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slurring made it nearly impossible to understand him, but
I appreciated his interest.
“It’s my cat. I lost her,” I replied.
He didn’t react for a moment, then said a few words, of
which I understood “wait” and “moment” and “others,”
before approaching his drinking buddies on a nearby
bench. Within a few moments he came back and said an-
other few lines, of which I caught “haven’t seen,” “we live
on the street,” “look” and “terrible.” He reached up and
patted my arm soothingly. I watched as he staggered back
to his buddies on the park bench. They raised their hands
to me to indicate their support of me in my plight. It was
one of the most touching gestures I’ve ever received.
As it turned out, after all the helpful searching our cat
eventually turned up in the construction lot next door,
where we had started our search. So I can’t honestly say
that our relationships with our neighbors helped us find
her. But their concern did bring home to me how far we
had come since our arrival in breaking through the cul-
tural divide, and how much those simple relationships
mean in one’s life.
I am now in my third month of a new assignment in Es-
tonia, starting all over again in a new city and neighbor-
hood. I miss that noisy, messy life on Vorovoskogo Street
and its cozy familiarity, so I often find myself thinking of
that memorable cast of characters.
I miss seeing Papa supervise Mama, Mama supervise
the neighborhood, Igor’s gold tooth shining in the sun
when he smiled, the drunks fighting at night and nodding
hello as we pass them the next afternoon; the sweet, sad-
faced prostitutes; and the Goodfellas, lovely Flower
Ladies, Bicycle Man, Poodle Lady and other characters
we came to know and love.
I was warned ahead of time that the people up here in
the far north are slow to warm up to strangers, but that
doesn’t intimidate me a bit. All I have to do is remember
to smile, stupidly, and say hello — and eventually, say in
two or three years, they’ll say hello back. With a little pa-
tience and courage, I’m sure someday I’ll be reflecting on
the characters on Roosikrantsi Street.
J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L