IDT I African Dance
20 November 2012
Memories of pain and sorrow often times come to mind in my family when asked about our heritage. Being of Russian decent, the women in my family were not treated with the respect that people would think. In fact, it was quite common for families to disown infant girls because they were only interested on raising men to carry on the family name. Having a daughter only meant that they would have to give up what they owned someday in a dowry to another family. Such was the case with my great-grandmother, Betty Veska.
Betty is not her real first name. As a child when she learned of the situation she was in, being ...view middle of the document...
Orphanages unfortunately were one of the first to go.
My great-grandmother once told me that one-day while growing up in the orphanage she was playing in the field that was behind the building where the orphans lived. Coincidentally, there was a very poor farm that had a couple acres of corn next to this playing field. A black family tended this farm, and stayed in the shack behind the house. More than likely this family of three (a man, wife, and child around my great-grandmother’s age) were slaves to the owner of this house. Never-the-less, one day the small boy from the family was also playing in this field with my great-grandmother. She told it had not even been 10 minutes before the Governess of the orphanage was screaming her name to immediately come back inside. She was soon after beaten for having been in contact with a person “of color,” as the governess had worded it. This was the first case of racism that my great-grandmother had ever witnessed.
Because of the low funding of the Russian orphanages, not many of them existed; this in turn made living conditions for the orphans almost unbearable. Betty told me at one point she shared her bed with five other girls. Five 14 year old girls on a single bed, could you imagine? It also did not help that the war going on was killing off most of the fathers of these children and since the mothers had no way to support themselves let alone the children, many gave them up, some even, my great-grandmother told me, had committed suicide.
For many reasons, such as the ones previously mentioned, my great-grandmother was happy not to have any connections with her family. She told me she often thought she probably would have ended up in the orphanage anyway. She said she always imagined both her parents dying in the war to save Russia, so not knowing them at all from the beginning helped her to not be so sad all of the time, like so many of the other orphans. But there was one thing that did get to her, and that was the feeling of belonging. She told me that even though the orphanage was often sad and had a dreary feeling, moments of happiness would come when some of the other children would talk about the good times they had with their parents while they were still alive. Picnics, fishing trips, going to the store together, it made my great-grandmother upset that she could not relate to their happiness. The school teachers and leaders of the orphanage were never anything more than strict disciplinarians to my great-grandmother, and she was not at all good with making friends with the other children as they though it was weird that she never had known her parents. She told me the other kids would say that Americans had dropped her off because she was not even good enough to live in their country.
That is one thing I found extremely ironic and comical. A lot of her stories had to do with the fact that she or some of the other kids would make fun of something by comparing it to America. To the...