Have you ever seen a flying soccer?
This has been a strange week so far. I have been flying Air France/KLM for years now, and I am debating switching alliances, so I left home at 6am Monday to fly on a competitor airline out of CDG Terminal 1. I spend so much time in CDG2 that I am usually on autopilot mode - I know exactly where to check-in in each terminal, which security lines move the fastest, where to stand on the train so I am the first one off and up the escalators. I haven't flown in or out of Terminal 1 though since my very first trip to France back in 2001, so I felt a bit like a fish out of water trying to find my way around.
It also always stresses me out to go through Russian customs - you just never know if they are going to pull you aside or not. Luckily this time I was able to scoot on through and catch my connecting flight out to the middle of nowhere. The plane I was on was so small that I could not even fully stand up inside. And when we landed, the airport was so tiny that the plane actually pulled up right next to the parking lot exit and everyone just walked out of the plane to their car. I checked my luggage, so I had to go through security and back inside the airport to get my suitcase! Pretty crazy.
Then it was another 1.5h drive to the hotel. I wasn't expecting it, but I again ran into the "no seat belts in the back seat" situation. Except unlike China, the seat belts were actually there, just tucked behind the seats. So I asked if we could pull the seat forward to get them out, and the driver said "No". I explained that I really preferred to have it, and he kept saying Niet and so my interpreter jumped in and said "No, no, it's not necessary in Russia". I said "I know it's not necessary, but I want one for my safety". She said "The driver is very safe, he is ex-military". I replied "Don't you realize that he could be the safest driver in the world, but that doesn't account for everyone else on the road??" And the whole time they were looking at me like "Oh you stupid American." In the end, I did not get my seat belt, but I luckily made it safe and sound to the hotel at 10:30pm.
They came back to get me at 5:30am the next morning, and again, we had another 1.5h seat belt-less drive. :/ They entertained me however with their insistence that they had seen a flying "soccer" that morning on the way to get me (it took me a minute to realize what she meant lol). The interpreter insisted that she had seen many over her lifetime, and that the driver had even seen one close up. He used to be a fighter pilot and one day he was testing a secret new plane over Kazakhstan and he saw a large flying triangular object with many bright lights. It followed him for a while and then left.
Next, she told me about the trip to Paris she took last fall for work. She kept mentioning about how she loved all the castles in Paris. I was like "Um, okay", and then she started showing me some pictures, and I realized she had been in the Loire Valley, likely to visit a nearby customer of mine, and that she hadn't really been in Paris at all. I couldn't figure out if she was just mixing up the words Paris and France, or if she really thought she had been to Paris, but I didn't dare correct her.
She did have an interesting background story though - she signed up to be a mail order bride to the US back in the mid 90's, and she and her 6 year old daughter ended up moving to Ithaca, NY. She unfortunately had a very troubled marriage with her husband and they ended up separating after seven years. It took another seven years to fully separate from him, because he was constantly spying on her and threatening either deportation or calling child services. But she was eventually able to get a degree in the US and a good job at Cornell, and she made a life for herself there (with a side hobby of body building) before moving back to Russia in 2007 to take care of her aging mother.
Then I spent the day bossing around a large group of older Russian engineers and technicians. It was one of those rather surreal moments where you think - what a random path my life has been to lead me here today, to Middle of Nowhere, Russia, telling all these dudes what to do and keeping everybody on track. It also reminded me of how I used to always tell myself before these trips "Okay Ksam, you just have to go there and fake it until you make it". I can see now how much my confidence has grown since the early years.
So my job may be strange, but it's definitely never 'just another day at the office'. Tomorrow is another early start, and then Friday I will begin the long journey back home...for a short 12h, and then I will turn around and head back to CDG for a flight to Athens!