Category Archives: Russia

Russia Journal: Ignorant, insensitive or rather insulting?

I pray in front of these idols, but last night I peed in front of them.

As I opened the doors of the restroom carved with the Hindu hymn “Om” at a Moscow bar, the images of Hindu god Shiva along with his wife Parvati and son Ganesha was utterly shocking. Then I checked another restroom: there was a huge image of the monkey-god Hanuman.

At first, I was left without a reaction, then it was a little bit annoying, and now that I come to think of it, it is very disrespectful.

I used the restroom anyway, but I didn’t make a trip to the loo for the rest of the night we spent in that bar. My other Hindu friend was not able to use the restroom anyway—she found it disgraceful.

So is this just a matter of insensitiveness or ignorance? For any hardcore Hindu or even someone like me who has grown up praying to these gods, it is a matter of disrespect—disrespect to a faith regardless one believes in it or not.

Consider having a picture or an idol of Jesus in the restroom—would anyone do that? Would that be considered appropriate? Probably not.

So why is it with Hindu gods and goddesses that the West has some weird fascination?

Maybe it is because of the appearance of our gods and goddesses—fully decked in gold and diamond ornaments with prolific outfits, people cannot help admiring them.

So much for the admiration and adoration that Hindu gods and goddesses have become an integral decoration piece in most of the Indian restaurants in the West; they add aesthetic and create an authentic ambience, I suppose.

So much for the fascination that the Hindu gods and goddesses have become artworks in t-shirts and even bikinis, causing ire to Hindu fundamentalists.

At this bar, I think the act of ignorance or insensitiveness has crossed the border. I see it as a sign of disrespect.

Most of the Hindus have their rooms of worship or even idols of their gods and goddesses far from their restrooms. As in any other religion, the idols represent the religion’s beliefs.

And here they are, at this bar, plastered in the restrooms, as some fancy piece of artwork.

As I made my way out and sat down in the bar area, I did manage to ask the question.

“Can I ask you a serious question,” I asked the man at the bar, an Algerian man, who looked like the manager.

“I know what you’re going to ask,” he said as he handed my drink. “I don’t know anything about the restrooms.”

Well, before I even asked my question, he had a clear idea of what it would be. Doesn’t this mean that he perhaps knows about those “artworks” in the restrooms?

I am sure no one just picked up those tiles just because they looked fancy. The person must have had an idea of what they represented to the least.

I am not a very religious person but the restrooms made me think and question.

As much as I would not disrespect and offend any other faith, I would like to see my faith and religion being respected too.

At least I would not want to see them in the restroom of some bar.

Call it insensitive or ignorant, but I say, it is insulting—it is insulting someone else’s faith and belief. You may argue, but this is just my point of view.

Russia Journal: Reporting in Russia

Reporting from a foreign country is never easy, especially when you don’t know the local language. It becomes even more difficult when the so-called universal language, English, doesn’t comes handy at all.

In Russia, I’ve faced a major difficulty with the language because no one speaks English. But I’ve managed to get by and so far have been able to do most of my reporting. I’d say it’s all about finding ways to get the job done.

When I was sure about coming here, all I had was a story idea. I didn’t have any clue about how would I pursue that story. A month later, I see it materializing.

In a lot of ways, social networking, and Facebook to be particular, has become very helpful. One status update can make this happens in reality.

When I seek help through Facebook asking for connections in Russia, I got a fair number of responses—some worked, others didn’t.

I contacted those random people, friends of friends of friends. I should consider myself lucky that they have been a great help. Though they said they weren’t the right people, they surely helped me to get tons of contacts for my story.

And of course, I had done my research and found sources. I emailed all of them. I emailed them to the point that they might have been sick of seeing my name in their inbox. But that’s how it works.

As of now, I have been able to interview people—some in person and some via Skype. But at least I had it all sorted out.

Going to meet people in a new city where none of the signs are in English was a bit tricky. I was a bit sceptical navigating, but I did it.

Just a few more interview, and I’m ready to file that story.

Russia is one of those countries where language has served as a major barrier for reporting. But when you are determined, I think it’s not that big of a challenge; you just find ways to accomplish your assignment.

But I’d say it was definitely easier being a part of a news organization and going for reporting assignments in foreign land. As a freelancer, it becomes a little more challenging. However, overcoming those challenges is a part of the job, and nothing is satisfying to see that story materialize; that story, which was only an idea at the beginning.

