I've started watching the new Aziz Ansari series on Netflix called Master of None. It's hilarious but, like all good shows, it has a sharp, humanising edge to it. I just finished the second episode 'Parents', where Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Brian (Kelvin Yu) pay tribute to their ethnic parents and the sacrifices they made to give them a better life. Way to make an ethnic girl feel guilty - thanks Aziz! Now, every time I take a bite of my £4 Pret Sandwich I see an image of my Russian mother in an apron, waving a wooden spoon in the air and yelling "Sashka! Why you pay for crappy food when you could be eating homemade Borshik and steamed cabbage, delicious like your Mamachka makes!"
My parents were 21 and 24 when they made the terrifying journey from Russia to Australia with a fat, wailing three year old in their arms. The Soviet Union had just been dissolved, the currency collapsed and nobody could afford to buy groceries to feed their starving children. All my parents knew about Australia was that it was famous for koalas and kangaroos. They didn't know what a 'bogan' was or how to cook a snag on the Barbie, they barely even spoke the language! When they said goodbye to their parents at the airport, they truly believed that it was the last time they would ever see them. This was back in the day where a flight to Australia was the modern equivalent of flying to the moon. A letter in the mail took months to arrive, if it did at all. A phone call cost more than the finest caviar and there was so much feedback it was like talking underwater. They didn't even have a microwave! They would heat their food on the stove, like cave men (excuse me, and cave women). These were medieval times so you can understand how moving to the other side of the world and leaving everything they knew and loved was no easy feat.
When I was a teenager, I hated asking my mum for money because the conversation always went the same way.
"Sashenka, when we came to this country we had nuthink!"
"Forget it, mum! I don't need it", I would reply, rolling my eyes contemptuously and trying to escape.
"No, you wait and you listen to me. You need to understand the value of the monies. We couldn't even afford one - "
"Sandwich! I know, I know. Please let me go play my video games now..."
But I did listen and nothing she said ever went unheard. I still remember our first flat in Bondi. Today, Bondi is one of the most expensive suburbs in Australia but in the early 90's it was a sewage swamp. It was home primarily to immigrants who used it as a temporary base until they could move to a better postcode. We lived above a pizza shop where my dad worked the night shifts as a delivery boy, while he searched for engineering jobs all day. My mum was still in university but worked at McDonalds simultaneously so we could afford our shitty apartment that smelled perpetually of cheese and greasy burgers.
Growing up, I had all of the opportunities. Like a good Russian kid, I had piano lessons twice a week and tennis lessons on Sunday mornings. I went to drama school on weekends, as well as writing classes and horse riding lessons. I can't remember a time in my childhood when I wasn't inundated with recreational activities. By the time I reached my teen years, I resented all of it and most of all, my parents. All I wanted to do was hang with my friends after school, smoking fags and drinking bourbon straight from the bottle. I welcomed the rain on Sundays that rendered my tennis lesson cancelled. I swore and banged on the piano keys too many times to count. I hated having to speak Russian at home. I even destroyed a whole bunch of my writing in a bonfire I built in the backyard (true story). I was a pretty reckless, rallying, ungrateful teenager but from the wreckage grew this weird, goofy, semi-functional adult. Someone I'm actually pretty proud of. Thanks to my parents I've learnt the value of living overseas, I rock a decent forehand and I'm part of a makeshift tennis club. I work for a Russian company - a job I got on account of the fact that I can speak fluent Russian - and I'm a writer. I think it's safe to say that those lessons didn't go to waste.
It's so hard to say "thank you" to our parents. It's easier to complain about them and blame them for all of our problems. Then they'll say something funny or do something really sweet and you can't help but want to hug the crap out of them. The other day, I was speaking to my mum over Skype about my yoga class. I was trying to describe a Forearm Balance.
"It's like a handstand but instead of leaning on your hands you lean on your forearms."
"But Sashoulia, I don't understand, you only have two?!"
I laughed so hard I had tears streaming down my face. Realising she said something pretty silly, she started laughing too. We shared a moment and I realised how lucky I am to have this moment. How lucky I am to have two such amazing parents that literally crossed oceans to give me a better life. To my Mamachka and Papachka - I am eternally grateful.
Read Sasha's blog here:setwordsfree.com