About once a month, I volunteer at the Russian Books and Video store. It gets me out of the house, and, usually, I am not so busy that I can’t read a book, or write a blog, or watch a Netflix show, or all of the above.
However, from time to time, someone comes into the store, and they would buy a book, or rent a video. (I don’t actually remember anyone renting a video for a few years now, because Denver has a fairly large Russian population. Since now there are more than 25,000 Russian-speaking people who live here, there are a number of Russian channels on local cable and the internet.) I get to talk to people from all parts of the old Soviet Union — including Ukrainians, Armenians, and Mongolians and even people from the Siberian region. Sometimes someone from Minsk, Belarus, comes in and I get to hear updates and news about the city where I was born, but one that has changed tremendously in the past 40 plus years.
And sometimes, an American-born person comes in. Whether they are shopping for a souvenir, or are curious to learn Russian, or are looking for books in English about Russia (we do have a few, they are about museums or artists and art or cities), I strike up a conversation.
Once a man who wanted to find a bride from Ukraine came in. I have helped him translate some things, understand cultural gaps, and we became friends. Frank (not his real name) has the soul of a chivalrous knight — in shining American armor. He really does want to save someone from the war-torn nation — and yes, there is still a war going on there. And he is a lonely man looking for love and companionship. I never want to fault anyone who wants to do that, even if he is an older gentleman, in his 60’s, looking at profiles of women in their 30s and 40s, who are “tarted up” quite a bit — using their bodies, since it’s pretty much the only thing a lot of these women have. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say. The good news is that he did find love, and actually connected with a woman much closer to his own age.
Sometimes someone comes into the Russian Books store because they are elderly and need help translating something. I am always happy to help. I am not the most altruistic of people, but I find that helping others with translation work is easy for me, and there is nothing like the feeling of being useful. That is probably the main reason I still come to “work.”
The more I hear about life in what used to be Soviet Union, the more I am saddened that not much has gotten better for the majority of the people. I am not talking about the system, although there doesn’t appear to be one, not since the collapse of communism. I am talking about the quality of life, to have comfort, health and wellbeing, and the ability to make an honest living and to enjoy life. So, while being at the bookstore helps me stay connected to the Russian language and culture, it is also a reminder of how lucky I am to be living here in the United States.