*names and some other small details have been changed
Two days before I left for Moscow, I met with my cousin and closest friend. We talked about normal things, then inevitably about preparations for my trip. I was going to volunteer in a children’s summer camp for a month. It was to be the first time I’d ever visited Russia and I was going alone. We’d had a drink or two by this point and she let slip that she was worried, and had suddenly thought that the camp might not exist. This worry had mostly been caused because I had told her some weeks before about having been instructed by the camp that I must lie about my purpose of travelling in order to obtain a visa. Their plan was that I was going to see a made up friend, with a made up address and made up telephone number, all of which they had already printed on my official invitation, without first consulting me.
I must admit I found all this as ominous as she did, so I e-mailed the camp saying I was a bit unsure. They replied telling me they’d had trouble getting an invitation for me and so they would do it this way; she made it seem very unimportant so I went along with it. The next day after hearing my cousin’s thoughts I re-checked the official website of the company. Most of it was in Russian and there weren’t many pictures…but it seemed real. I went onto their facebook page, which had only had about 20 likes, though there were several pictures of children having fun, which reassured me slightly. I looked again through the e-mails and facebook messages to the two young women who I’d been in contact with for the organisation of everything. They seemed normal.
I later talked to another friend about my concerns and told him what my cousin had said. He pondered and tactfully said it reminded him of a news story he’d heard about, where volunteers went to help out on an organic farm in America and were murdered, I suppose for no reason other than the farmer was mental. I have no idea what possessed him to tell me that; it was the least reassuring thing I’d ever heard.
The following day I was wrought with nerves. As I was getting the last things packed my mind was intensely active. I was trying to come to terms with the idea that – if I was unlucky – I might not be back. I was googling every risky thing I could think might happen, from diseases to wild animals (I was to be living in a forest, several hundred miles away from Moscow). Given how worried I was about how uninformed I felt – but that I still went through with it – makes me wonder if I had a bit of a death wish. However, as I boarded my train to London at 3.30pm and we pulled out of Waverly, I hoped desperately that I would return.