Friday, October 3, 2008

A (not) Bad Area

I recently discovered, on an online blog not unlike this one, that the metro station closest to my apartment is considered one of the scariest places in the city. Sure, I've seen a man brutally beaten by policemen near the entrance, a drunken crowd perpetually hovers near the entrances and exits and yes, I agree that the tunnel that feeds into one of the entrances does smell like a putrid combination of urine, faeces and vomit. While the general public is very well behaved and lines up incredibly peacefully and with a strong emphasis on fairness, the crowd at the ends of the escalators can get suffocatingly large (every time the thought of an emergency comes to mind, I promptly banish the ensuing visions of stampedes). I'd read articles detailing high rates of hooliganism among teens and heard stories about foreigners who had been beaten up (even killed) by 'skin-heads' in broad daylight. I know a certain dark-skinned expat who has lived in this city for decades, but who refuses to take the metro alone at night. Certain others, who don't speak the local language well, refuse to go anywhere for dinner, as it would mean returning home late at night. During my first week here, while quietly standing in the metro, I was yelled at by a man who mistook me for a "Kavkazi" (someone from the Caucassus and thus apparently highly inferior due to murky but nonetheless racist reasons). I didn't understand the language at all at that point, so the word 'Kavkazi' is the only thing that stuck.

Although in turns puzzling, annoying and terrifying, I assumed such features were simply 'how things are,' and besides, which city doesn't have its share of problems? Passing the drunken group on my way to and from anywhere I may be going, I have gotten used to it. I always ignore the crowds, the sights, the smells, and they, in turn, almost always ignore me too. On the rare occasion when someone decides to attract my attention, I play both deaf and dumb (the latter in all senses of the word). So, I guess, I have gotten used to it. I have heard the advice to "come home before dark" as I must pass a "not nice area" on my way home, but since its incredibly difficult to follow such advice, I have convinced myself that it is ridiculous.

Going back to the list, I have to admit that since I considered the sights at my metro station as 'normal,' I was indeed surprised to see it on the list of 10 Scariest Places in the city. I mentioned as much to a local friend, and she agreed wholeheartedly with the list. Stating her last experience visiting me, she used this opportunity to explain why next time, I should be the one visiting her home instead. Someone who has lived all her life in this same city found this particular area "creepy."

I still can't see (or perhaps, refuse to acknowledge) a very significant difference between my metro station and all others in this city. Sure, this is not the best part of town, but it certainly can't be the worst! Or perhaps this is self-deception based on a need to survive and the desire to acclimate- since I can't live anywhere else, the more 'normal' this place seems to me, the better. The only other option is to stay at home- the mere thought makes me feel claustrophobic. All over this city, there are people who meet, dine, dance, and I want to be part of it all too. And so, the sights at my station must be normal, and I too continue my life as usual.


The none said...

Once you learn to live with the worst, it seems one of the better options :D

K K said...

well, I could connect to that exact same feeling. And guess what! While living in denial of the risks existing, I ignore the very fact that I myself got beaten up by racists and carried an unconcious friend out of a sub-way tunnel, right outside a 'safe' metro in the center, not more than ten months ago!

I don't know whether you managed to scare me now or just reassured me that someone else denies it too, so it must not exist!

Tista said...

The story of you and your friend would have been a jolt of surprise, at the very least, even 2 months ago. But now, I'm not surprised. But I can't accept that its the city thats bad, or the people- there's too much evidence to the contrary (mixed in with a healthy dose of wishful thinking).

Linas said...

Sounds pretty scary to me. But with passage of time, you might be accepted as one of the 'regulars' here- and enjoy some degree of protection from some of denizens.

Tista said...

I doubt it. Being a regular here requires a specific racial makeup. This can hardly be gained over time.

(or perhaps you meant that there may be a change in the overall mentality that equates Russian with fair skinned and blond haired denizens? There is certainly hope on that front, but I don't expect it to be soon)