russian Parliament building).
Inside, huge sparkling chandeliers covered
the ceiling, and plush red velvet padded the
seats. Unfortunately, the theater is built for
glamour, not to provide any view whatso-
ever for the audience. Though I moved from
row to row in my section, there was no seat
from which I could see the stage without
sitting on the edge of my seat and leaning.
Another disappointment was the show
itself. When my brother had ordered the
tickets, he was told that they were for
Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." But the
entire first half consisted of a Chopin dance
recital plainly choreographed with equally
bland white costumes. Only in the second
half were there a few excerpts from the
holiday charmer. Chopin is no substitute for
Tchaikovsky, and any good Russian chau-
vinist should know it.
Now thatofficial repression of the Church
has ended, religion is slowly returning to its
considerable pre-Soviet strength. My fam-
ily had the chance to experience Russian
Orthodox rituals during a trip to the monas-
tery town of Sergiev Possad.
Approaching the holy grounds, vendors
called us to examine their wares. In what has
been called the "spiritual heart of Russia,"
new-style Russians seem to be worshipping
the god of capitalism. Nonetheless, in a tiny
chapel, the soft lighting provided only by
candles and the soothing tones of a fountain
of holy water were truly enchanting.
Exiting the monastery grounds, our rev-
erie was broken by a beggar who, upon
rebuff, raised her fist in the air and wailed,
The woman had apoint. Halfway through
our Moscow adventure, having seen not
only Sergiev Possad but several Kremlin
cathedrals, I finally put my foot down:
"Enough churches already! This is Mos-
cow, damn it, so let's do some Commu-
nism." After all, the luncheon meeting with
the KGB had fallen through, and I knew the
U.S. State Department would need some
dirt on me if I ever decided to run for
So off to the Lenin Museum we went.
We saw Lenin's suppressed letter which
had predicted Stalin's inability to subordi-
nate his personal fortunes to the cause. Lenin
formed his judgment that Stalin was ill-
suited to leadership when Stalin flew into a
rage at Lenin's assistant.
The moral? Rude people kill. It's some-
thing I've always believed.
Rudeness, by U.S. standards, is wide-
spread in Russia. In public places, people
shove you out of their way. My brother says
the worst shovers are invariably old women,
and if you get mad, they produce a state
identity card saying they're an invalid.
Russia's distinctive culture aside,
not everything in Moscow is unfamil-
iar to Americans. There is the famed
McDonalds, which aside from not
serving orange juice or coffee, is
just like home. And there is Pizza,
tions listed in the phone book, so logically,
we dialed the one my brother deemed closer.
We asked for an English speaker, and they
put one on. Except this "English speaker"
seemed intent on selling us mixed drinks.
My dad asked for cheese pizza, and the
pizza man said, "Margarita?"
Here comes a big hint for anyone who
will ever be ordering pizza in Russia: for
some unknown reason, cheese pizza is called
"margherita." But of course we didn'tknow
that. My dad was confused; the pizza man
was confused; they put us on hold and forgot
all about us.
My brother advised us to hold on, since
they would eventually figure out the phone
was off the hook. But that prediction turned
out to be culturally biased and inapplicable
to Russia. Fifteen minutes later, the growl-
ing of our collective stomach overcame our
patience, so we hung up and tried to call the
other location. Except the phone was dead.
No problem, my brother assured us. The
next-door neighbors mustbe using the shared
phone line. But they didn't have a dialtone
either. Hmm ...
After taking apart the phone, we eventu-
ally got a line and an English speaker at the
other franchise. Taking no chances, we or-
dered a large "margarita" to be delivered.
But smelling U.S. dollars, they decided they
had a $50 minimum for delivery.
Luckily, my dad is no dummy. He deftly
outmanuevered their attempts to sell us a
case of "beer" - probably meaning
"linguine" - and bartered them down to
An hour later our meal arrived. The
pizza was cold, we couldn't light the oven,
and the five-dollar salad - packaged at-
tractively in a Pepsi cup - consisted of
cabbage, onion, canned peas and a few old
But at least we didn't have a hangover
the next morning.
Now what could be more
simple than calling Pizza Hut
for delivery? Just about
anything, as it turned out.
There were two loca-
Mother Russia appears on a medal commemorating the World War II
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