It’s very popular right now in Western countries to hate Russia and distrust Russian people.
The news tells us that Russia is a hellhole of crazy fanatics led by a Slavic Saddam and that it deserves to be financially and economically crushed.
Well, a few days ago I met the “enemy.”
At McDonalds, in fact…
And it was quite an enlightening experience.
Let me explain.
You just never know who you’ll meet…
I’m currently living in southern Brazil, and my best friend and I had to drive up to Sao Paulo for me to sign documents at my consulate related to my immigration visa.
On the way back from the big city, we stopped to stay a day or two and unwind in a beach town a few hours away.
This is where the confessions start:
We went out the first night to eat at McDonalds, and not just a small burger and fries. Multiple combos. Sugary drinks. Pure, delicious, pink-sludge and cardboard-puree-filled garbage.
I know I’m a bad person contributing to environmental destruction and I just want to point out that I rarely eat at McDonalds or any fast food place.
In any case, this time while waiting in line I saw a blond guy and blond woman ahead of us speaking a language that sounded a lot like non-Portuguese.
Having lived in the Republic of Georgia, Poland and traveled in Ukraine, I’ve heard my share of Russian and Slavic languages.
I saw that the guy’s shirt had a website ending in .ru on it and my Sherlock side kicked in.
“Are you from Russia?” I asked.
The guy turned around and smiled hesitantly.
A beautiful friendship is formed
The guy, Sergei and his wife Vera* were on vacation in this part of Brazil for a few weeks.
When I was chatting with the guy and expressing interest in his situation, his wife invited my friend and I to eat with them outside.
Thus started a beautiful two-day friendship.
They explained that they had been planning to stay longer but that everything was now shut down. Their Visa and Mastercards no longer worked in Brazil, and their Apple watches now longer worked to pay.
It was all cash, and some crypto, but that was a bit tricky as well. They had essentially found themselves unable to stay longer or reschedule their flight due to the financial shutdowns.
Working on social media for several companies, Vera was also blocked from continuing her work as normal, since the majority of Western social media companies like Instagram and Facebook no longer work in Russia.
Of course, you can use VPNs, but official companies are no longer permitted or able to have a presence on these social media giants.
Sergei, meanwhile, was a farmer who said the war had made him very depressed as he felt a lack of control in doing anything about it.
It also got in the way of his ability to fly to farms he helps manage in the south of Russia, which is now closed to civilian air traffic due to the war in Ukraine.
We sat enjoying our McDonalds as I scarfed down multiple orders of fries and enough greasy cheeseburgers to power an ethanol-fueled vehicle for a week.
Sergie and Vera also savored their McDonalds as a little taste of home, noting that “these are all shut down at home.”
His wife invited Joice and I to visit the next day, and we took over her dog Sury and my young absolutely insane puppy Brunnhilde (Brunn).
We had a great evening, ordering Arabic food from a restaurant in the town (an upgrade from McDonalds!) and talking about many things including how much they miss their dog Mars, a pinscher waiting for them back in Moscow.
The photos she showed me of the adorable canine demonstrated how much love they had for him.
“If we’d brought him maybe we could have somehow stayed longer,” Vera lamented, leaving the financial blockade unmentioned at the moment.
You can break the propaganda
Sometimes all it takes to break propaganda is talking to someone in McDonalds and getting to know them.
I was in Ukraine two years ago and have close friends there who are fighting in the war and defending their country. So I don’t take the subject lightly or think it’s just a trivial, academically interesting subject.
It’s real life and real war.
Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have died, and many soldiers. This reportedly includes over 17,000 young Russian soldiers, one of whom recently ran over his own commander with a tank and crushed him out of rage at the loss of over half his brigade.
This war is a tragedy that didn’t have to happen. It’s a brother war of the worst kind, and I hate it.
I think many Ukrainians and Russians feel the same, including Sergei and Vera. But the war is happening, and that’s a fact no matter how much most of us deplore it.
Exodus of the people
One of the biggest things that Sergei and Vera emphasized was just how much the economy of Russia is falling through and how many people are trying to bail out.
Although his business keeps him there for now, Sergei is considering coming to Brazil on a longer term basis in the future.
He said many of his friends have already left for Georgia, Europe, Istanbul or anywhere that they can move their assets and have a better future.
Sergei said he also has a good friend whose dad told him to get out of Russia a few years ago and obtain residency in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The young man is now in the process of completing that, which will give him much more stability.
Putin recently threatened Russians who are loyal to the West in their hearts and want to transfer their wealth and futures to Western places.
