“Congratulations on your new president.”
That was my greeting upon my arrival at the Stockholm passport control as they stamped my documents and waved me through the gates. Never in my travels have I been greeted in this manner.
Be it France, Switzerland, England, Sweden or Scotland, there’s usually annoyance toward American pride evident, making this greeting different.
I spent a few days in Stockholm and its suburbs to see a few museums and “camp” in the side gardens of what turned out in the morning to be some kind of government building before catching a flight to Moscow.
A black American whose only foreign language is mathematics, traveling in regions which make Fort Collins look diverse, the response I catch from groups of people in bus/train stations consist of wide eyes, whispers that end in “Obama,” finger-pointing and chuckling.
I get a lot of this at the Moscow Airport during a nine-hour holding period when passport security found that my visa and flight dates didn’t correspond.
I end up making ‘friends’ with my watchman, Gordei, a translator who helps the passport police relay the message that I have to pay 2,000 Rubles for having an invalid visa, and will be booked on the next flight to New York . the flight doesn’t leave for another 36 hours. In 42 hours, my visa is valid.
Gordei is a mouse-looking Russian of about 5 foot 8 inches, probably in his mid-30s with small spectacles sitting on the edge of his nose that may have been in fashion 15 or 20 years ago.
I pass the time by trying to convince him to get his supervisors to let me live in the airport for six more hours, so I can use my visa while he tells me stories about the different cities and wars that happened in Russia (which I’ll never get out of the airport to see), using my pocket world map to show me his Russia.
Tired, losing hope and dreading a 13-to-18 hour flight to New York, Gordei finally asks me, “Why do Americans keep saying they are the greatest nation in the world — what is all this?”
I have no answer at this point. Instead I shoot back, “Why won’t Russia let me come see why it’s so great? Isn’t there anyone I can see about getting to Moscow?”
He looks at me sternly over the rims of his glasses and exhales deeply. He tells me it’s possible if I can get the consulate to re-issue a new visa and personally approve me entry, but that it rarely happens.
I jump to my feet, and he points me in the direction of the offices and wishes me luck.
The officer in charge at the office had already been briefed on my situation and simply tells me the cost is $25 U.S. in cash, but the only U.S. currency I have is $1 and some change deep in my pack.
I have $23.17 in Swedish Kroner, Scottish Pounds and Russian Rubles wadded in my hand, but it’s not enough.
None of the ATMs allow me to pull money, but I’m able to print my bank balance. Not the smartest thing to do, but I show the official that I do have the money, I just need to get to a bank or get a $1.83 I.O.U.
Gordei is not willing to be that much of a new friend, but I spot a student from Uzbekistan who shared the same flight from Stockholm to Moscow with me. I nervously walk up to him and explain my dilemma. With a cheerful smile, he pulls out the $2 loan before I can even ask.
With that I’m allowed to enter Moscow.
Entering the arrival area of the airport, there are numerous taxi drivers. I guess they can tell I’m American. They get my attention by shouting in broken English: “Need taxi? Where you go? Obama, you need taxi?”
Phoenix Mourning-Star is an environmental health graduate student traveling abroad from CSU. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.