Meeting the President in Kazan

I wanted to stay there a little longer because I knew I would never visit the place again.  However, I needed to get on to the car in order to keep the appointment with the president of Kazan.  I wanted to eat something, but there was neither restaurants nor food venders around us. 

While we were riding an old car, we were told that there was a branch office of a bank.  Although we went in, we were told we could not get the money exchange from dollars to ruble.  In the city, I could obtain dollars freely (antique stores requested only dollars) but inthe country side, dollars were rejected.  So we really needed to change dollars to ruble.  I was so astounded to hear there was no way to exchange the money.  

As we drove back on a muddy road, we found the money exchange shop on our way.  There was a hole in a wall of a strange building.  As I thrusted my hand into it with dollar bills, they returned with rubles.  When I gave 300 dollars, I was told they would give me 8600 rubles back.  It was such a rip off.  I am sure it was a black marketoperation, but I had no choice. 

Finally I had some money I could use to buy some food at a prefabricated restaurant which we found driving much further. I had a bowl of soup and two piroshkis. I paid 430 rubles for them.  It was cheap.  Because of hunger, it tasted ok.

We arrived at Kazan around three o’clock. I did not remember howthe Kazan station used to look like.  The current one did not look great, so it could be the same as the one I hadseen before. When I recalled how I walked out of the flat station building with a heavy back pack, I was filled with emotion. 

I also saw the river station of the Volga river.  That place was also where I used to come, but it looked totally different.  Many people were going in and out of a splendid building, and there were a few sightseeing boats in the river.  In our time, white paddle streamers were running, but there was no sightseeing boats.

The Volga river was streaming boundlessly just like I had seen it years ago, and it was very wide.  There were old houses and streets left in Kazan and some churches were there as well.  There were old trains on the rail, and also the kind with tires run by trolley.

Another memory that came back to me was the photo I ordered in Kazan while I was sleeping outside.  I went to a photo shop in a hurry and asked to take a quick picture of me, and the photo was done in an hour.   Four photos the size of a calling card probably cost 20 rubles. I still have them.  I really look so depressed as if I was a prisoner, but I am taking good care of it.  I believe there are not too many other internees who brought back their own photos. 

I spent time looking for the prison where I was kept in a cell for four months.  

Fifty years ago, I saw many groups of gypsies.  I could tell very easily because they were always with a wagon wearing unique attire. In other countries in Europe, I didn’t see them anymore.  I thought the same thing happened in Russia as well.  Where did the wandering people go?  

At three o’ clock, I met the president of Tatar in their government office.    His hair was flax color and the eyes were blue.  He said he was a Tatar, but I wonder if it was true.  I talked with him for thirty minutes.  Since it was not an official visit, it was rather relaxing.  He said the population of Tatar was probably the second largest next to the Russians if combined with all other areas.  He explained Russians and Tatars divide 3,800,000, the population of the Republic of Tatarstan. Also, there is a million Tatars in Moscow and more in other regions.  

At the time of the break down of the SovietUnion, they thought about becoming the self-governance of Tatar.  However, they eventually decided to stay within the Russian Republic.  His room was rather small and simple reflecting the size of their country. The attitude of the president was not bad and he was polite enough to give me a return gift for the gift I took. 

Then I went to the airport by bus and took a plane going to Moscow at five after five in the afternoon.  I was told there were no reservations of seats, and so I was sitting in the front area.  However, a different stewardess came and asked me to move to the seat number 15A and B without any explanation.  What they say is not consistent and this is how they are. Sitting in a crowded and tight seat onAeroflot, I was looking outside the window and thinking I would probably never come back to the town of Kazan nor Yelabuga. I felt almost suffocated.