Russia:- Part 2 People

22 Jul 2013

If we just drove through this vast country we would get an impression of Russia. It is quite possible to see what village life is like from the road and on brief picnic stops in their parks. Older people still live simply; tending animals and gardens, a few have cars, but there are bus stops along the main road and we see people coming and going with supplies from the towns. Some carry odd shaped loads on the back of bicycles. There are women with young children living there too walking with buggies, sitting in the shade.
As in the Ukraine, people sit for what must be hours often without shade selling by the road- apples are the main thing for sale here. We seldom see any cars stop. There are very few teenagers or young adults in the villages and the men are also fewer- presumably they travel to other work.
Maybe they are truck drivers as there are hundreds of these on the roads, we see a few tired looking men hanging out over their evening meal in a motel whose carpark we stop in overnight. (Cost 100 rubles about €3.) We see men repairing their trucks on route and waiting for hours at borders. Maybe the men work on the road crews or perhaps as factory workers. We passed at least one huge cement factory, and other factories or maybe they drive combines in the enormous industrial agriculture fields we drive past or the grain stores. The farm fields are so big there are 3-4 combines at work in them when harvesting what we think is barley. 
But we want to meet people so we go into town and cities where we can find couch-surfers willing to host us. 

We were trying to find one such host a bit too late at night, after our long but uneventful border crossing, in Belgorod. We weren't having much luck as we hadn’t a phone number and had not got confirmation he was available. Mike hopped out to look for a wifi or internet cafe to no avail.  A nice man who speaks Russian and some English asks Mike does he need internet or just a place to stay. He offers us a apartment for no cost, and we decide to trust him. He hops into our van to direct us around a few blocks and into an apartment parking area which he reassures us is secure- pointing to his car beside where we park. He lets us into an apartment which he says is free for the night. Its tiny, but has two beds a carpeted floor and a bathroom. He tells us to shower and rest and we’ll see him in the morning. We accept gratefully as we are wrecked.
Early the next morning, Mike is bringing some of our gear back down to the van when he meets a young man who asks will we be long as he needs to go to sleep. It turns out he is a relative of the man we met the night before and seems to be coming in from night duty. He is not in the least impatient, just politely enquiring when he can have his bed back! Our host arrives too. His name is Faruq an Algerian living in Russia for many years, but had also lived in the Netherlands. I spoke with him in french. He speaks 5 languages and is a kiosk owner.  He shows us two kiosks in the square where Mike met him that are his. He is married with a 5 year old. 
We thank him profusely for his generosity and exchange contacts. He says it is nothing and that he understands when you travel all you need is a place to wash and rest. 

In Saratov, we easily find Lidia (53) who tells us to call her Lida- a host that I have been emailing since Ireland. She and her son Sasha (24) make us feel welcome in their apartment immediately. Lidia chats in fluent English if a bit accented and at first Sasha speaks Russian with Mike, but it turns out if we speak slowly, he has good English too. In fact both now work as freelance translators. Lida tells us as she cooks diner- mash potato, salad, hot-dogs, that she became a translator as a second career because she had a interest in unusual languages such as tartar, and gyspy and learned them and others. Then after the old USSR changed she found she had a skill helpful for translation work because of all the new republics speaking their own languages again. She speaks turkish too and has visited their and many of the “Stans” and Iran which she loved. 
After diner and water melon we head of to the city beach as Saratov a bigish city by our standards is on the Volga. We take a bus half way across the main bridge and at first can’t see why but down some steps under the bridge we discover there is an island and packed beach. We hurry to find and spot and are swimming in shallow but warm water as fast as possible. I chat with Lida. She too says she needs to relax as she didn’t sleep the night before because she was watching coverage of recent unrest Moscow because an oppoment of Putin has been tried for embessiing and found guilty, but people think its political and he is innocent. There were some arrest and perhaps violence but she says other reports say the police were on best behaviour. She credits the internet for this and says however worrying it is at least since the internet everyone can know what is going on immediately there are photographs and tweets. She also says it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor now you can have access to information.  he in The boys are delighted as we had really a long run in the car earlier today. We have tea (oregano) on the beach and chat more before it closes at 8pm. Lida says she has seen many variations of the beach since she was a child under communism and since. It has been clean, dirty, open all day, shut and now clean and open until 8. Everyone is leaving the beach at once so we wait for the third bus and still have to squish in. 
We have time for a walk around the pedestrian streets and city parks. Everyone seems very relaxed in the evenings. Finn was hoping to find people playing chess but the has no luck. We see a new side to Russia life a salsa club in the park with great dancing and music.
Back in the apartment Lida gives us keffer to drink- a yogart and tells us that Sasha originally did computers and maths at college as she did but became a translator too as its possible to do freelance and have free time. Mike asks Sasha if he has hobbies and he tells us that he is learning Russia folk songs and recently spent a week in with others learning them.  He shows us some youtube clips of him singing with his group. 
We get a good nights sleep and nice breakfast of "kasha" a barley porridge before getting on the road again feeling like we have had a short insight in to one family's lifestyle.