short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lost Ticket

Eight years after spending wintry days in Akademgorodok, home to the Soviet (now Russian) Academy of Sciences, where, as a doctoral candidate, I researched Siberian dialects under the tutelage of the director of the Institute of Philology, I found myself in Krasnoyarsk, another Siberian city, lecturing to administrators and teachers at the request of the Siberian Ministry of Education, which hoped to make some radical changes in its educational system. Krasnoyarsk, an industrialized city with a population of one million people, located an hour south of the famous Divnegorsk hydroelectric dam on the Yeneisei River, east of the Ob, and in the northern taiga, contrasted vividly with the 8-block town of Akademgorodok. The people, though, were the same sort of warm, kind, and supportive colleagues, and I was able to establish a working bond that lasted over a period of several years of come-and-go lecturing (and more) there.

At one point, I was given a choice of conducting a seminar in Krasnoyarsk, St. Petersburg, or Moscow. I chose Krasnoyarsk, and when I arrived there in the middle of the winter without gloves, having forgotten about the tens-of-degrees-below-zero temperatures, one of my friends who met me at the airport pulled the mittens of her hands and handed them to me, saying, “We knew you would choose Siberia. Your heart is here.”

Of course, she was right — and why not? Any Siberian I know will hand you the mittens off his or her hands in the middle of the winter!

More frequently than with any other institution in Russia, I worked with Universe School. Headed by Dr. Isak Frumin, now a leader in the Moscow branch of the World Bank and an unusually innovative school principal, Universe School was a K-12 laboratory school for the University of Krasnoyarsk, overseen by the Department of Educational Psychology, where I had upon occasion lectured to the faculty.

Isak turned out to be a lifesaver. On my first trip to Krasnoyarsk, which I made jointly with a colleague, I ended up in Moscow with two huge boxes of books and handouts for the seminars that a colleague and I were to conduct there. At Domodedovo Airport, the domestic airport serving Siberia and the southern cities of the former Soviet Union, I found to my horror that nowhere did I have my ticket to Krasnoyarsk. It had either been left at the counter when I checked in for the Moscow flight in London or I had forgotten it at home. Computerization of ticketing was not a feature of airlines in Moscow at the time. Since I had no way to prove I had a ticket, I would have to purchase a new ticket, as well as pay overweight charges for the books. The total amount was high. My colleague and I put our resources together. It was enough either to purchase a round-trip ticket or to pay for the books and purchase a one-way ticket. My colleague wanted to leave the books behind. I was comfortable with taking my chances on being able to get out of Siberia. I chose the second option. We took the books, and I went to Siberia on a one-way ticket.

(I seemed to make a habit of going to Siberia on one-way tickets. The research stay described above had been the result of my accepting a one-way ticket -- with Lizzie in tow -- to Siberia, confident that I would somehow be able to get a return ticket although I had been told none were available at the time; they weren't available later, either, so, oops!, I had to overstay my visa. A few years after my trip to Krasnoyarsk, I was at a conference in Kemerovo, a Siberian mining town, with Lizzie’s younger brother, Shane, and was quite pleased to have a round-trip ticket for each of us in hand. When we got to the Kemerovo Airport, I bragged to Shane, “This is the first time I have been in Siberia on a round-trip ticket.”

A stickler for details, 15-year-old Shane looked carefully at our tickets, then up at me. “Don’t be so sure, Mom,” he said. “This ticket is for yesterday.”

As usual, Someone watched over us, and we made it out of Kemerovo even though we did not have everything we needed in our possession. In this case, because there was a child involved, the airline waived its rules and let us fly space available on the next plane out. Even officials in Russia make special cases when children are involved.)

In Krasnoyarsk, the only “child” involved was a rather large and rather old one — me. Nonetheless, as anticipated, I was rescued. When Isak learned of the situation, he purchased a return ticket for me with Universe School funds. That was not quite fair in my mind, and so I made a deal. Instead of returning the ruble or dollar amount of the ticket later, I would find an equivalent amount of hard-to-acquire Western books that he needed for the school library and send them to him. This was definitely a win-win situation, especially since I found many of the books at library sales and was able to purchase nearly ten times the value of the ticket in books for an amount equivalent to the cost of the ticket. More than that, when people heard what I was doing, neighbors, colleagues, friends, and even libraries donated books, resulting in a treasure trove for Universe School. Seeing how so many people benefited — the school children from the books and the donors from a sense of contributing to a worthy cause — how lucky I was to have lost that ticket!

This excerpt is adapted from my book, Blest Atheist (MSI Press, copyright 2009).


  1. Strange how often wrong things turn out to be right...

  2. Hi Elizabeth .. interesting to read a little about Siberia .. I don't know much about the geography of Russia .. so it's really an area I should investigate a bit more .. I like to learn!

    Lost ticket .. my mother and I were going to Italy - she came up from Penzance to Eastbourne (300 miles) .. had forgotten her passport - drove back down and back again in one day?! She was 80 or so at the time .. my blog is for her!

    Love your excerpt of Russian life .. thanks - Hilary

  3. Hi Hilary, there are few Americans who have spent more time in Siberia or have closer connections than I have. Glad you find the area interesting.

  4. Oh I remember reading this in your book. How things came around.

    Thank you for your Independence Day greeting on my blog. Hope you liked the pictures an d videos.Just a glimpse of India.

  5. Wow, you are one fascinating creature! Siberia? Man, now I really feel like I need to do something or go somewhere...


About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.