Wednesday, 29 May 2013

What I Learned About Russians as an Au Pair

(Published by the Moscow Times 20th May 2013)

People's first question when they hear that I've just returned from a winter in Moscow is usually: "What on earth drove you to go there?" The answer is not an easy one. I landed at Sheremetyevo Airport in January with dreams of balalaikas, samovars and golden domed churches. It did not take me long to realize that living in Moscow was less about folklore and literary romanticisms and more about surviving a harsh climate and an arduous routine.

When I contacted Dasha, a 30-something interpreter and family friend, looking for work, she instantly wrote back saying that her family would love to take me on as an au pair. Their dream is to immigrate to Australia within the next few years. "Life is safer there" she once told me "I don't want my children growing up in a society racked by drug and alcohol abuse. I want them to walk alone on the streets, free from danger."

But to adhere to the rigorous immigration laws, Dasha's husband Valera, an IT specialist, would have to pass an English language exam. So for 3,000 rubles ($100) a week, I was to care for her children, Sonya, 3, and Lyova, 2, and teach Valera English.

The family sleep in one bed in a tiny apartment in Zheleznodorozhny, an industrial town 21 kilometers east of Moscow. The apartment is also home to Dasha's 23-year-old brother Pasha, and his friends, a dog and a rabbit. The place is never quiet, and there's certainly no room for secrets. The lack of peace and bleak, unforgiving surroundings are enough to draw anyone into a deep depression...