After more than 10 hours in the air, and a transit in Frankfurt, the plane from Cairo landed in Moscow, at Domodedovo airport at 8:45 pm, and all excited, I ran to the passport check. I gave him my Algerian passport to the custom officer. He was a fairly tall man, blonde and did not smile or answer my polite “good evening” greeting. As he checked my visa, he then asked in broken English for the purpose of my visit and I promptly answered I was there for a leadership program in the famous RANEPA university. He sternly asked me for my boarding pass and return ticket that are not in any way, official documents. Luckily for me, I had them with me, and I handed them to him. He then made a phone call spoken in Russian, meanwhile, he was thoroughly checking whether or not my passport was fake. Many thoughts were rushing to my mind at that time. I was trying, as they used to do in movies, not to show how worried I was feeling, how afraid I was from being departed again, I was trying to visualize and think of the correct behavior just in case the worst possible scenario occurred. Another custom official came and took me to another office. I found a black man waiting there, and I was seated on a metallic bench inside a narrow room. The walls of which were painted half in blue and half painted in yellow. It was almost one hour since I landed at the airport and my nerves were doubled by the feeling of being bullied, as nobody talked to me or answered me politely. They were very rigid and spoke very little English.
Two custom ladies quickly arrived. One of the two only spoke in Russian while the other was bilingual. I don’t remember if the first custom officer ever smiled to me. The other one was from the south of Russia who spoke English and unlike the first woman, she was warm and welcoming. The one who spoke English asked me questions concerning every detail of my visit. I politely answered and showed her and her colleague the supporting documents. I was constantly wondering in my head, what was the reason they were doing that. I was absolutely sure it was because of my Hijab, since no other girl was stopped. The stereotype I already formed about Russians, was confirmed. I heard they were very aggressive and discriminated against Muslims. I dared and asked the custom lady, “why did you do all this interrogation with me?“ She answered “no, not at all, it is just extra security check, now you can leave”, she said yet deep down, I was still holding to my own explanation. I left the airport by 11 pm to a “scary” city.
I headed to the bus station and took thebus to my destination. While trying to get in the bus, I struggled with my heavy luggage. Thankfully, a man sitting in the front came down and helped me lift it. I was quite surprised and confused, especially with the experience I had few minutes ago. I wondered whether I took the correct bus but I was scared to ask others for the fear of being rejected. I went over to the man who helped me and asked him, he said he did not speak any English. So , I left him as I was very disappointed. A few seconds later, he came to sit next to me and gave me his phone with the google translate application open.
I would have never expected he would make all this effort just to understand me. I was delighted, yet very suspicious, since, deep down, I was still looking at the Russians with a stereotypical perspective as I was still upset from the situation at customs. This man asked me where I wanted to go, and once I informed him, he said he would accompany me and drop me in my hostel. We only communicated through google translator.
I panicked at that moment again, thinking that he wanted to do me harm, I dared ask him: Will you steal my money? His reaction was far from expected. He laughed and said no, I will not, you are my sister and I want to help you as Moscow is a wild city at night. He took his phone and showed me pictures of his family saying: “Look, I am married and I have a daughter, Yasmine”. I did not immediately understand he was talking about his daughter. I was extremely surprised, I asked him “how did you know my name?” He immediately rejected the claim and stated how Yasmine was also his daughter’s name. I informed him that my name was also Yasmine, and we were both amazed. He eventually dropped me to my hostel and did not leave until he talked with the receptionist making sure It was safe.
I learned a lesson that shaped me forever: the importance of putting aside your preconceived notions. Sometimes, these thoughts fueled me with negative energy and made me only look to the “Horrible’ Russians.” By the way, Russians are not horrible, Russians are nice, kind hearted people who have their own way of expressing this kindness.