This is highly ironic, since Putin’s own inner circle and closest advisors are heavily linked to Western locations and possessions, including Putin’s $900 million yacht the Scheherazade, which is currently docked in Italy.
In any case, from what Sergei said, it’s very common for young Russians who want a better future to now try their hardest to leave the country by any means possible.
A strange world
Our time with Sergei and Vera was a lot of fun.
We didn’t talk much about the war or politics, but the sense of strangeness was there. Two recently married and intelligent people who clearly didn’t want a war with Ukraine, now stuck in another country and unsure about the future due to the actions of their government.
Sergei and I discussed Soviet history and he noted how his ancestry is partly Polish and may include Jewish on one side, but that he’s not sure, as higher officials tended to hide Jewish ancestry for positions high up in the USSR like one of his forebears was.
Vera is originally from Kazakhstan, but moved to Moscow to see what it was like and ended up meeting Sergei and falling in love through mutual friends.
We do talk about politics a bit.
We talk about the idea of “denazifying” and he points out that one of Russia’s main private military contractors, the Wagner Group, is led by a man called Yevgeny Prigozhin who openly admires the SS and is tattooed with their infamous insignia.
The SS (Schutzstaffel) committed many of the worst war crimes of the Second World War including killing Prisoners of War (POWs) and hunting down and murdering Jews in advance teams ahead of the regular forces.
Ukraine undoubtedly has its own significant problem with neo-Nazism including the revitalized Azov battalion and funding from Washington and Kiev to some soldiers who openly want to conquer and dominate all non-white people.
As Sergei’s own mixed ancestry and the current war demonstrates clearly, eastern Europe and Eurasia is not some black-and-white region. It is centuries or bloodshed, different sides inter-mixing, broken alliances and contradictions.
Breaking the matrix
We all belong to various groups and have various passports, income levels, colors and identities.
That much is clear. And it’s certainly important.
But it’s not everything.
And if you want to break the matrix you need to be willing to look past the conditioning you’ve been put under and see the person under all the outer labels and ideas you have.
When we are willing to get to know someone on their own terms and listen to what they have to say, we can learn a lot.
If I had said hi to Sergei in McDonalds and he’d grunted or turned away, we never would have all made friends.
But his friendly reaction and openness encouraged me to also open up and be friendly.
That’s how bridges are built: person-to-person.
It doesn’t always happen, but there’s no huge mystery:
If you give others the chance to be friendly and open with you, they just might take it. And you might end up finding that a lot of your preconceptions about people from certain places or countries aren’t quite in line with reality.
Free your mind
I’ve always had a curiosity for the prohibited. When all of society tells me a group or person is evil or ignorant, I like to find out for myself.
I admit that I also have a contrarian streak about a mild wide.
So far, my batting record has been pretty damn good, if I may say so.
The places and modern cultures I was told are wonderful beacons of freedom I’ve mainly found empty husks without meaning. The places and cultures I’ve been told were backwards or dangerous is where I’ve made my closest friends and met the most genuine people.
This is a gross simplification of course. All kinds of people exist everywhere, and cultures vary in every place in the world.
But my point is that freeing my mind has introduced me to so many ideas, people and places I otherwise never would have gone.
I’ve learned to see past the narratives and meet people one-on-one, instead of seeing them as mere reflections of a group.
As I said, this includes in some pretty unexpected places, from Palestine to Abkhazia and dangerous parts of South America to traveling alone through the American Deep South.
My experiences gave me the strong impression that we’re often being lied to and spiritually misled by our media and story-makers.
They tell us that we (proverbially) are better, safer, saner than they (proverbially). The “good” angd “bad” groups may change, but the basic floating signifier stays the same.
And it’s bullshit.
When it comes to your personal spiritual journey, which toxic habits have you unknowingly picked up?
Is it the need to be positive all the time? Is it a sense of superiority over those who lack spiritual awareness?
Even well-meaning gurus and experts can get it wrong.
The result is that you end up achieving the opposite of what you’re searching for. You do more to harm yourself than to heal.
You may even hurt those around you.
In this eye-opening video, the shaman Rudá Iandé explains how so many of us fall into the toxic spirituality trap. He himself went through a similar experience at the start of his journey.
As he mentions in the video, spirituality should be about empowering yourself. Not suppressing emotions, not judging others, but forming a pure connection with who you are at your core.
If this is what you’d like to achieve, click here to watch the free video.
Even if you’re well into your spiritual journey, it’s never too late to unlearn the myths you’ve bought for truth!
*Names have been changed to protect the safety and privacy of my friends on reentering Russia.