Conclusions to a Year Abroad

When there is trap
Set up for you
In every corner of this town..

Fate, chance and free will. Yes, Melville had it right, it’s these three that tumble around and mess with the flow of things. Some things happen by chance (good things are serendipitous, bad things are accidental), something things are predetermined (pleasant predetermination means God loves you, unpleasant predetermination means…?), and some things you-in-all-your-limitedness get to choose.

That’s what I was thinking about after the Belarusian military put me on a train to Minsk because they caught me in Belarus without a transit visa.

I thought about that, and I also thought about the number of times that my host mother told me that it would be “absolutely no problem” to take this train to the Ukraine; that, in fact, “they do not even check passports at the border, and sometimes you don’t even notice you’ve crossed the border because it happens around dawn”.

Dawn is when the military got on the train.
Dawn is when they meticulously checked/stamped passports.
Dawn is when I was given 30 seconds to grab my bag and get the hell off the train – or else!

When there’s a trap set up for you
In every corner of your room,

And so you learn the only way to go is
Through the roof.

Was this fate, or chance? It was fate a month earlier, when I left Saint-Petersburg to renew my visa in Helsinki and discovered that, due to international passport laws, what I thought would be a 3 day trip ended up being a two week trip. But what of it? Sure I didn’t have enough clothes… but I ended up with a whole journey, meeting a couple random Canadian opera singers and an architecture student, following them to Tallinn, where we met a crazy old hippy named Yura who lived permanently in the hostel. Yura had long white hair, small round sunglasses, American flag shower shoes and a persistent wish that I go with him to an Estonian strip club.

And then onto Riga, a city which is nothing short of an Art Nouveau masterpiece, where I ended up hanging out with some guy who’s “wife” became a “serious girlfriend”, and whose “serious girlfriend” became just a “girlfriend”, and finally not mentioned at all (drink by drink) as he catcalled other birds. I lost track of this catcaller somewhere and spent the meanwhile almost getting into a fight with some random kid a full head shorter and 40 pounds less than I (and a death wish!) who seemed to think I was dancing with his girl; but I did indeed run into the same – though much drunker – cat sometime around dawn as I was returning to the hostel and he gave me a million dollar grin as he closed the door behind him and the three girls he’d just then led into his room.

Oooo ooo ooo through the roof, underground!

Or back in Helsinki, where I was reintroduced to civilization (Russians are a long way from it), where people are exceedingly polite and helpful and human. Every day I’d sit for an hour or so with the Finns in the sauna and discuss sauna strategy. The secret is getting a delicious Karhu (fantastic Finnish beer, recognizable by the grizzly bear on the front) and pouring it over the coals so the whole sauna fills with beer steam and the yeast burns and everything smells like fresh baking bread and I, too, bake. Normally, they tell me, they also roast sausage on the coals, but they couldn’t understand why I thought that was a funny thing to say.

And as we’re crossing border after border,
We realize that difference is none.
It’s underdogs who, and if you want it,
You always have to make your own fun.

But that’s just it. You get your fate, or your roll of the dice, and then it’s up to you how you decide to respond to the snake eyes or the double sixes. Which is why I started to get really excited about going to Minsk—despite the circumstances: pulled from a train, without means of getting more money and a little under 100$ in cash—because chance/fate had not screwed me yet. It worked in Riga. It worked in Tallinn. It worked in Helsinki. And it got me to Saint-Petersburg in the first place. When the hell was I ever going to see Minsk? Where is Minsk anyway?

So that’s the most important thing I learned with my year abroad. You get your lot from a whole set of circumstances you have no control of, but whether you see it as serendipitous luck or bad luck—well that’s completely up to you.

It’s sort of an extension of that quote that Quincy taught me, which her father taught her which, at some point, he got from Abraham Lincoln: “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Just like their meanings, they lay between the lines:
Between the borders the real countries hide.

And so I finally made it to Odessa after sweet talking the Transportation Office ladies in my well-practiced I-am-pathetic-please-help-me American accent and enjoyed this hot strange land of gold, stray cats and beaches before getting on my flight home.

Eighteen hours later I had another one of those moments. You know, one of those moments I described earlier that only occur when you’re flying .3 miles per second thousands of feet in the air and things get plainold contemplative. And I stared out the window at the mountains in east county San Diego. A storm had just blown over and the residual patches of rain left six or seven quarter rainbows poking straight up out of the tops of mountains… and I was really happy to be home.

Серебряные зайцы водят хоровод!

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