My flight to Amsterdam is a non-event. Aeroflot, a Russian airline, operates my connecting flight from Amsterdam to Moscow. They name their aircraft, and I’m charmed when they preface the safety demonstration with an announcement that our “ship” is dubbed Afanasiy Nikitin, after the fifteenth-century Russian explorer. Russians eschew smiling at those they don’t know, branding indiscriminate smilers lunatics, making the country a little chillier. Maria, one of our flight attendants, seeks to change that as she patrols the aisle wearing a perpetual smile.
A British couple with an infant is in my row. The child’s outbursts, timed with 1984-esque distraction prowess, remind me why I like older child adoption. As the baby shrieks rhythmically, the Brits sully their reputation for unfailing composure when the woman has a cow, told there are no vegetarian meals on board. Her withering diatribe finally wipes the smile from Maria’s face. When a meatless meal is conjured up, another attendant presents it with a triumphant look that expects the Brit will be pleased. Alas, two meals were ordered, and the resultant verbal smack down leaves me wincing and praying the attendant’s English is proficient enough to distinguish between their British English, and my American English.
Russians returning from abroad cheer on landing in the motherland, and at touchdown, I join their giddy applause. Entering the terminal, I am pushed along in a stampede toward three open immigration lanes. The line jumping is so brazen and aggressive that the ensuing chaos slows everything. Several immigration officers witness the melee, seemingly powerless to open the other lanes, despite the glaring want. I finally make it to the front of the queue by trebling my width with my carry-ons. Even then, it is with difficulty that I retain position.
Most luggage is out before I get to the baggage claim area; unfortunately, mine is not. After a futile search, I go the lost luggage area. A lady directs me to look again; I have little hope, but don’t possess the Russian skills to argue. Predictably, the luggage is absent, so she directs me to fill out a claim form in three parts. In Russia, inefficiency is a lifestyle; filling a form in triplicate means filling out the same single form three times. I am almost finished when the first worker goes home without explanation. A new worker clocks in, clucks when she sees my paperwork completed improperly, and presents me three clean forms. Russian workers, no matter their station, have a propensity for wordlessly interrupting their service to the polite to assist brassier clientele. During the ordeal, the episode is replayed until I despair of ever leaving the airport. When I am at last dismissed, the command to return to the airport myself to retrieve my bags myself is ringing in my ears.
Our driver Dima knows I’m tired, and he is thoughtful enough to let me lie down on the trip from the airport to the hotel, covering me with a blanket and giving me a furry Russian hat for a pillow. When the radio comes on, Louis Armstrong is crooning “It’s a Wonderful World.” It’s a timely reminder that, minor inconveniences in my journey notwithstanding, I am blessed to see the world again with a program I love, striving to make the future wonderful for our Lighthouse Project kids.