A year in Russia

Babushkas and Birthdays

Having been busy, I’m now quite far behind so will be trying to catch myself up over the next few posts.

The day after the Ice Hockey, I went to visit Nastya in her halls of residence and it happened to be Vika’s 18th birthday (her very lovely room-mate) and I was honoured to end up joining her celebrations.

Laying the table!

Laying the table!

Just like at home, turning 18 is a special event here, and as Vika is originally from Petrozavodsk in the far North of Russia, her two Grandmas travelled two days by train to deliver presents and love from home directly to Vika. Two days by train, that’s a long way in case your jaw didn’t drop in awe. They brought cards and presents from family and foodstuffs special to the Karelia region including: a type of hexagonal biscuit that even other Russian students hadn’t seen before; a type of fish that looked like salmon but wasn’t and a type of yellow berry found in wooded swampy areas which was in a syrup made from it’s own juices and slightly tasted like honey.  No doubt you’ve been transported in time and place by the wonderful imagery I’ve conjured up for you. I was probably told the actual name for these foods but weeeeeellllllllllll it was a while ago and this is why I shouldn’t be so slack on posting.

Vika and her Grandma during the poetry reading

Vika and her Grandma during the poetry reading

Getting all emo

Vika’s babushki had prepared a special meal for the evening, and after brightening the table with flowers and a special table cloth, possibly my favourite experience in Voronezh thus far happened. Vika’s Mum had written a poem for her chronicling her life, achievements and those embarrassing but funny childhood moments and her Grandma admirably took on the challenge of reading the (roughly) twelve verses to her. Towards the end she got a bit choked up and even though I didn’t understand most of the poem at the time, since I miss my family a smidgen, just watching the bond they have and how obviously proud both her Grandmas are of her made me a little emotional too. At the time, I thought, “cor, I’m glad no one’s here to see me getting all sentimental”, yet for some reason I’m sharing it with you all now. My reputation will be in tatters, but it was genuinely so beautiful I actually went home and called my Grandma (skype credit = 14p per minute to UK landlines- worth it).

Having had salad, not-salmon buterbrod (small open sandwiches) and stew and mash, we (Vika, babuski and yes- yours truly) took to Skype for a birthday video sesh with the rest of the family in Petrozavodsk. This was followed by cake, of which I would guesstimate I was given a quarter. During the course of the evening I: received an invitation to go to Petrozavodsk in the summer to learn how to fish and go to Kizhi; was informed I must meet Vika’s brother as it transpires that we’re both 22…a twinkle in the Grandmas’ eyes suggests a plan afoot; genuinely could not comprehend how people think Russians are cold, hostile people; failed in my mission to eat the biggest slice of cake I’ve ever been given prompting the babushki to question if I’m well/wonder if there was something wrong with the cake. It was delicious of course, with a slight banana hint (again with the descriptive magic). I was also delighted to discover that Vika’s Grandma (who read the poem) is a big fan of ice fishing and was born in Kizhi which is just stupendously cool.

Beaten by a cake. I'll never live the shame down.

Beaten by a cake. I’ll never live the shame down.

As if this post needed more interesting facts- it turns out that Russians don’t put their birthday cards in envelopes. So if you ever buy a birthday card/card of any form in Russia, don’t spend too much time wondering where the envelopes are. Your search will be fruitless.

The next morning, as I walked into the small university campus, which hosts both the halls of residence and the Russian-language department, I was accosted by Vika’s babushki in the most wonderful way. Of all the days not to wear gloves! “Are you cold?” followed by my hands being taken and rubbed. As we said our farewells, I went to class with a smile on my face feeling really embraced by my new Russian family, the perfect remedy to any homesickness.


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This entry was posted on 7 November, 2013 by in Journal and tagged , , , , .
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