“Da,” Rose said, surprising even herself by what just came out of her mouth. In a single
word she gave me a sign that she really was going to try to make the best of this.
We found our luggage and exited into the terminal. “Whatever you've done to us,
Greene—it's all happening.” Rose gave me a this-is-all-your-fault smile. “Welcome to Rus-
Our first task was to find Boris and Sergei. When NPR told me that my first task upon
arrival in Russia was to locate Boris and Sergei, I thought it was either a joke or some kind
of funny code. Does everyone in Russia have two best friends named Boris and Sergei?
Rose and I wondered in jest. But indeed, Boris Ryzhak and Sergei Sotnikov are NPR's of-
fice manager and producer in Moscow. And they were picking us up at the airport.
I had Sergei's mobile number, called it, and finally located the two men. Sergei is five
foot seven, slightly shorter than I am, meaning that Boris towers over him. Boris is a former
semiprofessional basketball player, a giant with graying hair, floppy lips, rich, dark eyes,
and a deep voice that soothes even when I have no idea what he is saying in Russian.
“Zdrast-vui-tyeh!” he said, giving me a hearty handshake. “Hellooo,” Sergei said, at
once translating Boris and offering his own greeting. They led us to a van, loaded our lug-
gage, and drove us into the city we would now call home.
Everything looked foreign—especially because the Cyrillic alphabet is entirely different
from the Latin alphabet used in so many languages—English, Spanish, French, Portuguese,
German—a distinction not lost on my wife (“You really had to pick a county with a whole
new alphabet to learn?”). The job offer and decision to move all happened so quickly that
there was no time for language classes back in New York. As an English-speaking new-
comer in Russia, you find yourself scanning buildings and signs, looking for words written
in good old Latin letters—or at least appearing to be.
“Pectopah?” I said out loud in the van, noticing a word with familiar lettering on plenty
of buildings. “What's pectopah?”
Sergei and Boris burst into laughter. “David,” Sergei said. “You have fallen into the trap!
Those are actually all Cyrillic letters. The letter that looks like a p is r in Russian. The c is
an s sound. And the h is actually our version of n .
I was sheepish. “Oh. So that's actually—'restaurant'?”
“You got it!”
I felt like a contestant on Wheel of Fortune who figured out the phrase well after the
entire viewing audience.
Language challenges aside, being in the hands of these two men gave me and Rose our
first sense of comfort—one that lasted for our nearly three years in the country, and helped
us through the most difficult days.
On its face our arrangement gave us little reason to trust Boris and Sergei. They are
employed by UPDK, a semiprivate real estate agency that, during Soviet times, offered