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Beau's Journey » 2008 » February » 24

Archive: February 24th, 2008

February 24, 2008: What I learned in Russia


The hardship of freedom


  What I once thought I knew…I know no more. What I once believed was real is now but a daydream.   Perception is torn into reality. 

  As a child I was taught that the Soviet Union was the enemy. That these people would one day bring us great harm. That missiles might rain down on our cities – destroying our families. There was a fear of the Soviet people, these strangers. Everything I knew about them came from my history books. The teachings from those who taught me, from our politicians, from our media. There was no internet. There was no MySpace or Yahoo. I knew that that they were the bad guys and we were the good guys. They were the communists and we were the Americans. They were wrong and we were right. 

  What I once thought I knew…I know no more. What I once believed was real is now but a daydream. Perception is torn into reality.

  My beliefs as an American, have been shaped by the policies of my government. By the news media. By my fantasies. Always thinking that freedom was not a privilege but a right.  Believing that if we could just force freedom upon people then we, as Americans, would be doing the world a favor. We would be giving them something that they needed – our gift would make them a better people. Never realizing the true price of freedom. And that the price of freedom comes not only to the people of today, who it was given to, or who obtained it, but also to their children and their children’s children. 

  When the Soviet Union fell apart I only saw flashes of what was really going on inside each country that declared their independence. When the news video stopped and the cameras shutters stopped clicking  – when the headlines no longer filled our minds with victory – the people of the Soviet Empire were left with a struggle that continues today.  A struggle that will continue tomorrow. A struggle that will continue next year and the year after that. 

  Although it may be true that freedom is what every man, woman and child wants, we should never think that it can be delivered overnight. We should never think that true independence and freedom can happen in a year…a decade…or even a generation. It is a process. An evolution of ideas. That which took America two centuries to accept and embrace is no different here in Russia. They are but an infant – just learning to walk. Still unsure as to where tomorrow might take them. Still haunted by their own past – the demons of communism.  Not quite sure who to trust. Not quite sure if their freedom is real or permanent. 

  The more I travel the more I realize that freedom cannot be forced upon people. It must be something that they desire. That they bring about themselves. The Soviet Union did not fall because of America. The Soviet Union fell because their people wanted their independence. Their people wanted to be free. They desired something that nobody could give them. It was always inside of them. It was always within their reach. They only needed to release their hopes…their dreams.  To stand up against those who  oppressed them. They only needed to believe in themselves as a people. 

  I have seen much while in Russia. I have seen very little while in Russia. A snapshot in time. A frame of a movie that has yet to finish. Although we may be worlds apart from this country we are and always have been neighbors. Our houses join together on this spinning globe. Russia could learn a lot from America – America could learn a lot from Russia. 


 Beau Dodson Photography


Some of the things I have learned since I arrived here

The older generation still does not trust their government. Their freedom is measured in something that exists today with no promise of tomorrow. 

Many of the subway tunnels were dug by hand. Dug by men, women, and children who “volunteered” their time to better their country. Dug by shovels and not machines.  Dirt carried out by wheelbarrows.

When you ride the subway you see the faces of the people of Russia. You see the old with hand written books – reading from the worn pages, as they pass through the underground tunnels. You see the young with their cell phones reading a book that they downloaded from an on-line  store – texting their friends – reading their emails. You see the old with the heads bowed and their eyes closed – listening to the clickity clack of the rail line. Perhaps dreaming of being home in their beds. You see the young with their IPods listening to the songs of today and the hopes of tomorrow. 

I have learned that you can see hardship on a face. True hardship. Not just wrinkles but stories. You can see the past by looking into the eyes of another person. When you watch those around you, here in Russia, you can see just a glimpse of what they have been through. It is different than anything I have ever seen before. I have met many older people, in many countries, but none like those of Russia. There is something different about these faces. There are lines that are deeper. There are eyes that express something that I cannot understand – I cannot relate to. These people have seen much. These people have been through much. They have stories that need to be told. So that we will not forget.  So that we will not allow history to repeat itself.

I have learned to respect history. To learn from history and to be a part of history.

I have learned that fear in itself is nothing more than a fantasy of thoughts joined together to keep people apart.

I have learned that giving someone freedom does not end when the gift has been unwrapped. That freedom must evolve and sometimes it must evolve slowly. Americans are drive by givers. We believe, that once the gift has been forced on someone, that they will somehow by able to magically turn themselves into what took us 200 years to become. 

I have learned that it is hard to find Maple Syrup and Peanut Butter in Russia.

I have learned that they take snow removal VERY seriously in the City of Moscow. That day and night they shovel the snow into piles to be hauled away by dirty old trucks. 

I have learned that communism in itself is not necessarily bad but rather it is the power that corrupts people within the communist party – socialist party – democracies.   

I have learned that the people of Russia do not hate Americans. They believe we live in a fairy tale world and many would give up everything to land on our shores. 

That many people, in Russia, would like to see their country rejoin some of the ex-soviet countries. Once again forming a larger nation. A more powerful nation. 

I have learned that Red Square is smaller than I envisioned and that St Basil’s is not as big as it looks in photographs!

I have learned that there are many great artists in Russia. 

I have learned that the subway system is one large art museum. That each stop is a creation in and of itself. That one must take the time to see back in time – to imagine a former day – another era to truly appreciate these works.

I have learned that there are many churches in Russia. Many of them are dramatic works of madness – some rebuilt to show that the depth of a stolen spirituality.   

I have been reminded that if you believe in hope that one day hope will arrive. That one day the white horse known only in fairy tales will deliver a sword of peace and prosperity. 

I have been reminded that most people simply want peace for their children.  They don’t hate anyone.  They don’t want war with anyone.

I have been reminded that those who have freedom have a great responsibility to not take it for granted. To share it with other people. To never force it on anyone. To be patient with those whom we do not understand. That freedom will come – in time – to everyone who desires it.

I have been reminded that peace and prosperity comes at a great price. A price that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. I price that cannot be written in words. A price that can be expressed in art – in photographs – in talking with those who were there.

I have been reminded that we are a blessed people.

I have been reminded that a good photograph is part art – part skill – part chance – and part opportunity. 

What I once thought I knew…I know no more. What I once believed was real is now but a daydream.   Perception is torn into reality. 



Beau Dodson Photography