From Gayle Yarnall's Blog
December 19, 2006
About a year and a half ago, Svetlana and Harris Sussman walked into my office, with a dream of starting a foundation in the name of Svetlana’s father to help blind people in St. Petersburg Russia. Moisey Naumovich Adamov passed away in February of 2005. During his life he was a blind professor of physics at the St. Petersburg State University. Svetlana and Harris enthusiastically planned to improve the lives of blind people in St. Petersburg as a way to honor Svetlana’s father’s memory.
I will never know exactly how I keep finding myself in the right place at the right time but as they sat across from me I knew this was one of those right times and right places and I was very glad to be there.
Early in 2006 Svetlana and I began planning our trip to Russia. Like most people my age, Russia has long fascinated me. As a child there was the Space Race, and that cute little Russian dog we all watched go up in space. There were those “duck and cover” alerts that got us out of math tests if we were lucky. As we grew older and asked questions, we began to wonder what people were really like in that vast, somewhat forbidding country where it seemed like it was always cold. Then the wall came down and people started traveling back and forth and the world got a lot smaller.
The trip was scheduled for mid September and I began reading every book that the talking book library had about Russia, both fiction and non fiction. I was already having a great time.
Time has a way of flying by and soon we were off. I had learned about 6 Russian phrases and had read a collection of well-known Russian literature. I was going to visit the preschool I had been assisting and the library for the blind and the association of the blind and the school for the blind as well as search for solutions for meeting some of their needs. I was in my glory but in my wildest imagination I never realized how wonderful this trip would be.
We stayed in Svetlana’s apartment in the middle of the exact perfect place to be in St. Petersburg. I need to be careful here, because now that I have started, I could write a book. Maybe there will be a second or third entry.
We were busy every minute of all of the 10 days we were there. Svetlana even visited old friends in the middle of the night to free up our days.
At the school for the blind I learned to dance like a butterfly and grow from a seed to a tree. I think there are pictures of this somewhere. Just to get the story straight, I don’t dance like a person let alone a butterfly, just ask my children who have asked me not to dance in public.
- I played with sweet blind children who laughed when ever I said, “hello” in Russian.
- I saw hand made toys for kids who are low vision that were totally incredible.
- I ate cake at least twice a day. We are not talking plain cake but the kind you get in the fanciest restaurants.
- I never drank Vodka.
- We traveled around the city by flagging down cars. I was told to keep quiet because they would charge more if they knew I was from the United States.
- I never ate in a restaurant. We ate amazing food in people’s homes.
- I went to the opera twice, something else I never do at home.
The most amazing thing I did was to sit in kitchens around kitchen tables and talk. I talked to people who grew up in the same world that I grew up in at the same time but on the other side. I heard true stories about growing up with communism and Perestroika. I learned what people were thinking about us during all those years and what they think about us now.
I also walked for miles with a woman who grew up being a sighted guide for her blind father. A woman who not only knew the city inside out but who had warm and touching stories about all the places we visited.
Never in my life will I experience something like that trip. At least not until I visit St. Petersburg again.
(P.S. added February 2007: We’re going again in September 2007!)