Hello, Russia! Can you hear us?
Thanks to a cellphone connection, two American boys are briefly transported across the world.
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Cats are unusual on the train, but the woman occupying the lower left bunk was taking him to surprise her parents in Omsk. Rurik had ridden the entire way in Natasha's arms. It was hard for her to hold the phone, but she was pleased to talk with the boys. They told her about their puppy while the train chugged along. As I translated, they smiled.Skip to next paragraph
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When Nikolai came back on, the train was pulling into a station. He decided to take us onto the platform. In the darkness, the station lamps barely illuminated the babushki (grandmothers) selling their wares. Nikolai wanted to buy some pickles. Within seconds, several babushki were at his side. He held out the phone so we could better hear their bartering. The boys then recognized the word "potatoes." Nikolai bought six. To our delight, he handed the phone to the hard-bargaining babushka while he fished more rubles out of his pocket.
"Who's there?" she asked.
"You're talking to America!" I replied.
"I don't have time!" She handed the phone back to Nikolai.
As happens at a station when there's someone on the platform buying, the scene intensified:
"Please, you can see for yourselves, I can't hold any more. That's all. I only have 10 rubles left. What am I going to do with a chicken? No, thank you. I already bought pickles from you. I'm cold. The train's leaving."
As Nikolai leapt up the iron steps, one last babushka decided that for 10 rubles she'd make a deal.
Nikolai handed the phone to the attendant who serves tea on the train. She was from Blagoveshchensk in the far east. Ludmila chatted with the boys as if she'd been expecting their call and invited them to visit.
The train suddenly lunged forward. Two hardboiled eggs, five rubles each, were now nestled on top of Nikolai's steaming potatoes, salted pickles, dried fish, and mandarins.
As the train left the station, the boys reluctantly said good-bye to Uncle Nikolai.
For a few minutes, they had been transported across the world and carried on a real Russian train. They'd met a kind lady with a cat, bought pickles and potatoes, and were invited to Siberia by the woman serving tea. This was their world opening its arms to them.
The next day their mother sent me this note:
What a special day in our lives! The boys have told everyone about it:
"We felt like we were there!"
"The tea lady was really nice and invited us to visit."
"We talked to a woman with a cat!"
"We were all laughing."
The noted ended, "If peace was a language, I believe that today we heard the voice of peace."
The next lesson in conjugating verbs felt like it had a whole country urging us on, even if it still wasn't easy "to do."