How I Got Accused of Being a Terrorist: The Tale of Baba Yaga and the Middlebury Student

September 28, 2011

Last week, I finally chose the mainstream class that I wanted to take: social psychology. I was so nervous and excited that I showed up half an hour early to the first class, only to find out that the schedule had been incorrect and social psychology did not in fact take place in that аудитория[1]. I ran to our RC Anya for help and she gave me directions to the sociology building. I ran the whole way and would have made it on time for the class—if there were a room 315 in that building. I went and asked at the main office where the class was, and was told that a woman in room 302 could help me. As I scurried from one end of the third floor to the other looking for the second hidden room of the day, a couple teenage boys stopped me and asked if I needed help.

“Yes!” I cried out.  They very nicely guided me to the class schedule posted on the second floor, but my class wasn’t on it. After thoroughly checking the schedule, I asked them if they knew where to find room 302. My growing escort guided me to the third floor, through an unmarked door, down a hallway, and up to room 302. One of the boys knocked on the door and cracked it open, only to be thrown backwards by the angry howl of a woman who, for the sake of privacy, we will refer to as Baba Yaga. “CAN’T YOU SEE I’M WITH STUDENTS?!” Baba Yaga shrieked. The door slammed shut and we all stood in shock for a moment. Within seconds, the boys recovered and began making inappropriate gestures at the door. “No, no!!” I begged. “Come on, let’s go look at the schedule again.”

A second inspection of the schedule closed the matter: there was no social psychology posted. We reluctantly slinked back up to the third floor and crept down the hall a second time. The boy who had opened the office door last time hid behind a doorframe and a second brave soul stepped forward. He gently knocked and cracked it open. “I’M WORKING!” screamed Baba Yaga from her lair. “I’m here with an American student. She wants to study in our department,” said the martyr (who I later learned was named Sergei). “Oh. WELL, BRING HER IN!”

I walked into the office, Sergei and Yan (another new friend) slipping in behind me. The rest of my entourage curiously peered in until Yan closed the door on them. The office wasn’t big enough for more than two of my new friends to protect me. “Well, what do you want?” Baba Yaga asked, glaring at me from across her desk fashioned of students’ bones. “Hi, my name is Sarah Bellingham and I’m a student from Middlebury College. I’m studying at the university with an American program, and part of our program involves taking a mainstream course. If it’s possible, I’d really like to take social psychology if it’s still being offered.”

Baba Yaga stared at me for a moment, then barked “AND HOW DO I KNOW YOU’RE NOT A TERRORIST?”

Standing there in my high-heels, skinny jeans, and striped sweater, I just stared at her for a moment. Did I hear that right? Judging by Yan and Sergei’s raucous laughter, I did. “SHUT UP!” she roared at them, then looked back at me. Apparently this had been an actual question. “Well, here’s a letter from my university,” I said, handing Yaga a stamped, signed letter from Middlebury. She grabbed it from me and eyed it for a moment, then turned her piercing eyes back toward me. “And how do I know this is legitimate?” Having expected the argument to end with the letter, I stuttered, “Well, there are contacts listed right there. You can call our RC Anya, if you’d like.”

Baba Yaga picked up her phone and dialed Anya. “There’s SOME GIRL in my office,” she began. I quickly handed her my Yaroslavl student ID. She glanced suspiciously at it and proceeded to shout at Anya for a few minutes. Finally, she hung up and turned to me. “And how do I know that these numbers are legitimate?” Huh? I met her gaze and suggested, “Well, if you’d like to call the international student office, maybe they can help.”

She stared at me for a moment, then suddenly picked up her phone again. She smirked at me as the phone rang as if she’d just called my bluff. When someone finally picked up, she began asking them about this so-called “Sarah” from “California.” They told her that I was indeed a Yaroslavl University student and that I was required to take one mainstream course in the department of my choice. Baba Yaga got louder and louder until the phone conversation ended with her seething at this terrible news. She slammed the phone down and yelled, “I’M STILL NOT SURE THIS IS LEGITIMATE!”

The boys started laughing again, and she suddenly turned her rage on them. “And what are YOU TWO doing here?!” she demanded. “Don’t you have CLASS?” The boys froze. “Uh, I’m sick,” said Sergei. “GET OUT!!” Baba Yaga howled. “You boys had better get to class RIGHT NOW!” It was hard not to smile as Yan and Sergei scurried out of the room. I’d had no idea they’d been playing hooky.

All of the sudden, I found myself alone with Yaga. “YOU!” she cried out, pointing at me. “YOU come with ME!” I followed Yaga down two flights of stairs. We stopped at a classroom and she banged on the door, interrupting a class and dragging the professor (apparently a department head) out into the hallway. “THIS GIRL,” she began, pointing at me, “SAYS she wants to take a class with us. She’s supposedly from some American program—,” I quickly handed the professor my Middlebury letter, “—and the coordinator said she could take a class with us and the international student office said she could take a class with us. What do YOU think?”

The man glanced over my letter calmly, then looked up at me and smiled. “Do you speak Russian?” he asked me. “Well, yes,” I responded, smiling back. “Huh. Well, why not?”

I took my first sociology class today, and it was wonderful!

[1] Classroom


8 Responses to “How I Got Accused of Being a Terrorist: The Tale of Baba Yaga and the Middlebury Student”

  1. sarahinthegoldencircle said

    So, this was a little more wordy than usual. I apologize! I just couldn’t believe that all happened…. Pictures to come 🙂

  2. salomon babayaro said

    booooooooorrrriiiiinggggggg ;p

  3. Аня said

    What a story! It was like reading a Harry Potter book!
    I love reading your blog!

  4. Debbie said

    I was wondering where Dolores Umbridge went. Poor Sarah, I think you found her. Maybe some Midd Gryffindors can help.

  5. Hilarious! Though I hope you don’t meet too many more Russians with such strong prejudices against foreigners, haha.

  6. sarahinthegoldencircle said

    @Аня and Debbie (Mum!), I’m enjoying these Harry Potter references! Thank you very much for your amazing compliment, Аня.
    @carly.westling, I hope so, too! Everyone assures me (and I am in COMPLETE agreement) that this is not normal. It was pretty funny, though 😉

  7. I had to smile at the “in my skinny jeans, heels, and sweater,” and at the very eager-to-help male students 🙂 You belong in Moscow with me, my dear!

  8. Ludmila Nikolaevna said

    Sarah, what a story! Hilarious! I’m glad you’re still enjoying the sociology class after all that. Keep us posted!

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