Edward Snowden will have his memories from his time at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. I have mine.
Twice in the span of a month in late 2004, Sheremetyevo was the location of my welcome to Russia moment. It could not have been more soul-sucking. Though the Soviet Union had not existed since 1991, the airport remained the epitome of every stereotype Americans harbor about Cold War-era communism.
Upon arriving on our initial trip, my wife and I were herded with the other passengers, funnel-style, toward a bank of booths where customs officials waited to brusquely inspect our passports. Not that I was expecting them to, but they spoke not a word of English. A helpful fellow American we had chatted with on the Air France flight from Paris shared tips that allowed us to pass through customs with minimal anxiety. A stark stainless steel bank of luggage claim carousels only added to the sense of unease.
Our flight was late in arriving, throwing into chaos our arrangement to meet the driver who would take us into the city. We made contact after a stretch that I almost certainly remember as longer than the hour or two it actually was. To pass the time you could wander the concourse, as you would at O’Hare. Or you could park yourself on a plastic and metal bench to watch the unfamiliar faces in familiar-looking clothes (including a surprising number of women with gaudy flame-red hair). But the language barrier made anything more a foreboding task.
Our experience became more pleasant once we left the airport. And our second trip was made immeasurably easier by the experience of the first.
I don’t know what memories Edward Snowden will take from his time at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.
At least I had the promise of parenthood waiting for me at the other end.