Thoughts from St. Petersburg
I am a US citizen, living in St. Petersburg Russia. It was evening here when we got the news about the attack on the US by terrorists. I spent the night on the internet, bouncing around to news websites, slowed maddeningly by the heavy traffic on the net.
It was a night of frustration. One of loneliness, anger, and without sleep.
I went to the US Consulate today to register. They are asking all US nationals to check in. I got there, and outside there were a few people standing around, and a bunch of flowers lying in front of the building. It was very nice. Across the street, there were another group of flowers, with some candles. (I found out later that security wouldn't let them light candles close to the building, so anyone with candles to light was asked to do it across the street.) I went in, registered, then came back out to talk to some of the people milling around.
It was a very interesting day. I talked to a couple of hundred people throughout the day, and maybe 5 of them were US citizens. Of the others, they were all Russians, save for a pair of English girls.
The people would come, slowly, quietly, respectfully. They came to pray for the most part. They would stop in front of the building, place their flowers gently on the ground if they had them, then most would pray. Some cried, quietly. The flowers came from normal, every day Russians who felt moved to come to the consulate, say a prayer, and drop off some flowers. Most people didn't bring flowers. They brought sad hearts, filled with sympathy for you and me. Most people only stayed a couple of minutes before leaving.
I spent the entire day there, and met noone who was happy about what happened.
I met the mayor of St. Petersburg, a guy named Yakovlev. I also met the leader of the parliament.
Later, I met a winner of the Nobel Prize in physics. His name is Joures Alfyorov. He said," I am very distraught. This was a terrible tragedy for the world. All Russians feel the suffering of the people of the US. We are with you today, and will be with you tomorrow."
Late in the afternoon a group of about 15 teenagers came along, led by a lady who I correctly surmised was their teacher. They had decided after school on an impromptu visit to the consulate
I met a lady, tears streaming down her cheeks as she lit a candle placed in a small jar to keep the rain and wind away. She spoke about being a little girl in Leningrad during the siege. She was very concerned about me, and our national state of mind. She assured me we would overcome this, and encouraged me to rally my countrymen to arms.
One man I met was a WWII veteran, wearing a shabby old suit coat in the rainy weather. Pinned to his coat were combat ribbons, earned during his youth on the field of battle against Hitler's armies. His wife, an old, wrinkled woman with silver teeth bent down with a few pathetic flowers and laid them amongst the others as the old man wiped away tears. I walked over to him, and said hello. He spoke for about 5 minutes in a very low, but passionate voice. I understood almost none of the words, but I knew what he said by looking in his eyes. After he was done, I thanked him, as an American, for caring. Another newsman there told me what the old man had said was more or less that he felt our pain. He lived in the neighborhood, and had always been proud to say his home was close to the US Consulate. He met American soldiers on the front in WWII, and he always loved America. He said he was hurt terribly by what happened, but that now, like before, America and Russia should be allies in a war on a despicable foe. Just like in WWII, now America and Russia could be friends, fighting side by side against an enemy who wanted to exterminate us.
I cried. More than once.
I left today, in a very angry, nationalistic mood. I was hoping to find trouble. What I found was that America does have friends. Friends in some of the most unlikely places, but friends that shouldn't be overlooked. We aren't alone.