Messages from my sister

When I was six years old, my father, my mother and I left for three years to Algeria. My fifteen years old sister had to stay in Soviet Union because of many official and not so official reasons. She stayed at a boarding school near Moscow. We saw her once a year during summer vacation. We flew to Moscow, took her with us to Moldova to spend our summer break at home. And at the end of the summer vacation we flew or travelled by train to Moscow, said our good-byes to my sister and left for Annaba again. Annaba is a beautiful city on the eastern part of the Algerian coast to Mediterranean Sea.

This being apart from each other was heart-breaking for all of us and for my sister especially, because she was alone at the boarding school without us three. And although everyone was very kind to her there, she was very homesick and she cried almost every day during the first half of the school year. There are blanks in her grades during this time.

But I never saw this sadness in her letters to me. She was sending one letter to all of us and one separate for me within the same envelope. She was often drawing small pencil-drawn cartoons and enclosed small pocket calendars which changed images when you moved them. At some point I had a large collection of them.

Although some of the dearest memories I have are connected to Algeria, I hated being there as a child. The number of children in every family scared me and I asked my mother whether there was a kindergarten in every house and every flat. Almost everything was so strange and so foreign to me. Especially at the beginning, I didn’t have many friends apart from school, which was far away from where we lived initially. And Svetlana’s frequent letters were very special sweet sparkles of light in the daily routine that I didn’t quite enjoy.

The special highlight was Svetlana’s greeting on a radio show for us. In Moscow they had a special radio show for those who were far away from home: for soldiers, for diplomats and families like ours being on temporary stay and service in a foreign country. Svetlana has let us know about this show in advance. My father borrowed a radio receiver from a colleague that was able to tune the long waves and catch the sound of that Moscow radio station, the exact name of which I don’t remember today. We all gathered before the radio in good time before the show and waited until it started. We didn’t move and exhaled happily when we heard the moderator say: “Svetlana greets her mother, father and sister who are staying currently in Algeria and wished a song from Sofia Rotaru to be played as a musical gift for them”. I don’t remember the exact words. My mother and my sister will probably recall them much better, but I remember the feeling of warmness and closeness to my sister in that moment. I still have the picture of that small black radio receiver in my mind, standing on a small stool and watched and listened to intently by my father, my mother and me.

And although my sister and I hear from each other more often nowadays and today we live in the same country again, I still have this warm feeling spreading within me whenever I hear from her.