Russia Journal: The Neo-Nazi Scare

It is Hitler’s 123rd birthday today. And here I am, little scared and a bit nervous in Moscow.

For the past two days, there has been some discomforting feeling in the Russian capital.

On Wednesday evening, as we were sitting on the floors of an empty kitchen in our dorm, one of our friends got us some information: The neo-Nazis in Moscow could be targeting foreigners during or in the eve of Hitler’s birthday.

At first, I totally brushed off the information. And then we started getting a little paranoid. We asked some other Chinese students studying at Moscow State University. They said they did not leave the university compound during this time since there have been attacks during the past years.

In need of more information, we seek help from our best friend, Google.

According to St. Petersburg Times, in January 2012, neo-Nazis attacked supporters returning from an anti-facist event in St. Petersberg metro. Similar incidents have been reported in Moscow in the past years. One of the most prominent attacks by neo-Nazis in the recent times is the 2010 incident where they attacked concertgoers in Miass, 900 miles east of Moscow.

In 2010, human-rights group Amnesty International said that racism in Russia had become “out of control.”

Since 2000, there has been more than 300 racism-related deaths and and over 3,000 injuries. According to the Russia’s Center for Information and Analysis, at least five people were injured this December in neo-Nazi or racist attacks. In 2011, 20 people were killed and injured 130 across 34 regions of the Russian Federation.

Moscow is supposedly home to some 85,000 neo-Nazis.

But when I asked some locals, they assured us not to panic or worry.

I wasn’t really panicking, but still there was this strange feeling that something might just happen. But I have been to places where this sort of feeling has always tagged along as a baggage.

I said to myself, Moscow is much better than Kabul at the moment.

The past two days, I took the metro by myself. The first time, when I wasn’t aware about the neo-Nazi information, I was glad that I was able to make it to class, and I didn’t get lost.

But yesterday I was a little nervous. My eyes were literally browsing for some neo-Nazi. Well, I couldn’t have spotted one for sure or I was getting scared by every skinhead-ish men I noticed.

Today, as the D-day approached, I had a little fear within me: what if something happens?

But come to think of it, that something could happen anywhere in the world, right outside my house, within the periphery of what I consider the safest place on earth.

So I walked out with a couple of my friends and took the metro to the university in central Moscow. We then took several other metro rides and walked to the newsroom of Vedomostri, one of the Russian financial dailies, in one of the suburbs outside central Moscow.

Then we went for grocery shopping, bought some wine and food.

And here I am, safe and sound in my room. A skinhead didn’t stab me or anything unfortunate happened.

Sometimes letting go of your fear is the best thing you can do, otherwise it will just take over you. Had I let my fear taken over, I would have been sulking within the four walls and the ceiling, looking outside the window as the blue sky turned dark and grey, and the day turned into darkness.

But that did not happen and instead I got to experience something new in this city, which is completely a stranger to me.

So I shall drink some wine to that and might as well even say, “Happy Birthday Hitler.”

Russia Journal: In conversation with Yassen N. Zassoursky

How much of an open society is Russia?

In his lecture today at Moscow State University, Yassen N. Zassoursky, who has been teaching at the university’s journalism school for about 50 years, discussed the “openness” of the former Soviet Union.

“”Opening up of Russian society is our concern,” he says.

Though the country has come a far way and people exercise their power in form of protests and demonstrations on the streets, he says it is not enough.

Though he considers the various forms of protests as a “triumph of democracy for some people,” he said there should be a social harmony. In order to attain this, he thinks Russia should develop democratic institutions and have changes in its law.

The senior professor of media and American literature also noted that there should be an improved communication between various sections of the society and thus media should play an important role in this process.

Though he cites the Internet as an “important tool of democracy,” he does not back out from defining social networks as a “best adopted [tool] to propaganda actions.

He says social networking platforms as Twitter only “gives signal about what is news” and refers to those signals as “beautiful propaganda.”

The 82-year-old professor stresses on the power of print, and how it helps to increase the level of political understanding among people. Though the Internet has that power too, he says, people usually make their choices depending on the signals from social networking sites.

Zassoursky laments on the negligible number of print media in Russia. One of Russia’s most popular daily has a circulation of 90,000, which he says is a bare minimal number for a country of 46 million.

He also says that the country lacks quality journalism, and also journalists.

