Venetia Thompson dislikes the resignation she finds in the most quiescent of Russia’s Muslim states. But other republics will be less apathetic in the face of Moscow’s provocations
The 12-hour train journey from Moscow was a blur of vodka, of only visiting the bathroom in pairs for our own safety and, most frustratingly, of being told repeatedly to ‘calm down’ in Russian by our formidable escort, Natasha. As we got further away from Moscow the stops became littered with people holding miscellan- eous objects for sale, ranging from stuffed and live animals to general household clutter. A feeling of pronounced claustrophobia began to take hold; gone were the romanticised Russian train journeys and boundless steppes of 19th-century literature. Instead, I had been in the country less than 24 hours and had already decided that I felt trapped and that I hated it.
This feeling reached its height when I found myself locked in my host family’s tenth-floor apartment on my first night in Kazan, with no fire escape and no means of getting out because the door had been dead-locked from the outside. I asked the 24-year-old girlfriend of the Russian who had locked us in whether this was normal, and she had merely shrugged and gone to bed. I never managed to establish whether he had locked us in for security purposes, or to ensure that his girlfriend didn’t leave the flat. I thought of my visa, which restricted when I could leave; of whether I could get a flight out of Kazan’s ramshackle airport the following morning; or whether, failing that, I could face another 12 hours on that horrific train. I resorted to downing as much of the dubious local vodka as I could manage, and went to sleep dreaming that the building was on fire.