In 1993, my husband John and I were robbed while working in the Russian town of Anapa on the Black Sea. We were working as teachers for counsellors at a camp. It seems so long ago that I sometimes wonder, "Did it really happen?"
It was my birthday, June 13, and we had decided to go to town and celebrate in a restaurant.
This was highly unusual. Ordinary Russians cannot afford a restaurant meal. But we rejoiced in our secluded booth, and we may have been too noisy. The next booth of diners probably decided that we were wealthy and checked us out with a view to robbing us.
Later that night my husband woke me, and pointed to an open screen door, which we had securely latched the night before. It was odd, for I usually wake up first. Our host speculated that the thieves had probably sprayed ether into the air. If we had awakened during the robbery, we were told that they might have killed us.
All of our possessions were gone: my husband’s wallet, his medications, our MasterCard, our passports, our visas, our rubles, more than 300 Deutsch marks (gifted to us from a home church friend) and our plane tickets. My husband even his only pair of shoes stolen. For some reason they did not take our laptop computer.
They did not take my suitcase, full of clothes, which was under the bed. The room was only large enough for two single beds and no closet. My green birthday sweater was still hanging on the back corner of my bed. But my little case for toothbrush and paste, a larger Ukranian-decorated case for makeup from my daughter-in-law and my attache-case (from my father-in-law) filled with expensive Moeck Blockfloeten (recorders) and a miniature cassette-player with student Russian and Ukrainian recorded songs were all gone.
The authorities were very embarrassed by all this, and took numerous fingerprints trying to help. But how to fly home now? At the airport we were walked right on to the plane, outside the building, and no one was allowed to sit in the first six rows except us!
The first stop was of course, Moscow, where Canadian Russian-born friends helped us. They were getting ready to come home to Canada, too, and needed passports and visas too. They showed us the lineup and we were ushered right to the front of the line, while they, as Russians, had to take their place at the end. I thought that was really unfortunate, another example of discrepancies in the Russian system.
MasterCard in Moscow proved very helpful, and we had nearly everything ready, except for the visas. At the airport we were standing there alone without them, and it was 10 minutes prior to boarding time. Suddenly a handsome, blue-uniformed man spoke to us in English. (I remembered seeing the gold epaulettes on his jacket).
"I am a Russian consul. I understand you have no visas," he said. "Just a minute."
In no time he was back, handed us visas, and we passed them to the airport official who promptly stamped them, and shoved them into the pile with the others, and we boarded. In St. Petersburg we had a few more skirmishes, but that’s another story.
When we got home to Canada, and talked about our adventure, our Russian friend who had helped us said: "There is no such a person as a Russian consul. That must have been an angel."
We were sent a clipping from their newspaper about us, and one line went something like this: "Klassens will never again want to visit our ‘oozhasnieh’ (terrible) country!"
But we did go back: 1994 (in summer), ’95, ’96, and ’97, making sure that at night, we locked not only our screen doors, but the outer doors as well.
Bertha Klassen is a North Kildonan-based writer.
Neighbourhood Forum is a readers’ column. If you live in The Herald area and would like to contribute to this column, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.