Hands Up!

That's what a Russian says. Dos vidanya means "farewell" and Rodina means
something like "Mother Russia" ... I have had it explained to me but we
don't have the same concept in English so there isn't a word for it.

The closest I have gotten to Russia was one time when I was sent on
assignment into the Bohemian Forest, to photograph the guard towers along
the Iron Curtain. It really wasn't made out of iron, you know ... Churchill
just had a colorful way of putting things ... it was made out of barbed
wire and electricity, with these towers every 500 meters or so, and a
couple of guards in each one.

Well, I was sneaking through the woods looking for one of them that was
marked on the map but which I couldn't find. I thought I was in Germany,
but had unknowingly crossed over into Czechosolvakia. The fence hadn't all
been built yet, so it was hard to tell. I stepped out from behind a big
pine tree, holding a 4 x 5 Speed Graphic in my hands ... that's something
like a 9 x 12 Linhof, if you know what that is ... a big blunderbuss of a
camera, anyway ... and there was this Russian soldier with a submachine gun
in his hands standing there looking at me.

Neither one of us moved. We just stood there looking at one another for a
minute or two. Well, I had been taught a few Russian phrases, just in case
of a situation like this, but none of them fit the exact circumstances. The
only one that was close was "Ruki verch!" ... which means "Hands up!" .

They taught me that one so I would understand it and be able to comply and
not get shot if it was said to me. But he didn't say a word, he just looked
at me. He was supposed to shoot me or take me prisoner, and if he had
taken me prisoner with a camera in my hands, I would have probably wished
he had shot me instead. It was a very surrealistic moment. I can't tell you
why, but I looked at my camera, then I looked at him and said "Ruki verch!"
He broke into a big grin and motioned with his hand for me to go back
across into Germany. So I did.

All through the Cold War, when the governments were growling at each other,
I kept thinking of that Russian soldier. We were much alike. I wouldn't
have shot him, either.

As for "Dos vidanya, Rodina" ... well, that's another story.