Having been presented with enough subjective ‘evidence’ prior to my trip to Russia, I was only left to wonder if ever at all every potential visitor underwent those ‘tutorials’. The depth of negative information about her people could be very discouraging. But in comparison with what others had heard, perhaps mine were the least and less horrendous stories environed with a common line: “Russians are not friendly so do not expect any form of warmth from the people”! Braced with the mentality of a lone survivor, I made the journey, eager to learn a second language and satisfy my desire to experience a different culture.
Almost all I heard about Russians turned out to be false upon my arrival. Together with a friend we entered our class for the first time a day after arrival. Just as we stepped in the classroom I heard this audible unanimous gasp of surprise and even excitement from the whole class. I nodded my regards and quickly found my seat at the back of the class. I must confess I have a faint memory of what was taught that day. Partly because I was cracking the accent code and absorbing the faces and mannerism of my new friends for the next year or two.
The moment the lecturer announced the end of the class, four pretty classmates of mine came with warm words of welcome. “Is everything ok with you?”, “How many Russian words do you Know?”, I can recall their initial questions with beaming smiles. They initiated a chat wanting to know how I was adjusting with my new experience, and further introduced their intentions of their readiness to help me adjust well. Instantly, I knew I had been fed very narrow-minded information from people who had no experience directly or otherwise with Russia and Russians.
One of the things I looked forward to was Russian food. I wondered how it would taste considering the fact that I had never been exposed to it in any way. And so weeks after our warm welcoming into class, my friend and I never hesitated an invitation by another colleague to visit their home over the weekend. “I was wondering if you would like to come over to my house this weekend”, she requested. I didn’t think twice, did I even think? I said yes the minute she ended her sentence. As if the next minute she might change her mind. She lived in Moscow region and the thought of seeing somewhere just outside Moscow was very exciting for me. I looked forward to it till the day was up. Like me, she also invited the other international students in our class who also agreed. We were four in all.
We were driven home after been picked from the metro. Any form of inconvenience to us was quickly apologized for. (As if the invitation had anyway inconvenienced us).The journey lasted for about twenty-five minutes which was just a little far for me. We got to the house and were introduced to our classmate’s mom, who we later understood to be the brain behind our invitation. Obviously most excited to see us, she welcomed us with a beautiful smile, and offered us a show around of their house (which in my opinion is a mansion). The interior décor was just lovely likewise the simply crafted but elegant architecture was impressive.
As if we were dignitaries on visit, next on the outline for the day was to tusk into the array of food set on the table. I like homemade food for reasons known to most people. First, they are wholesome and healthy, since they are well prepared and mostly under better hygienic conditions (for those who care about their health).In addition, comes relatively cheaper, thus for austere financial reasons. The most appealing part was that this was Russian food, and I was going to satisfy my longstanding crave, and under home conditions! Another interesting addition worth mentioning is that, during our class presentation the day before, a colleague cited ‘borsch’ soup as an example. As a special meal, I was told it’s a great Russian dish. So when I heard that was going to be our first I could not hide my glee. I could feel my lips spread in a smile.
As my plate was put before me, I saw a reddish liquid with shreds of cabbage and meat. I took a sip and the first familiar taste that came to mind was ‘light soup’. (This is a Ghanaian soup with an additional ingredient of chili). I asked about the ingredient and was told it was beet that made the soup reddish. It tasted great. I took a particular liking to the beans in the soup. I took some more sips and wished that it had just little bit of chili and I would have finished my plate. If I ever make my own pot of ‘borsch’ I will add just a little chili and find a befitting name for it. (Russia-Ghana borsch). Next on the menu was Russian New year salad. That was a nice. I enjoyed it. There was chicken and fruits afterwards.
One very eye-opening experience was how well we were hosted. Our hostess was on her toes at all times to ensure we felt at home and were comfortable. Our colleague’s mother was just hospitable. She wanted to know about Ghanaian and Indonesian culture we did our best to tell her the basics. She was interested in our food too. We left with an assurance to her that we will be back to cook her a Ghanaian dish. (Some of which can be cooked in Russia with Russian ingredients).
The family was too generous and nice to us. We got to meet the whole family, and all of them were beautifully friendly. We all left with a bottle homemade jam each (with my love for homemade food I am sure you know I’m totally enjoying it). I was given a beautiful picture as a gift too. And oh, we got to play “Imagenario”( a Russian game). It was quite easy to learn the ground rules and soon we were playing, I had to draw associations between a clue and the cards I was holding. It was nice to see some of the associations falling in place and others way out of order. It was fun.
If I am permitted to assess all Russians by that visit, I would say Russians are very nice and kind people. It was an unusually nice weekend and it went into my diary as a beautiful day. Thanks to Masha, my Russian colleague and her beautiful family. As Caesar Chavez aptly puts it, “if you really want to make a friend go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart”. You should judge… after being welcomed with such hospitality, you know what my answer will be when questioned next time about my take on Russians. What do you think about Russians?
Photo: Stas Mikrukov/RS