“No Soup for You!”

Well. The good news is, the weather here in Moscow has finally broken. The wild barometric fluctuations and oppressive humidity have disappeared. The sun is shining and the mild, cool summer seems to have returned. For now. And the joints? They couldn’t be more pleased.

But. I have a problem. A problem with soup.

I am a fan of Russian food.  It is hearty and palatable.  What it lacks in flavor, it makes up for in freshness.  Russians tend not to add preservatives to their food the way that American manufacturers do.  They also eat fewer processed foods.  And in the summer, most families retreat to their dachas, which are like tiny cottages, where they cultivate their own root vegetables, grow apples, and pick wild berries, the spoils of which they generously share with friends and neighbors. In a word: delicious. But of all the different elements of Russian cuisine, the soups are my favorite.  I got particularly excited yesterday afternoon when I discovered that my university’s cafeteria was now hawking cold borsch. (FYI: Because I don’t want to anger any prospective Ukrainian readers, I feel compelled to point out, because it has been pointed out to me time and again by countless Ukrainians, that this hearty beet soup is Ukrainian in origin, NOT Russian.) Borsch is normally served hot with a generous dab of smetana (a kind of Slavic sour cream), and of course it is quite tasty this way. But the chilled version is available only in the summer months.  In Russia, there is a general prohibition against untimely exposure to all things chilly or cold, as such exposure is believed to be the source off all contagious illness and dare I say, death itself.  Culturally, Russians frown on the ingestion of cold soup and beverages unless the weather outside is blistering.  This creates a very small window for the lawful dispensation of chilled soup.  So I was thrilled…No…I was overjoyed to see this in the cafeteria yesterday afternoon:

Bowl o’Cold Borsch. (Note the generous dab of smetana.)

But here is the problem: It turns out that carrying a cafeteria tray in one hand is pretty darn difficult, especially when one’s balance is already slightly precarious.  Carrying, in one hand, a cafeteria tray loaded with a main dish, soup, AND a beverage is impossible. At least for me.  This means that I have to chose to forgo either the soup or the beverage.  Unfortunately, it’s the soup that usually gets cut, because a small glass of compote is, it turns out, not quite as spillable as a sloshy bowl of soup.

“Welcome to the world of Aided Mobility. And PS: No Soup for You!”

Now, don’t go thinking that I haven’t tried to come up with creative ways to solve this problem.  I have. In fact, it turns there is a way to solve this problem. It’s just not optimal. For example, I could:

Allow someone else to carry my tray from the cafeteria cashier to my table EVERY SINGLE DAY.  In Russia, this would be the easiest solution. Because of the Community Factor, someone almost always offers to carry my tray, either one of the young men behind me in line or one of the cafeteria ladies working the till.  That is to say, there is no shortage of assistance available.  The folks here see someone struggling with the ins and outs of everyday life, and they jump in to offer their assistance.  It’s really very nice.  And sometimes I avail myself to it.  But sometimes I don’t.

I don’t know. I’m an American? I’m stubborn? Probably both factors contribute to my unwillingness to accept assistance, but I think it really just  boils down to the fact that the world in general is not arranged to be accessible to those of us whose level of mobility falls outside the narrow bounds of the norm.  Therefore, we are constantly formulating roundabout plans to accomplish small tasks with minimal disruption.  This is stressful. It can be exhausting. And on a bad day it can really make one feel helpless and incapable, when in fact the issue is not one’s overall capability but inaccessibility that is the problem.  I find that this is especially true in Russia, where no analogue to the ADA exists and institutions are under very little pressure to make their infrastructure accessible.  Yes. Yes. The community factor is fabulous. People are by and large willing to help, but having to constantly rely on the aid of others to accomplish small tasks that you know full well you could do quite easily yourself if things were set up just a little differently tends to led to feelings of helplessness and frustration no matter what.  I get tired of it. I am capable. I am strong. And I want to feel this way. I deserve to feel this way.  So sometimes I decline the offer of assistance and forgo the soup. And I do feel super strong (You should see how the biceps on my left arm are shaping up!) one handing my tray. But the problem is, I still want the soup.

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