A Broad Abroad: Why Do I Do This?

Before I ‘gave up the day job’ to write full-time, I spent many years travelling around Russia and the former Soviet Union countries. I had some wonderful experiences, met some amazing people – and yet, there were times when the thought of yet another trip, yet more nights in strange hotels in strange cities, became a bit too much. This piece was written on one such occasion.

“I am back in Yekaterinburg and this is possibly my last trip to Russia as my visa runs out next month and I haven’t bothered to get it renewed.  It’s such a hassle getting the invitation from the Russians (and expensive at nearly $200), then getting the HIV/Aids certificate — which may or may not be needed, depending on this month’s rules, then getting everything to the agent in London.  Typing that, it sounds like an excuse.  I really don’t want to travel any more, which is why I haven’t done anything about the visa yet.  Whenever I come to Russia I have a really good time in many ways.  The people are incredibly generous; they buy me presents, take me to the ballet, concerts, fancy restaurants, and the sauna — even, on one occasion paying me a large bonus as they thought my work was worth more than I had charged them.  On the other hand, even after fifteen years, the food is still unfamiliar to me and I panic when mealtimes approach.  Will there be egg in the salad, tomatoes everywhere, mashed potato swimming in oil and dill on everything?  
Today’s been such a strange day, starting with an absence of cold water this morning.  I’ve stayed in many hotels in Russia where there was no hot water — and got used to washing my hair under an icy flow.  Never have I been in the position where there was scalding hot water available from the shower and the sink but nothing else.  Apparently, it was not just the hotel, it was the whole region and made the UK’s problems with over-running engineering works on the railways seem minor.  Cold water came back at eight o’clock, just in time for a quick wash and brush-up before the eighty kilometre drive to the client’s site.
Once there, I discovered the factory I have travelled so far to audit is not yet open, nor are there any products registered and very little validation has been done. So how am I supposed to decide whether it complies to Good Manufacturing Practice or not?  Apparently, the clients are okay with the idea that I send them a list of things to do in order to reach compliance. Presumably, at some point, I will get a note to say ‘done it all – are we now compliant?’
I was taken to a wonderful concert tonight in the Philharmonic Hall, the orchestra’s last performance of the season.  The first part consisted of classic overtures and suites — Bach, Mozart, Rossini, Bizet and Tchaikovsky.  We sat at small tables with wine, water and chocolates (three of the four Russian staples), very close to the stage, with the lights on, sharing the experience with the musicians.  Every expression was visible.  The first violinist smiled a lot, obviously enjoying her music.  The conductor didn’t smile once until someone brought him some flowers, which he promptly handed to one of the women in the orchestra, but not the first violinist, who got nothing but her enjoyment.
The second half was billed as music from the movies — but not familiar names like John Williams. These were Soviet composers and Soviet films.  Very like classical music, but most evocative, it was easy to pick out the chase in the silent movie; the cold war spy thriller; the circus story.  An elderly couple from the audience danced through most of the pieces.  At one point, there were more musicians’ eyes following them than watching the conductor.  I left the building with a huge smile on my face and strolled in the warm night air down the flower-lined boulevard with my friends. Now I remember why I love coming to Russia. Time to get the visa renewed, I think.”
And I did get it renewed – several more time in fact. And when it was all over, I got lots of stories and at least one novel out of it. Definitely worth all the nights away from home.
By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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