Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On the topic of babs.

The school cleaning lady is a babushka named Valya. Sometimes if we stay late after school to use the internet or just hang out, we run into her. She speaks zero English, but is incredibly talented at gesturing and pointing. We managed to communicate not only our names, but also that we live with Ukrainian host families, where we live along the metro line, and more. She is so animated and eager to take us under her wing, like poor little American ducklings. She hugs us and gives us big kisses on the cheek. One night, Valya showed up to clean right as we were leaving, so she made us wait for her so that she could take the bus and metro with us. We couldn't understand a word she was saying, but she chattered at us the whole way home, using hand motions and exaggerated facial expressions to communicate what she really wanted us to understand. I got off at my stop and tried to wave goodbye to Valya and the other two teachers, but Valya got off the metro with me. We stood on the escalator, and she continued gesturing and talking to me. Earlier, I thought she said she lived at a different stop, so I was sweating a little bit as we rode the escalator up to the street. Was she trying to come home with me? Fortunately, we reached the surface and she waved goodnight, heading a different direction than me.

I didn't see Valya for a few weeks until I arrived at the school early one day to find her chatting on the office phone. Way to use your resources, Valya. She waved at me as I came in, and continued chatting as I went into the teachers' room to work on my stuff. When she was done racking up the phone bill, she came in to say hi to me. Valya prides herself on her massage skills, and now, alone in the school, I became the victim of an unsolicited back rub. First she just rubbed my shoulders as I sat in my chair, but then she leaned me forward, supporting me with one hand from the front, and using her other hand to beat my back to a pulp. I am incredibly ticklish, but I didn't want to offend her, so I metaphorically shoved my fist in my mouth and held back peals of laughter. When she was done with my back, she rubbed my neck and then travelled upwards to my scalp. She massaged my hairline around my face, and did this thing where she stuck her fingers almost in my ears and then quickly wiggled them back and forth. I don't think I can really describe it. She finished up with another shoulder massage, migrating down my arms. At the end of it, I was red, embarassed, and had terrifically tousled hair. I stood up to say thank-you, expecting another bear-hug from her, so I jumped the gun and tried to hug her first instead. As I leaned in, she looked behind her, thinking that I was just trying to get something behind her. She finally realized what I was doing, and gave me a hug and a thumping pat on the back. Why am I so awkward?

On the topic of babushkas, I got on a bus the other day, along with thirty head-scarfed babushkas and dedushkas. The entire bus was crammed with them. I don't have any awkward story about them, I just don't want to forget that picture.

I was on a marshrutka (one of those tiny yellow busses) on the way home from church, and this time I was fortunate enough to have a seat. When an old woman with her bags got on the bus, I offered her my seat. The offering of one's seat on the bus is part courtesy and part social requirement. It used to be a law that you had to give your seat to the old folks or pregnant women, and even though it's not required by law anymore, people will give you wierd looks if you don't. Actually, what will most likely happen is that the bab will walk up to you and glare at you until you surrender your seat. If that doesn't work, she will yell at you. So when this babushka got on the marshrutka, I moved to give her my seat. She waved me to sit down, stowed her bags up by the driver, and happily stood next to me for the ride. When my stop came, I moved my leg out into the aisle to stand up, and bumped her with it in the process. As I stood up, I hastily apologized in English, just from instinct. Her response? She gave me a wry grin and winked at me. Kindest babushka ever. They are usually crusty old crabs who yell at any young creature in their way, but this lady actually WINKED at me. I got off the marshrutka, totally exhilarated, and gushed all about it to Camille. Unbelievable, and it made my day.


  1. Ok, so I LOVE your blog. You are too cute, and I love this picture you've painted of the babushkas. Unless you've experienced it first hand, I don't think you can really understand what it's like. I love it!! :) I hope it's ok that I stalk your blog??

  2. hahahah my family and i always laughed a the word babuska for some reason. we always said it as kids with our dad and giggled and giggled. as a matter of fact we still do - we did the other day. i am so very excited for you and all your adventures!


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