The first few weeks of school in Russia, my host dad picked me up from the school to drive me home. If I wasn't teaching evening classes I'd meet Alosha after kindergarten in the afternoon and we'd wait together. If I had to teach evening classes Sasha would make a special trip out to pick me up, which was very nice of him.
My host family lived on the right bank of the Voronezh river in the northern outskirts of Voronezh on Ulitsa Morozova--a fitting name for a street in Russia, Frost Street. The school and all the other teachers lived on the left bank. I'm trying to remember the address of our school, but it's just not coming to me--Dimitrova was an oft used bus stop, but I think the one closest to the school, at least for me, was Ostuzheva, although I could be way off. I'm pretty sure the school was somewhere between Ostuzheva and Dimitrova. Either way, everyone else seemed to live within walking distance or a couple of bus stops away from the school.
I, on the other hand, lived a dedicated bus ride away. If I missed the bus there wasn't any other option (like walking) to get home.
Eventually my host mom showed me how to ride the bus and wrote down what bus numbers I could take. She rode the bus with Alosha and I in tow one morning to help me feel comfortable with the process. I still got picked up in the evenings, though. And usually I just rode to school with Alosha in the morning since he was in kindergarten and I taught kindergarten and we had to be there at the same time, anyway.
One day, though, my host parents announced it was time: I was to make the long bus ride home, by myself, in the dark that day.
I was nervous while I waited for my bus, 16B, to come. 16B wasn't a very popular route so there weren't many buses available to catch. However, there always seemed to be a crowd of people waiting to catch it and I am not very good at catching buses in Russia, which is a bit of a pushy affair, to say the least.
Babuskas, laden with plaid canvas trolleys, elbow their way to the front of the line. Men wearing shapkas and smelling strongly of vodka and cigarettes push from behind. Young girls wearing parkas and miniskirts viciously claw their way through the crowd. And that is just to get to the door of the bus. Once you're at the front you have to somehow squeeze yourself into the bus.
I can't tell you how many buses I gave up on when I lived in Russia. Too many, probably. Once some older gentlemen watched me miss bus after bus after bus before they flanked me, pushed me through the crowd to the doors, and shoved me inside. Kindhearted souls, they were.
Anyway, I was nervous about catching the bus by myself for various reasons, but I did it and I even got a seat. I felt so successful and independent, going home from school all by myself. And then? The bus died.
Buses in Russia aren't well-maintained. In fact, they are kind of like the buses here in Egypt. They lean to one side whether they are empty or full, are stinky, smelly, dirty, grimy, and held together with chewing gum and duct tape.
Breaking down was a common occurrence. However, I was not emotionally prepared for a breakdown at this point in my stay in Russia. It was my first time riding the bus alone and I had no idea where I was, except that I was somewhere on the bus route between school and home. I sat in my seat while everyone else filed out, unsure of what to do next.
"Get off the bus," the money taker told me in Russian.
I did. She handed me my bus fare, five rubles, as I was disembarking.
Still unsure of what to do I stood in the snow watching the locals. Some flagged down cars or taxis or buses, others started walking in scattered directions. I just stood there. I saw no buses that promised to be my way home. I saw no familiar landmarks. And to make matters worse we had come to a stop near an intersection and I wasn't sure which way my bus would have continued. Standing was getting cold, though, so I chose to keep walking straight ahead, hoping that I would get to a bus stop soon.
I remember being rather scared, for obvious reasons: the dark, the cold, the snow, and the foreignness of the situation were starting to overwhelm me, not to mention that I was an unaccompanied female. But without many other options before me I had no choice but to trudge onward, alone. I was unsure of every step I took, afraid I was going in the wrong direction, leading myself farther away from home instead of closer to it. I began to pray.
I began to explain my situation to Heavenly Father even though he was full-aware of it.
"I'm lost and I'm cold and I'm scared and I don't know what to do," I said, "Please help me find my way home."
Just when I started asking for help a thought popped into my head.
"You have a cell phone in your bag."
My host mom, Oksana, had given me her cell phone to use while I was there so that if anything happened I would be able to call them for help. I had never had a cell phone before and had completely forgotten about it. I reached into my bag and pulled it out; it was on silent and I was currently receiving a call from my host dad.
"Hello?" I answered.
"Miss Nancy," he said, "Where are you?"
"I don't know!" I said, "I got on the bus but it broke down and so I'm walking but I don't know where I am."
"We are in the neighbourhood of the school. We had to come by to run some errands and wondered if you had finished your class. Maybe we can pick you up instead of you taking the bus today."
Sasha stayed on the phone with me until I had walked to the next bus stop; I told him the name of it and waited there until their little Lada pulled up beside me, then I hopped in the backseat (on top of my pile of blankets) with Alosha and we made our way home.
Perhaps it was a simple answer to my prayer, but simple answers are often best. I wouldn't have remembered on my own that I was carrying a cell phone; it was on silent so I wouldn't have even found it if my host parents had called to check up on me, anyway. I certainly wouldn't call it a coincidence that my host dad was calling when I got the prompting to look for it in my bag. It was just another testimony to me that Heavenly Father is looking out for us no matter where we are and he's always willing to help us. Always.
(Thanks, Bridget, for posting about Russia again so that I was flooded with my own memories).