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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Russian Road Trip

On Friday November 18 we took a bus ride to Zavolzha to visit our church planting partners, Eduard and Vadim (more about that in the next post). In America when you mention taking a trip by bus it conjures up pictures of Greyhound, or Trailways, a nice clean comfortable bus with either heat in the winter or air-conditioning in the summer. When you read about us taking a bus trip here in Russia, put those pictures out of your mind.

City Bus pictured here

Our trip began by meeting Ira, our translator at the local city bus stop by our apartment. We stood out in the 34 degree temperatures and the pouring rain for about ten minutes as we waited for a city bus to take us to the inter-city bus terminal. As it was about 4:00 PM the buses are jam packed with people. There is usually just enough room to squeeze on. Wresting with an umbrella, a back-back and the small change to pay the ticket person, while trying to hang on desperately as the drive imagines he is racing the Grand Prix in France is challenging at best. The drivers usually race down the streets as fast as they can, edging out other buses and cars as they seek to be the first to the next stop light.

When the light changes to green we’re off! With the horn blaring and the driver muttering curses we careen our way down the street. As we approach the next stop everyone wonders if the driver is actually going to stop. He approaches the stop at full speed and then at the last second slams on the brakes and slides toward the curb, never worrying about pedestrians or cars. All of us who are crammed in and standing are propelled into the person in front of us and we hang onto the overhead hand rail hoping we won’t lose our grip, fall to the floor and be trampled by the exiting and entering passengers. In Russia, as a little child, you are taught to get on the bus as soon as the door opens,… so, as soon as the door opens the exiting passengers and the entering passengers collide in a tangle as each tries to make their way. The driver, still in a hurry waits impatiently. Other buses pull up behind ours and begin blowing their horns so our driver will leave. As the last passengers squeeze into the bus, some, barely in the door, the bus leaves. It’s not uncommon for a bus to start off with the door still open and a passenger trying to get up the stairs and onto the bus. If anyone is not all the way in, the door slams into them forcing them to step up the stairs and literally shove the people in front of them. This is very normal and not considered rude for the Russians, but oh, so very difficult for us westerners who were taught that it is very wrong to push and shove. We find that we have had to learn to act against our preconditioned thinking and behaving and act contrary to everything that “seems natural” to us in order to carry on here.

The ride across the city is complicated by the old Soviet city designs. Russian cities simply were not designed to handle the amount of traffic that they see today. In the Soviet era, only a few people were able to own cars. Traffic was light and most people rode public transportation. Nowadays more and more Russians are purchasing automobiles and learning to drive. City streets are jammed with cars and buses during the rush hours. On this particular trip a small fender bender caused traffic to back up about two miles on our side of the river. After riding in the Grand Prix, we rolled to a stop and then crawled bumper to bumper as we made our way over the bridge toward the train station. To get to the bus station we had to walk a quarter mile in the rain from the train station. Of course we were late!

An inter-city bus station

Arriving at the bus station, which looks a bit like an old warehouse in any inner city industrial area in America, we could see no buses headed toward Zavolzha. Ira stood in line for about ten minutes (we can discuss waiting in lines in Russia in future post) and found out that the next bus to Zavolzha didn’t leave for about 40 minutes. So, we bought our tickets and sat and waited. The bus arrived right on time and we were able to get decent seats. Off we went into the night.

An inter-city bus

The ride itself was uneventful. The driver was pretty good and nothing broke down. The bus wasn’t heated very well so we were cold and the windows were covered with condensation making it difficult to see anything on the ride. After arriving at the bus station in Zavolzha we walked from there, through the edge of town in the dark, crossed over the train tracks and made our way down a muddy, pot hole filled dirt road for about ½ a mile toward Vadim’s home with only a flash light to keep us from falling into the pot holes. Total time, door to door, 3 ½ hours.

The hot cup of tea we were offered when we arrived never tasted so good!

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