“There is no analysis of what’s happening in the country [in the areas of] politics, business…,” he says.

“A journalist should be a thinking human being—reading, thinking and discussing problems,” he says.

This however happens to be rare in Russia.

And the problem deepens as most of the media, he says, is controlled by the state or big corporations (advertisers) closer to the state.

He then comes back to his open society model mentioning that the country’s media sphere needs more competition, which means that the society has to be fully open. In its current state, Russia is neither fully open or a closed society.

“An open society would help develop political and cultural life [of a country],” he says.

But in Russia, the ideal situation of an open society is not close, but it is not very far too, Zassoursky says.

A lists the plan of action for Russia, as he sums up: “We need to develop our media, the access of media and develop the ability of people to read and think.”

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Russia Journal: The sign language

It’s white, and it’s in the shelf where most of the dairy products are. That must be milk.

In colors, universal symbols and sign language, and merely less than a dozen Russian words, I’m getting along with my daily life in Moscow. I’m here for a two-week student exchange program at Moscow State University’s journalism department.

I’ve traveled to many places—on assignments and vacations—but Russia seems very different—different in the sense that no one speaks the languages I speak.

It’s difficult when you’re travelling to a foreign land, and especially to a country where people rarely speak English. Russia is probably the first place that I’m having trouble communicating. No one speaks English here, literally.

This makes the entire traveling a challenge—a little but of fun, a little scary too.

This morning I took the metro by myself. During the entire trip, I was counting the number of stops—sixth stop from where I take the metro leads to central Moscow, where my classes are. All the signs are in Russian, and it’s pretty difficult to figure out where you actually are. But I have tried and memorize some of the Russian alphabets—at least the ones where I have to get on and off the train.

Ordering at a restaurant seems to be an ordeal. Last night, I went to a pub along with my friends. This is how we ordered: using the universal hand gesture for a menu, then looking for some words that has some English resemblance. But the menus had pictures of all the food items, which made the task little easier. However, it wasn’t the same case for drinks—after a bit of a struggle, we did manage to order some pints.

At the supermarket, it going gets tough. I tried picking up some food items but had to drop them down not knowing what they were. The labels are entirely in Russian. So I picked up some fruits, chocolates, bread and noodles that had a label with chicken—I trusted my instinct on this one. It has to be chicken-flavored. I shall find that out tonight.

As for now, I suppose, I will keep speaking in English and keep hearing “niat-niat.” And for me, Russia might be a good place to practise sign language and sharpen my instincts, if not anything.

The fear of rejection

I’m really afraid of being rejected.

Well, when it comes to visas, the fear level just reaches code red.

That’s what happened yesterday as I was picking up my passport from the Russian visa center. I was already scared since there was a slight error in one of the invitation letter: a reason they rejected one of our faculty’s visa.

As I was waiting, with my heart pounding and stomach growling no no obvious reasons, my fear level heightened like anything when the lady at the counter me a white envelope.

Everyone, including my friends had received their passports in red envelope.

The lady then kindly said, “It’s best to have a seat and check your visa.”

Oh well, I though that was the end to Russia. But then there it was: the shining hologram, the visa.

I’m not sure why was I worried to that extreme. But coming from a developing country where you really have to prove yourself that you have the money to travel to a developed country and then the will to return home, it’s not easy getting a visa. Forget the dream of traveling the world.

But I have dared to dream that dream and so far I’m living that dream.

I was Skyping with my cousin today and he asked me what I’m going to do with my life and when am I going to be financially stable? I was silent for a while.

Yes, I am in my late 20s and supposedly I should be thinking about my future, a stable job and money and family and what not–mostly that measures happiness in my part of the world. But quite often, you tend to forget your own happiness.

However, I’m glad that I haven’t surrendered myself to the conventional prototype. I’ve always begged to differ.

And after being away for almost seven years from home, spending more than a year back in Nepal in between, and back to being  a Nepalese nomad, I should say I’m happy for I’m still on my way to achieving my dreams.

World travel is there. I’m glad I’ve travelled from North America to South Africa and Asia to the Middle East and Europe. I’m happy for that fact that I’m passionately following my dream of becoming that journalist.

There have been few rejections, and a whole lot of success, I should say.

Keeping them aside, for now, I’ll keep travelling and conquering my dreams one after other.

Maybe some might just ignore me at first, laugh at me or fight me. But I know, in the end I will win. That’s what Gandhi said.

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