Now that you know what caviar is, let’s move on with our adventure!
The conference went well and I really had the feeling that I’d contributed something. I knew that there was a big statue of Lenin in the Freedom Square in Charkiv, and I knew that photos of him would be able to indulge the reader in a true Soviet atmosphere. It would transport them back to a time when caviar was still a product for the ordinary worker at the height of Sovietism. When Sputnik was still in orbit and when Yuri Gagarin had a caviar paste sandwich and a cup of space tea amongst the cosmos. These times are gone now and most of the Ukrainians have an ambivalent relationship with their history. Their Soviet roots are undeniable, and they have been both glorious and oppressive at the same time. History is a complicated thing with a lot more grey than just black and white. After separation from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Ukrainians have freedom of speech, but there are still some economic and social restraints to deal with. Therefore you still don’t feel as free as a bird; even me with my passport full of funny visas and an even stranger assignment: “Go to the east, take some fishy pictures with your La Sardina, come back safe … – well, make sure at least, that your films reach us safely!”
So I am always conscious and feel that, at any second, they will discover that I am a secret agent and then my cover will be blown. But still I am friendly, smiling and open to meeting new people and to hear their stories. This shows and sometimes even gets me into trouble. When I left Charkiv for my next destination, Baku, I wanted to send my postcards at the airport. The post office was close to the security desk, but it was already closed. So I slipped my cards underneath the door. This led to a quick conversation with a policeman dressed in blue. Sergey asked me what I was doing and where I was from. Then he took me to the security desk and once I had passed through all their checks, he asked me to come into the booth. There he checked my passport again and I knew what was coming. He said that everything was alright with my documents. But there was a small problem; tomorrow would be his son’s birthday and the salary is so low in the Ukraine. He asked if I could support him with some money, so that he can buy his son a present. Sergey was getting excited and his head was shiny and red. I was cool with the situation and asked if he would accept Euros as well (I was sure I couldn’t swipe my credit card on him). He looked at me with amazement and then asked me quickly to lower my voice in case the others should hear about his proposition. I guess I gave him twenty euros and he promised to make a pretty cake in my name for his son. Is it actually bribery, when you don’t have to actually bribe? I heard from Russians that they always put some roubles into their passport whenever they reach the border control – just to make the whole process quicker and to avoid any kind of “requests”. Some habits just never die.
Caviar Diaries was written by Willie Schumann. Visit his LomoHome here
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