1993 | Ufa, Bashkortostan, Russia | Age: almost 11
At the airport, the Russian immigration security officer was not known to take bribes. He would just fine everybody for any little violation. He fined the people ahead of us some ridiculous amount - like $400. They probably only had about $500 altogether. They were religious Baptists from the middle of nowhere, immigrating to the U.S. to escape religious persecution. When it was our turn, the officer had to go on break, and some newbie came along who didn’t really know how to deal with any of it. We were very lucky. The new guy fined us a very small amount. After we passed security, we ran into the original officer, who asked how much the new guy took. When we told him, he said, “I would have taken much more.” Openly, explicitly, without any shame!
We came to Philadelphia because my grandfather’s brother was here. I had never met my great-uncle before, and my grandfather hadn’t seen his brother in about two decades. They had lived in different parts of the Soviet Union, so it was a nice reunion for them.
Unlike many other immigrants, we were actually able to ship a lot of our belongings. My parents packed a shipping container with absolutely everything they could think of - hammers, saws, old plates, crystal, and things you could easily buy in a dollar store here. They still use the servingware they brought. This container, that probably weighed a ton, arrived in the middle of one night when we had been living here for about 4 or 5 months.
When we were preparing to leave, we would also pack books into parcels and address them to my uncle in Philadelphia who lived on Bustleton Avenue. I remember reading the address as Boost-lay-ton because we had no idea how to pronounce it. When we arrived here and walked into our rental apartment, we found what seemed like hundreds of these boxes stacked everywhere, just waiting for us. My parents and grandparents had huge book collections, and we shipped them all. We thought that we’d put them in nice display cases, but now they live in my parents’ linen closet, which - though little sad - is what keeps them out of the sunlight and thus well preserved.
This is a book that my mom would read to me when I was little. It has a lot of different stories that were some of my favorites - Moomintroll, The Hobgoblin’s Hat. Even now when I stay over at my parents’ house, before I go to bed, I re-read those stories. It’s still a very meaningful book for me. We brought a lot of other children’s books and a lot of classics - Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov. Now you can read them all online for free. Had we known, we probably wouldn’t have bothered, as we spent a lot of money and effort to bring them here.