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The Vodka Diaries is my account of living and working in the Russian Far East as a Peace Corps Volunteer during the tumultuous, post Glasnost years of 1994-1995. Russians watched in shock as the economy collapsed under the weight of hyperinflation and lawlessness eroded any sense of personal security. Capitalism was in its infancy, the Mafia had control of the local political and business environments and an “anything goes” attitude resembling the “Wild West” took hold. I was eager to jump in, but within a few days the reality of my situation set in as I witnessed car bombings, assassinations and shake downs.
Although it was a struggle to learn the language and customs, I developed meaningful relationships and eventually felt like I a part of my community. I worked with Russian entrepreneurs, reported to the Mayor of the town who also happened to be the head of a local Mafia group, taught a Junior Achievement class and developed an active social life. My initial idealism was a great motivator, but living in Russia was a hard punch to the gut as I shared the anguish, fear and anger that permeated the lives of my Russian friends.