Are You Happy?

Rebekah Olson

The last four months of my life were spent in the magical Northern city of Saint Petersburg. Everyday, on my way to the metro station nearest my house, I passed this small but useful market — a stark white, concrete building. Often times, there would be Petersburgers standing just outside of it — dark, unkempt men lying on the cold concrete, resting from their previous night’s shenanigans, or the working women out smoking on their lunch break, or couples holding hands as they bade farewell while getting into taxis or onto buses. The market became a sort of symbol for me — it marked not only the exact half way point on my half mile route, but also, it represented an array of the Russian people, a people I fell in love with throughout my too-short time spent in their native land.

On November 27th, three hastening weeks before my departure, when the days had grown shorter and the nights had grown colder, something about my beloved marker changed. What some may have seen as vandalism, or a symbol of the rebellious, disrespectful youth, I saw as a precise description of Russia today. The graffiti isn’t much, to be sure; it is simple and to the point. But then again, Russian people also tend to be simple and to the point.

The words read:
“–Are you happy? –I don’t know yet, I haven’t quite decided.”
“–Ty shchastliv? –Eshchë ne znaiu, eshchë ne reshil.”

Photograph and translation, from the Russian, by Rebekah Mae Olson


Rebekah Mae Olson is trying to travel as much as possible — learn languages and meet people. She currently lives in south England where she is earning her masters in Russian translation. In the past four years, she’s called South Africa, Jordan, New Hampshire, Seattle, St. Petersburg, Ethiopia, and England home.