THE WARM ARMS OF BANDITS

Trip Start Jan 31, 2007
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Trip End Feb 25, 2008


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Flag of Russia  ,
Sunday, July 15, 2007

 
Most manuals would wisely suggest that the eager work-searcher have access to a telephone.  But, this is where my manual is a rebel.
 
Home telephones seem kind - maybe because I grew up with them.  But, in most of the world they've all but been replaced by cell-phones.  I despise cell-phones and the powerful cell-phone companies; maybe I should start a sour, complaining, old-man club with Grandpa Simpson.
 
Whatever happened to "dropping in unannounced"?  What happened to people being organized enough to make plans a day ahead of time and keep them?  ... to meeting someone without calling three times in the last fifteen minutes to confirm?  ... to talking to strangers?  ... to going somewhere without a phone and feeling safe?
 
I hate that, for friendship or romance to occur in many places, the cell-phone company must benefit from it.
 
 
"La vida no es drom a algo mas que comer y unar.  ... y que nadie aproveche de ti!" (Life is only about eating and getting together.  ... and may no one take advantage of you!) - Chilean band, "Los Prisioneros"
 
 
With a job in place for the fall, I left Tomsk with Alyona, the light-Asiatic Bashkirk painter, to hitchhike to the Altai Mountains.
 
-- Hitchhiking in Siberia isn't like I'd thought it would be.  Inescapable, nightmarish forests don't swarm the road, and every night camping isn't a gamble with death versus the bears.  And there are quite a lot of cars. -
 
Sergei, a peaceful man who liked to talk, drove us in his brick-hauling truck at twenty-one miles an hour.
 
We passed empty fields.  He said, fifteen years earlier, people used to work those fields.  But, now it's easier to sit and sell something in the "rinok" (bazaar).  Sergei also said that only the big stores are going to survive.  He summed up capitalism: "Prodat; kupit." (Sell; buy.)
 
 
A shiny van that looked like it could've been a 2007 model stopped for us.
 
It was driven by two intimidating guys wearing buzz-cuts and no shirts.  They looked like they did business in a dark basement somewhere.
 
But, such a nice vehicle would have to be safe, I thought.  Alyona and I got in.
 
I wasn't expecting these guys to love us and treat us like family - but that's what happened.
 
Thin, blond Dima, the charismatic passenger wearing fashionable shorts, was a twenty-one-year-old business graduate.  He took the neck-support off his seat and wrapped himself around to talk, upon hearing I was from America.  When I told the name of my city, Grand Rapids, he said, "Zelyonie kraloki?" (Green Rabbits?)
 
(Incidentally, in Russia, rich men are called "rabbits", because rabbits eat lettuce, which - like money - is green.  Some women hunt rabbits.)
 
Thirty-year-old Anatoli, our chauffeur, wore short black shorts mostly covered by his blubbery beer-belly.  He was brawny and simple-mindedly calm.
 
Dima put his arm around me in the photo's.  He dumped water on himself and on Anatoli, because it was a national day of water-fighting.  The guys treated Alyona and me to "salyanka" soup (made with tomato paste, black olives, lemon, and sour cream) and pancakes.  The thin pancakes were wrapped around "tvorog" (a sugary milk product with the consistency of cottage cheese, a.k.a. curds).
 
I was surprised when the guys stopped to visit and show us a small Russian Orthodox church.  Colorful pictures of saints' faces, in pink and green, stood encased in golden squares.  Alyona, as a female, had to cover her hair in a wrap while in the church.  We lit candles with Dima.
 
We continued to Dima's home, where, because he stayed with his mother, we figured it'd be safe to spend the night.  Dima continually asked Alyona if she felt good and comfortable.  He kissed his little, old grandfather, "hello", and he gave his relatives gifts from the church.
 
The night was memorable.  Dima's friends and cousins and aunt and uncle came for dinner and a party.  Dima's grandfather advised me to ignore all conversation and just eat as much as I could.
 
Everyone drank beer and/or vodka - yet, they didn't pressure me nor Alyona to drink.
 
Two men argued about who was stronger.  Dima's step-dad passed out outside.  A van full of drunk Russian women showed Alyona and me their town, and the van was rocking with jolly women dancing in their seats and singing 80's songs: "Samurai!  Samurai!"
 
Dima left the party for some business reason, and his mom worried that it might be dangerous.  Anatoli told me he likes his town, Berdsk, a southern suburb of Novosibirsk, because he can do whatever he wants there.  He and his friends are the "xozayini goroda" (bosses of the town).
 
The next morning, Dima's grandmother drank vodka and beer, because she was thirsty after tending to the potatoes, and there was no water.  She became drunk, crawled around on all fours, and repeatedly asked Alyona: "S peshKOM, vy idite do Altai?" (Are you two gonna WALK to the Altai Mountains?)
 
Dima gave us some more presents, including whatever he could find.  "Dzastin, eta moya samaya lubimaya lochka ..." (Justin, this is my most favorite spoon ...)
 
Russia can be rough and tough and scary.  It can also be caring and friendly.  The trick is in knowing which it's gonna be and when.  I still don't know.  What an adventure.
 
 
- Modern Oddyseus
accompanied by Alyona
 
Thanks to Vitya, Tolya, Anton, & Yina; Sergei; and Anatoli & Dima for rides!
Much thanks to Dima, Natalya Dmitriovna, & Ivan for the place to stay!
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